Labelling alterations to meet constant legislative changes, in areas such as allergens and country of origin, in the run-up to the introduction of FIR have meant that retailers have repeatedly had to change the labelling on thousands of own-label products — sometimes up to three times — at huge cost and creating a backlog of products to be changed, said Andrea Martinez-Inchausti, deputy director for food at the British Retail Consortium.
Because of the huge task this has created, it was unlikely that all would be compliant come December 13, Martinez-Inchausti warned, speaking at a food labelling conference last month organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum.
Martinez-Inchausti was worried that not all Trading Standards officers would take account of the work involved and would not adopt a pragmatic approach to enforcement of the rules, allowing retailers extra time to comply.
“There are going to be an enormous amount of labels that are just not compliant by the end of the transitional period,” she warned. “So we are going to have to engage with the enforcement authorities to show them the plan is in process.”
Her fears came despite reassurances from David Pickering, team leader for Trading Standards at Buckinghamshire County Council and joint lead officer for food and nutrition at the Trading Standards Institute, that “come December [enforcement officers] won’t be out there looking for problems. People are very aware of the issues and that it will not be possible for people to comply”.
Leatherhead Food Research head of global regulatory services Sukh Gill said: “This is the foremost issue for most of our members Make no bones about it, Europe is facing its most monumental food labelling and information exercise in labelling ever.”
Gill added: “Additional demands have been placed on key business functions … considering that almost every food label in Europe will require review, it is clear that the demands on resources in the remaining time will be high.”
Martinez-Inchausti argued: “The three-year transitional period has not really been for a year because we have had different pieces of legislation that have come in between that we have had to take into account. For some products we are in a third iteration of label changes, which is proving incredibly difficult to manage.”
Because of these difficulties, retailers were planning to make use of a clause in the rules that allowed the selling through of stock already labelled before the December 13 deadline, she said. Consequently, items with longer shelf-life, such as canned goods and cold beverages, were being left to last to make the required changes, she added.
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