Food fraud fears on nutritional labels

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Label danger: thousands of small food and drink manufacturers could be breaking the law by illegally labelling food
Label danger: thousands of small food and drink manufacturers could be breaking the law by illegally labelling food

Related tags: Nutrition

Thousands of small food and drink manufacturers, including many of the 40,000 artisan producers in the UK supplying directly to consumers, could be breaking the law for illegal nutritional labelling and making illegal claims on their pre-packed products, an expert has warned.

Under the EU’s Food Information to Consumers Regulation (FIR), mandatory nutrition declarations for the majority of pre-packed foods will come into force on December 13 2016.

But as manufacturers attempt to prepare for these new rules, some – by accident or design – are likely to fall foul of the law, it has emerged.

The major retailers and Trading Standards are trying to get suppliers to comply with the regulations.

But there are fears that some producers will fraudulently attempt to change the information displayed on food labels to make them appear healthier than they actually are, warned Mike Peters, strategy consultant for Nutritional Information Solutions at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich.

Food labelling legislation

Peters was speaking at a conference on food labelling legislation, organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum in London last month.

“Fifty to 60% will comply by the end of 2017 among the artisan micro-community, with nearly full compliance by 2018,” ​said Peters.

“But we are likely to see more enforcement around poor quality information and claims.

“Fraudulent front-of-pack is a critical area. We’re starting to see people doing a little bit of recipe reformulation on their software to make sure they can change front-of-pack labels.

“I think that’s something for the future that is going to need thinking about.”

Currently, many producers are using cheap “do-it-yourself software”​ or copying what they see on labels of products on supermarket shelves, to label their own products, claimed Peters.

‘Other solution’

“We are giving them this as a problem. Their other solution is they can get it calculated for about £25 or, alternatively, they could go for laboratory analysis for round about £150,”​ Peters added.

“So, if you are artisan​ [producer] with a product range of 10 products, that is going to cost you anything from free – if you wander into Tesco – or £10, with some very cheap software, or up to £1,500 if you are going to get a full laboratory analysis.”

The worry among regulators is that those cutting corners in their assessment of nutrient content are likely to leave themselves in breach of the law.

The problem could get worse after the Brexit vote, since many small businesses mistakenly believe they will not have to comply with the FIR, once we leave the EU, Peters said.

“There are a lot of businesses out there that think they are not going to have to do this because everything is going to change in the new world,”​ he added.

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