Brexit food labelling fail would hit exports to EU

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

With the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December, firms are being advised to prepare for the worst-case scenario
With the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December, firms are being advised to prepare for the worst-case scenario

Related tags: Supply chain, Regulation, Packaging & labelling

Time is running out for food and drink manufacturers to prepare the labels needed to export products to the EU after Brexit as the end of the transition period looms.

Hilary Ross, head of retail, food and hospitality at law firm DWF said clarity was urgently required from the Government for packaging to be finalised and compliant with EU law post-Brexit.

“If decisions around labels are not determined soon, despite the fact that the UK has carried over all of the related EU legislation, some categories of products will be seen as non-compliant and therefore not suitable for export or import,”​ she added. “As a result, the EU will effectively be closed to some UK manufacturers.

According to DWF, some manufacturers might be able to pre-emptively change their labels to reflect their products’ origins. However, issues would still arise for firms supplying organic goods, novel foods and products that require health marks – areas that cannot be prepared for without an official trade agreement with the EU.

‘Not just an EU specific problem’

“Crucially, this is not just an EU-specific problem,” ​Ross continued. “Individual member states may also have their own requirements and may enforce further restrictions as a result.

“With just four months to go, it is vital that manufacturers receive the direction and clarity that is urgently needed from Government. Otherwise products will either be stopped from entering the EU by EU port health authorities or EU retailers will be reluctant to stock products with non-compliant labels, as ultimately they could face enforcement action from the regulatory authorities in their countries.”

Regulatory affairs director Pete Martin at labelling specialist Ashbury warned that even if food manufacturers start to change the information on their labels now, they would struggle to be ready in time for when the UK leaves the EU at the end of this year.

“Label redesign is not as simple as ‘add this delete that’, there are many compliance checks to be made before sending to print,”​ Martin pointed out. “It may turn out a bit like FIR ​[Food Information Regulations] when the industry was running out of print capacity with last minute demand. It all depends on the number of lines they have and their supply chain and ingredient sourcing.

Manufacturers’ foresight

However, Martin was confident that most food and drink manufacturers were already aware of some of the more basic changes regardless of any input – or lack thereof – from the Government.

He advised "preparing for the worst-case scenario while hoping for some form of agreement and mutual recognition to be in place before the end of the year to simplify things".

“There are still unknowns around organic, GI ​[geographical indicators], traffic lights, health marks and suitable names and addresses for a FBO ​[food business operator] in the correct jurisdiction. While the basic expectations are outlined, some of the specifics have yet to be ironed out.”

Food and Drink Federation (FDF) food law, labelling and enforcement manager Alex Turtle described the label changes needed as complex, intensifying the need for Government to provide clarity in order to create compliant food labels post-Brexit.

Labelling requirements

“There are particular uncertainties about the Food Business Operator’s name and address requirement for the different markets of concern (i.e. NI/GB/EU27) and Government direction on the labelling implications of the Northern Ireland Protocol remains outstanding,” ​said Turtle.

“With the transition period nearing its end, UK-EU negotiations still ongoing and updates to official guidance still awaited, the food industry has already practically run out of time to process the necessary label changes ahead of the January 2021 deadline.”

Meanwhile, the Welsh meat sector faces “worrying challenges” ​and “a menacing maelstrom of uncertainty​ amid further disruption from coronavirus and an EU trade deadlock, Hybu Cig Cymru-Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) chairman Kevin Roberts has warned.

Related topics: Packaging & Labelling, Brexit

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