Food Law News - EU - 2001

Commission Press Release (IP/01/1244), 6 September 2001

LABELLING - Commission Proposes a Complete Listing of Food Ingredients and Allergens

The Commission today issued a proposal for an amendment to the food labelling Directive(Directive 2000/13/EC OJ L 109, 6.5.2000) which is intended to ensure that all consumers are informed of the complete contents of foodstuffs and to enable consumers with allergies to identify any allergenic ingredients that may be present. The proposal will abolish the "25% rule" which currently means that it is not obligatory to label the components of compound ingredients that make up less than 25% of the final food product. Today's proposal means that all ingredients intentionally added will have to be included on the label. The proposal will also establish a list of ingredients liable to cause allergies or intolerances and will include alcoholic beverages if they contain an ingredient on the allergen list.

David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, welcoming the proposal said "Labelling which provides total transparency by listing all ingredients can only boost the confidence of consumers and is a direct response to repeated requests from consumers for better information about the foods they purchase and specifically about their composition. This is a very clear example of the European Union working concretely in favour of citizens' ordinary needs. I am particularly committed to a revised labelling regime that gives consumers full information about potential allergens. This will provide for no exceptions. It will extend from foodstuffs to include alcoholic beverages."

In the White Paper on Food Safety, the Commission announced its intention of proposing an amendment to the Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC, especially the "25 % rule" which means that currently, the components of compound ingredients which form less than 25% of the final product, need not be indicated on the label. This 25% rule was introduced into Community legislation more than 20 years ago in order to avoid inordinately long lists of ingredients. It is based on the principle that the consumer knows the composition of compound ingredients and can therefore deduce, for example, that jam added to biscuits is prepared with fruit and sugar. This percentage will be abolished with the new proposal.

However, since then, food production has become more and more complex, and people eat a lot more processed foods. Over the past few years, consumers have repeatedly expressed the wish to be better informed about the foodstuffs they purchase, and specifically about their composition, even if full ingredient labelling will inevitably make ingredient lists longer. Furthermore, the many recent food scares have reinforced this need for information.

Information is particularly important for certain consumers who suffer from allergies or adverse reactions to certain substances. The proportion of the population with food allergies or food intolerances is increasing all the time (according to the allergy associations 8 % of children and 3 % of adults are affected) and new allergens are emerging. These allergies not only cause illnesses, often of a chronic nature (e.g. atopic dermatitis, urticaria, digestive symptoms), but can also provoke life-threatening reactions (asthma, anaphylactic shock). For these people the lack of detailed information is a handicap, in that they are never sure that the product they are buying does not contain the allergen that can provoke an adverse reaction. Allergic consumers therefore need to have complete and precise labelling and the new proposal provides for that.

The new requirements have been drafted with certain de minimis provisions to avoid absurdities or over-regulation. To prevent the risk of labelling becoming too complex, and to take account of the technical constraints associated with the manufacture of foodstuffs, the proposal authorises some limited derogations,(not applicable to allergens), and a flexibility with regard to the listing of ingredients used in very small quantity. The additional labelling requirements will enter into force after a transitional period to allow companies to bring product labelling into line with the new provisions. The proposal will be forwarded to the Parliament and the Council under the codecision procedure.

List of potential allergenic ingredients to be labelled:

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