Food Law News - EU - 2007


FSA Letter (LRM 06/71), 2 August 2007

LABELLING - EU Food Labelling Review

Since my letter of 5 March, the European Commission has held two further meetings of the Experts' Group in Brussels, the last being on 5/6 July. There have also been two Mini Group meetings to look at specific aspects of the Review. I write to bring you up to date with developments.

Timetable/Form of New Legislation

The Commission is still aiming to adopt a draft proposal by the end of 2007 – earlier if possible. This will be in the form of a Regulation on Food Information that will be subject to Co-Decision procedures i.e. it will require the approval of both Council of Ministers and the European Parliament (EP). It is now almost certain that this will include new proposals on nutrition labelling, which are at present being considered in parallel but separate meetings. The Commission's tentative date for adoption by EP and Council remains 2010.

Impact Assessment

An Impact Assessment was recently adopted by the Commission's Board and will form part of the Commission's proposal. It will not be publicly available beforehand.

Structure of Legislation and General Requirements

The majority of Member States have expressed support for the inclusion of Labelling Principles that will govern the provision of mandatory information on pre-packed food. The Commission is considering the precise form these should take, but it seems likely that they will be broadly in line with those endorsed by the Food Standard Agency's Board last February, which are currently subject to public consultation in the UK [See UK News Item: 29 June 2007]. Member States also agreed that the new Regulation should have a robust framework, with clear aims and objectives that would be able to accommodate future developments in the provision of food information. Definitions will be reviewed, and made consistent with other recent EC texts.

Governance Model

The Commission is considering a new ‘Governance' framework that is designed to achieve harmonisation without legislation, for example on Best Practice approaches. The detail of the proposed system is unclear, but it is likely to involve periodic returns from Member States and the use of comitology procedures. On the information available, Member States have generally had reservations about the need for such a system, and have questioned whether the benefits would be outweighed by the administrative burden.

Non Pre-packed Food/Food sold in Catering Establishments

The majority of Member States appear in favour of retaining the status quo, and the Commission now seems minded to propose broad brush mandatory allergen requirements only, with the detailed application left to Member States. A number of Member States have suggested that this could be counter productive, because of the risk of unintentional contamination. There still appears to be no support from Member States for the introduction of harmonised mandatory provisions in the catering sector.

Clarity

Both the Commission and Member States regard the legibility of labels as a critical issue, but are conscious of the need to avoid unnecessary prescription. The Commission is considering a number of options, ranging from specifying a minimum print size and possibly contrast requirements to the use of Best Practice Guidance. A possible compromise may be some prescription plus Guidance but no firm conclusions have been reached.

Ingredient Listing for Alcoholic Drinks

Member States have generally expressed concern that ingredient listing for alcoholic drinks has not been discussed in any detail. The Commission now seems inclined to only propose mandatory ingredient listing for alcoholic drinks above 1.2% ABV where these are mixed with soft drinks, for example Alcopops. A number of Member States reported national ingredient listing requirements already in place for certain alcoholic drinks.

Origin Labelling

Most Member States seem to support a tightening of the rules on the provision of origin information, for example by defining' Last Substantial Change' and ‘Product Of'. Discussions on whether current mandatory commodity requirements should be extended to a wider range of foods have been inconclusive. It is generally accepted that this is a complex issue that needs very careful consideration, not least because of World Trade Organisation implications. It seems unlikely that the Commission will propose wholesale changes.

Distance Selling

This has been discussed only briefly. A minority of Member States are pressing for prescriptive controls. The Commission has accepted that this could be theoretically justified, but has questioned whether there is a practical need. It is not clear what the Commission is likely to propose.

Next Steps

We are continuing to meet with key stakeholders, including other Government Departments, to help develop our thinking on the issues raised above. We will consult publicly on the Commission's proposal once it is available. Apart from the Labelling Principles, a consultation on National Labelling Provisions is also underway [See UK News Item: 22 June 2007] . If you would like to discuss any particular issues on the EU Review or these consultations, then please get in touch.


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