Council Document, 2 December 2008
The following is the major part of the Presidency's progress report. It excludes the introductory sections. A copy of the full document is available on this site. See Food Information - Presidency's progress report
Examination by the Working Party
The proposal and its impact assessment were presented by the Commission to the Working Party on Foodstuffs in March 2008.
The Working Party on Foodstuffs continued the examination of the proposal during six meetings under the French Presidency. Almost all the delegations presented a large number of written comments and suggestions.
Some of the main doubts or problems raised during the examination are described below.
Scope of the Regulation / Private activities:
It was decided to clarify the exclusion from the scope of the Regulation of all foods sold by private persons in the context of occasional activities at events such as charities, local community fairs or meetings, and not as part of an undertaking.
How to share the responsibility among the various actors involved in food distribution is one of the most difficult questions for the Working Party to resolve. The point to determine is whether every link of the chain should be held liable and, if so, to what degree.
Place of origin:
Delegations are aware of the difficulties of indicating the place of origin of multi-ingredient foods. Therefore, they tried to further specify the criteria to define the place(s) of origin of such products.
A number of delegations are in favour of keeping the system of the Directive in force, without introducing additional criteria for voluntary origin indication.
Other delegations agree, in general, with the system proposed by the Commission.
Other delegations agree, in general, with the system proposed by the Commission and would like, in addition, to impose systematically the obligation on some kind of foods (for instance, non-processed foods).
Delegations are aware of the fact that, due to the difficulties for the national courts in applying the non-measurable criteria existing in the legislation in force, the illegibility of the labels is a problem with which consumers are currently confronted. As a consequence, one of the concerns of the delegations is to find requirements that might be effectively applied by the courts at national level.
A large number of delegations accepted the idea of establishing an obligatory minimum font size, but the 3 mm proposed by the Commission was clearly rejected by a wide majority of the delegations as too large to be a mandatory measure.
The Working Party is also considering if other elements such as the contrast, the text type (of the font) and format (bold), the layout (margins), the print quality, the white space around the text, the surfaces (not rough surfaces) can be taken into account in order to make a label more legible.
A possible solution under examination could be to establish the essential requirements in the body of the law, with others in the Annexes and the details in guidelines to be adopted by the Commission.
Exemptions for alcoholic drinks:
The Commission proposal exempts some alcoholic drinks from the obligation to indicate the ingredients and nutrients. It appeared from the discussion that the Working Party wishes to treat competing alcoholic drinks in the same way. However, it has not yet been agreed if they should be exempted, not exempted at all or at least made subject to one or some requirements, for instance to an obligatory indication of energy content.
Compulsory nutrition declaration:
One of the new features of the proposal, generally accepted by the delegations, is that the nutrition declaration should become mandatory.
However, for certain delegations, the compulsory character of the nutrition declaration seems to be heavy burden on SMEs.
The application of the nutritional declaration to the non-prepacked foods is not yet entirely defined. Hence the obligations in this sense, in particular for SMEs, might not be less extensive than for pre-packed foods.
Quantity of nutrients:
Concerning the calculation of the quantities of nutrients, delegations underlined the need for:
- tolerances to be taken into account when the official controls are carried out;
- scientifically established and/or confirmed reference values.
According to the proposal the quantity of nutrients could be expressed per portions.
Delegations, however, can only accept the expression per portion as additional to the expression per 100 grams or millilitres.
Field of vision:
The Working Party considered it important that all the elements of the nutrition declaration should appear in the same field of vision, not necessarily on the front of the pack.
The Commission's proposal would authorise the mandatory elements of the nutrition declaration to be indicated by complementary forms of expressions adopted in the context of voluntary national schemes. These national schemes can furthermore be established for other labelling provisions.
A few Member States agreed with this proposal as it allows the continuation of the systems that work best for consumer information and contribute to their national public health policy.
They also underlined the benefits of such systems in terms of prompting innovation in the form of expressing the information on the labels.
Without denying the interest in keeping a door open to innovation and to best national practices as regards informing the consumer, a broad majority of the delegations were opposed to the admissibility of national schemes. They feared that the co-existence of different forms of expressions could confuse the consumer instead of contributing to giving him clear information, and could create undue distortions of competition and finally disrupt the functioning of the internal market. In their opinion, complementary forms of labelling should be therefore harmonised.
Information related to non-prepacked food:
There is a broad agreement on the need to inform consumers of the presence of allergens in any foods.
The information to be given to the consumers in the case of non-prepacked food and the way that information should be delivered are aspects still under discussion at the Working Party.
3. Next steps
The merging of different legislative acts in a single Regulation should eventually lead to a clearer, more consistent and more legible legal system on food labelling. The need for such a system was expressed during the debate at Working Party level, where a lot of attention was given to issues resulting from the difficulties in applying the legislation in force.
The fact that the nutritional declaration should become compulsory raises also numerous questions of a practical nature concerning its implementation. In particular, a considerable number of delegations have doubts concerning the possibility of additional forms of expression of nutritional declaration adopted in the context of "national schemes", whilst keeping this option is very important provision for a few other delegation.
Given the complexity of the file and the interdependence among the different issues, the examination of the proposal will have to continue at expert level in order to find appropriate solutions.
It is expected that the European Parliament will complete its first reading before the end of the current parliamentary term (mid 2009) and the discussions between the EP and the Council could be carried out to a second-reading agreement under the next European Parliament term.