FSA Letter (LRM/006/097), 14 May 2009
Following the letter of 19 March [See 19 March 2009], the latest meetings of the Council Working Group on the Food Information Proposal took place on 27 March and 27 April 2009. The Czech Presidency continued discussions on the proposal for a Food Information Regulation, covering both general and nutrition labelling aspects.
Main Points of Discussion
Article 8 – Responsibilities
The Presidency has tabled a proposal, based on comments from the previous meeting. This attempts to clarify the responsibilities of food business operators, those that must ensure the accuracy and compliance of food information (those placing the food on the market – importers/manufacturers), those that modify this information (making sure information is still accurate and safe), and those responsible for removing foodstuffs from the market if they know or presume a food to be non-compliant with food information law.
There were mixed views from Member States and it is clear that many need further clarification on what the Presidencies text actually means in terms of the responsibilities at each stage of the food chain and for individual food business operators.
Article 14 – Clarity
Picking up from earlier discussions, Member States appear to be in support, at least in principle, of a minimum font size (defined as an ‘x height' – the height of a lower case ‘x'). There has been no discussion on the exemption from the minimum font size for small packages - currently 10cm2 under the Commission's proposal. Clearly this will need to be reviewed.
Article 15 – Distance selling
There was little discussion on this issue. The general view was that food sold via distance selling (internet, mail-order etc.) should provide the same level of information as ‘regular' retail sales.
Article 18 and Annex V – Name of the food
There were calls to remove the compositional criteria for mince meat as laid out in Annex V of the proposal. The Food Information Regulation does not seem to be the appropriate piece of legislation for such requirements, although it is not clear where these rules should be placed.
The Commission was also supportive of tightening rules in the proposal to ensure consumers are not mislead when water, salt and other ingredients are added to meat, which for all intents and purposes looks like ‘fresh' meat.
Article 19 and Annex VI – Ingredient listings
There was little discussion on this article, but there was a consensus view that the adjectives ‘fully' or ‘partially', as appropriate, should be declared for hydrogenated fats/oils in the list of ingredients.
Article 20 - Ingredient listings on alcoholic drinks
This article lists foods that are exempt from the provision of ingredient listings. Previously there has been a lot of debate on the temporary exemption for wine, beer and spirits. The majority of Member States support this exemption and have pushed to include a large range of national drinks in this exemption. However, some Member States propose a temporary blanket exemption for all alcoholic drinks above 1.2% alc, to ensure a level playing field, pending the Commission establishing rules for labelling alcoholic drinks within 5 years.
Article 24 and Annex VIII – Net quantity
The Commission presented to the Working Group a paper by the International Organisation of Legal Metrology (OMIL) setting an international standard for measuring the net quantity of foodstuffs - see http://www.oiml.org/publications/R/R087-e04.pdf
If you have comments on whether this standard should be in some way incorporated into the proposal, please let me know.
Article 25 – Minimum Durability (Best before and Use by)
There is continued debate on this article, principally on how legislation can be clarified to ensure more consistent application of ‘use by' and ‘best before' dates. This may lead to either EC or national guidance in this area.
Article 41 – Non-prepacked food
The Presidency tabled a proposal, which allows Member States to adopt national rules in this area, with the exception of allergen labelling that must be provided. Member States were generally supportive, but still had reservations on issues, such as cross-contamination in catering establishments.
IMPORTANT: to aid our negotiations on this issue I would be grateful if you could take some time to fill in the attached questionnaire (Annex A), which includes a number of questions on allergen information on non-prepacked foods. Any information you provide will inform discussions and help ensure that any new rules are proportionate.
There was further discussion on the interplay with Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 with discussion based around a Presidency proposal for Article 50 and Article 29 (3) to clarify that where a nutrition or health claim is made the mandatory nutrition information must be provided. There was general agreement on the text for Article 50 however Article 29 (3) requires some further consideration.
Also in relation to Article 29 there was a further discussion on the exemptions for nutrition labelling for certain alcoholic drinks. Although a number of suggestions were made for further specific drink to be exempted a number of Member States suggested a more consistent approach similar to that discussed under Article 20 with all drinks over 1.2 % ABV being exempted. In addition there was further support for a proposal that drinks over 1.2% ABV would require only an energy declaration.
The meeting continued discussions on Articles 31 and 33 (forms of expression and expression on a per portion basis) and on Chapter VII (development of National schemes) a number of positions were aired and all the issues will be revisited in future meetings.
As reported in my previous letter the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, have voted to postpone discussions in Parliament until the next Parliamentary session after the summer elections.
The next meeting will be on the 28 May, at which the UK will present the findings of its independent evaluation of the various front of pack nutrition signposting schemes currently on the market. This will be followed by agreement of the Presidency's progress report which will be sent to the Agricultural Council on 25/26 June. This is the last meeting under the Czech Presidency and the Swedish delegation is expected to outline its timetable under their Presidency, which starts on 1 July 2009.