Food Law News - UK - 2007

FSA Consultation Letter, 29 June 2007

LABELLING - A framework for the provision of mandatory food information and labelling requirements for food sold loose

For a copy of the document discussed in this consultation, go to: Principles for Food Labelling

At its open meeting on 15 February 2007, the Board of the Food Standards Agency discussed and agreed to a consultation on a set of draft proposed principles, developed by Agency officials, against which current and future food labelling requirements for pre-packed food could be assessed. Responses are requested by: 21 September 2007

Consultation details

The Board also considered consumer information needs in relation to foods sold loose, i.e. not pre-packed such as in delicatessen counters, markets and catering establishments. With certain exceptions, these are currently not required to display the labelling information that pre-packed foods are subject to. The Board agreed to retain the status quo but asked the Executive to consult on the suggestion of applying a 'best practice' approach to providing information for such foods.

General and key principles for food labelling requirements

Current EU food labelling rules have evolved over many years and are complex, being subject to many different pieces of legislation. The European Commission is therefore conducting an EU Food Labelling Review, and a draft proposal for what is likely to be a directly applicable Regulation on Food Information is expected by the end of the year. A major aim of this review is to simplify the rules and reduce burdens on industry, without loss of consumer information or protection.

The Commission is also reviewing nutrition labelling in parallel, with consideration of the issue of front-of-pack labelling. It now seems likely that nutrition and general labelling will be taken forward as a single proposal, expected by the end of the year.

As part of its preparation for the review, the Food Standards Agency's Board considered it important to develop a set of general and key principles against which current and future food labelling requirements for pre-packed food could be measured, and which could aid the Commission in its review. This would provide a framework to help assess whether the current mandatory requirements are still necessary or appropriate, and whether additional mandatory requirements might be needed either now or in the future. The Board considered it important that the provision of nutrition information should be included in this consideration. The European Commission has already indicated it is interested in this approach.

The General Principles discussed by the Board were:

These general principles would underlie all labelling requirements both mandatory and voluntary. Further conditions as to how these objectives should be achieved could be laid down in legislation or Guidance.

The key principles governing the mandatory provision of information considered by the Board were:

The following areas were identified:

It has been suggested that consumer information requirements being considered on a mandatory basis should also be subject both to a 'consumer demand' and a 'sustainability' filter. These should ensure that legislative requirements are subject to a proportionate and balanced approach.

The idea of the 'consumer demand' filter is to ensure that purchases based primarily on consumer 'values' or 'ethical stance' do not disproportionately influence mandatory labelling requirements. Examples of such labelling were presented to the Board in February 2007 and included indications such as 'vegetarian', 'Fairtrade' and 'assurance schemes'. Information to inform purchasing decisions based on these factors could continue to be provided through voluntary labelling that is likely to be more flexible in response to market trends. A key question here is whether the 'consumer demand' filter should be applied to all key principles, or whether 'safety' should be excluded and decisions to legislate, on the 'safety principle', be based solely on the risk to public health.

The 'sustainability' filter might, for example, include consideration of economic impact, including the consequences of longer ingredient lists, more packaging and equity of access to information being provided.

An example of how these principles might be used to assess current food labelling provisions, both mandatory and voluntary, is presented in the attached document. Applying these principles, most of the current mandatory requirements would actually be retained on the label. The exceptions are arguably the double labelling of sweeteners and the requirement to indicate modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). A potential addition might be the possible introduction of a mandatory nutrition panel, to encourage healthy dietary choices.

The key principles and filters would therefore govern the mandatory provision of information on pre-packed food. Other non-mandatory information may continue to be provided voluntarily on the label or off-label by alternative means. The overall aim is to avoid information overload and to ensure that labelling requirements meet consumer needs without compromising clarity.

Questions on the key principles

The proposed principles are at an early stage of development and may be further refined in the coming months. To help achieve this and to facilitate debate we have set out a number of questions below, and would value your responses to them. It would be helpful if responses could be structured to match the questions, but any additional comments or suggestions would be welcome.

Q1. Do you agree with this framework approach as a sensible basis to establish labelling provisions that should apply for pre-packed foods?

Q2. Do you agree with the principles identified? Please give your reasons either way:

Q3. Are there any other principles or filters that you feel should be considered?

Q4. Do you agree with the additional filters of consumer demand and sustainability that requirements should be subject to?

Food sold loose/pre-packed for direct sale

Article 14 of the Food Labelling Directive (2000/13/EC) allows Member States not to apply EC labelling rules in the case of food sold loose or pre-packed for direct sale so long as the consumer receives sufficient information. In the UK , such foods are not generally subject to the same requirements as pre-packed food, on the basis that further information may be obtained directly from the vendor/producer in person.

During the Board's discussion of foods sold loose, the general consensus was that there may be difficulties and issues of proportionality in requiring the same labelling information for pre-packed foods on a mandatory basis, while accepting that much of the information that consumers might need was already available to such businesses. The Board agreed to retain the status quo but asked that views be sought on the suggestion of applying a 'best practice' approach to providing off-label information for such foods. We would therefore also value your views on this suggestion.

Questions on food sold loose/pre-packed for direct sale

Q5. Should a best practice approach to provide off label information be developed for foods sold loose?

Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA)

This consultation is not accompanied by an RIA because this policy is at an early stage of development and as such it is not yet clear what burdens if any the suggested approach might impose on industry. An RIA will be drafted to capture the salient costs/benefits as and when these burdens become clearer. Therefore, it would be helpful if you could indicate what you consider the potential burdens might mean for you or your organisation.

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