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IN FOCUS

Proposal for a new EU Food Labelling Regulation
Tuesday, 16 December, 2008, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, Mumbai
On January 30, 2008, the European Commission published its proposal to revise the EU's general food labelling requirements laid down in Directive 2000/13/EC. The main objective of the proposal is to make essential information available to the consumer in a legible and understandable way. The proposed rules apply to all foods and beverages, including imported products, intended for the final consumer. While the proposal mainly consolidates existing requirements scattered over different directives, a number of important new requirements are being introduced. New requirements include the mandatory declaration of nutrition information on the front label of pre-packaged foods, a minimum font size of 3mm for printing mandatory information and an ingredients list on the label of alcopops.

Mandatory Food Information

Under the proposal, the following information is mandatory (article 9):

● The name of the food

● The list of ingredients

● Ingredients causing allergies (listed in annex ii to the draft regulation)

● Quantitative indication of certain ingredients

● The net quantity of the food expressed in litre, centilitres, millilitres, kilograms or grams

● The use-by date

● Any special storage conditions of conditions of use

● Name and address of the manufacturer or packager or seller established within the EU

● Country of origin or provenance where failure to indicate this might mislead the consumer

● Instructions for use where the absence of such information would make the proper use of the food impossible

● The alcoholic strength by volume for beverages containing more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol

● A nutrition declaration

Annex III to the draft regulation establishes additional mandatory information for foods packaged in certain gases, foods containing sweeteners, foods containing liquorice, beverages with high caffeine content and foods with added phytosterols.

Font Size

Mandatory information must be printed in a minimum font size of 3 mm on a contrasting background. The minimum font size does not apply when the largest surface of the packaging is less than 10 cm2.

Allergen Labeling

Annex II to the draft regulation lists the allergenic ingredients and substances derived from such ingredients that must be indicated on the label. Under the proposal, mandatory allergen labeling is being extended to non-prepackaged food, including food sold in restaurants and catering establishments.

Alcoholic beverages

Under the proposal, ready to drink mixed alcoholic beverages, better known as alcopops, must include an ingredients list on the label. Wine, beer and spirits escape for the time being from the mandatory ingredient labelling requirement. However, five years after the entry into force of the new labeling regulation, a European Commission report will review this temporary derogation and propose, if necessary, specific labeling requirements for wine, beer and spirits. Pending the adoption of harmonised provisions, member states may maintain national rules for the listing of ingredients on alcoholic beverages.

Origin Labelling

Country of origin or provenance labeling remains voluntary unless its absence could mislead consumers. However, the proposal lays down certain criteria for producers who wish to inform the consumer that a food is coming from the EU or a specified country or place. If the main ingredients originate from a different place than the finished product, the country of origin of the main ingredient(s) must also be listed. Separate rules on origin labeling already exist for beef and veal in the context of the EU's BSE protection measures. The proposal sets out conditions for the voluntary country of origin indication on all other types of meats.

Only under certain conditions can member states make country of origin labelling mandatory. National authorities must notify the Commission before they introduce any national legislation on country of origin labeling. Notifications must include evidence that the purchasing choices of a majority of consumers are influenced by the provision of such information.

Nutrition Labelling

Under the current EU rules, nutrition labeling is optional although it becomes mandatory when a nutrition claim is being made or when vitamins or minerals are voluntarily added to foods. In the context of the EU's fight against obesity, the proposal introduces mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labeling for most pre-packaged processed foods (wine, beer and spirits are excluded). The proposal does not lay down one uniform system for the presentation of the front-of-pack information except for the order of the nutrients and the legibility requirements.Manufacturers can freely choose how they want to display such information.

Energy value, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates with specific reference to sugars and salt content of the product, per 100ml/100g or per portion, must be indicated in that order on the front of the packaging. The nutrition declaration must be expressed as a percentage of the reference intakes established by Part B of Annex XI. The declaration of vitamins and minerals must also be provided as a percentage of the reference intakes set out by Part A of Annex XI. The proposal also provides a list of other nutrients (such as trans fats) that may be included in the nutrition declaration.

Despite lobbying from consumer organisations, the proposal favors the "Guideline Daily Amounts" (GDA) approach rather than any of the national schemes such as the UK's traffic light scheme. However, the proposal allows for national non-binding schemes to be developed. Under the proposal,-Member States may adopt national standards, recommendations or specific formats for the presentation of nutrition information (such as the traffic light system). Products labeled with a nationally endorsed scheme can freely circulate in all Member States. The Commission will establish and operate an exchange of information on the national schemes.
 
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