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Confusion reigns over EU labelling legislation

By Clare Cheney , 10-Jul-2014
Last updated on 10-Jul-2014 at 10:59 GMT

Draft guidance on the Food Information for Consumers Regulation 2014 was issued by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) last month.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions, although the regulation comes into force in December and food suppliers are having to design new labels in time.

This raises the question as to whether an EU regulation should have been adopted at all if after over a year of discussion in Brussels and London, the interpretation of significant parts of it is still unclear.

Should be another new regulation

There should be another regulation that says that if the interpretation of a new piece of legislation is not clear by the time it comes into force, it should lapse. If regulations can’t be enforced because no-one – including the legislators – knows what they mean, they are as good as dead in any case. Either that, or over-zealous enforcement officers will make up their own minds and act accordingly.

Such a situation is of no help to the consumer for whose protection the legislation is intended. The objective of the regulation was to consolidate and simplify all separate EU labelling rules that had been enacted over the years. But, of course, we have long since learnt that the word ‘simplification’ is Eurospeak for ‘complication’!

The UK guidance to the regulation is a piece of work that might never be complete because the European Commission (EC) Working Group on it keeps coming up with new sets of questions and answers (Q&A) on an ad hoc basis as it discovers new questions to be answered. For example, among the many Q&A documents under consideration, there is one on labelling of meat and fish containing 23 questions, of which only eight have draft answers so far.

Concerns

One question concerns the definition of products that are required to declare added water and whether smoked products such as bacon are included. The DEFRA guidance says unequivocally that bacon is included in the definition. What if the EC Working Group disagrees?

If this is not enough, there is another unanswered question in the EC’s list concerning whether a quantitative ingredient declaration (QUID) is required for added water.

Under existing legislation, the meat content is QUID’d, because meat content is more relevant than water. Arguably, water in bacon has a technological purpose in the curing process rather than being an ingredient and therefore a QUID should not be necessary.

It would have been simpler and less costly to have kept the old EU regulations.

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