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Dispatches from FDF labelling debate

Labelling law costs for SMEs raise concerns

By Jess Halliday in Brussels , 12-Feb-2009

The proposed food information regulation would pose big problems for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) if adopted in its present shape, said speakers at the FDF labelling debate – despite the Commission having carried out an impact assessment.

According to the latest data compiled by the CIAA, the umbrella trade association for the European food and drink industry, SMEs (defined as having less than 250 employees) make up 99.1 per cent of the food and drink business population, and generate 48.5 per cent of the sector’s turnover.

Ludger Fischer of European Association of Craft, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (UEAPME) intervened in the debate with results of the association’s analysis of costs for SMEs.

He said that compliance would cost a reckoned €400 for each individual product. If a company has a product line of 100 to 150 products, they could be expected to pay out as much as €60,000 every year.

The total cost for SMEs in the EU, he said, could amount to €6bn.

Moreover, he said that a transition period for compliance would not make a great difference, as many change their products every day.

Renate Sommer, rapporteur for the European Parliament on the proposed legislation, also expressed concern that the costs associated with compliance would be workable for SMEs. She added that the impact was a matter for the Commission to look into.

Basil Mathioudakis, head of the food law, nutrition and labelling unit at the European Commission, said that the Commission had indeed carried out an impact assessment that considered SMEs position.

He responded that, if SMEs change their products every day they would need to change some aspect of their labelling in any case.

Food and drink make up the largest manufacturing sector in the EU, with a turnover of €913bn in 2007. Only 0.9 per cent of companies are classified as ‘large’, with 250 employees and over, but they provided 51.5 per cent of turnover.

The debate was organised by the UK's Food and Drink Federation, and took place on Tuesday at the Biblioteque Solvay in Brussels.

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