Cut label clutter, industry tells policy-makers

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food labelling directive, Food, Label, Food standards agency

UK food manufacturers and retailers presented thoughts on the
practical implications of the EU review of food labelling
legislation this week, stressing the need for simple food labels
and efforts to stem demands for more and more information to be

The presentation took place this week at a workshop attended by food industry delegates and European policy-makers, organised by the Food and DrinFederation (FDF) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC). The European Commission is presently in the midst of reviewing labelling requirements set out in the Food Labelling Directive (2000/13/EC), in order to simplify the rules and reduce the burden on industry - while at the same time maintaining a high level of consumer information and protection. A draft proposal to cover both general and nutritional labelling is expected by the end of this year. Delegates at the workshop said that the review should be about more than just consolidating the current legislation; simpler labels would be more consumer-friendly. In particular, they said it should look at ways of "reducing some of the unnecessary clutter"​ and preventing even more labelling demands being made. "The original labelling directive was successful, clear and balanced, but since it was introduced there have been many additional requirements that have put pressure on the labelling space,"​ said Michael Hunt, the FDF's food law and labelling manager. Hunt added that whilst the industry body would welcome changes to the legislation to make it clearer and easier for companies to use, it would not want these changes to actually increase the amount of information required on labels. Delegates gave some examples of ways in which the burden on industry could be reduced, such as removing duplicate declarations like "with sweeteners".​ They stressed that information included should be meaningful for consumers. Flagging up the use of a packaging gas, for instance, means little to them and should be avoided, and there is no consumer demand for ingredients listing on alcoholic drinks. Where there is genuine demand for information on matters like allergen 'may contain' wording, this is often provided voluntarily by companies. Making it mandatory would be inappropriate in this context since it is a matter of company risk assessment, the industry members said, and it might increase labelling burdens. Moreover, delegates said that the revised legislation should not concern itself with areas that are already covered by other regulations, such as animal welfare and country of origin labelling. As has been seen before in the case of EU legislation (for instance, in requirements for compilation of scientific dossiers under novels foods and health claims regulations), concerns were expressed for the impact on small companies. It has been proposed that allergy information and best before dates should be provided on loose foods. But this, said delegates, has not been demanded by consumers and would be "prohibitively expensive"​ for small firms and craft producers. "Such a move would also create huge practical headaches for all large and small companies, who would have to decide how such information would be provided to customers - whether through notices, stickers or labels,"​ said retailers representing their side of the industry. Cost concerns are very real given the important role of small-scale producers in the overall food scene, as well as the growing interest in farmers markets. In the UK, there are currently around 500 farmers markets, and it has been estimated that investment in labelling guns so as to apply date tickets on individual produce would cost some €1m. FDF and BRC have indicated that they will continue to provide input to help inform the formal proposal. The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) this month launched a consultation on principles to govern the regulation changes. The FSA board has discussed general principles to underlie all labelling requirements (mandatory and voluntary). These are: appropriate labelling of food so that the consumer can make an informed purchasing decision; the presentation of accurate, legible and easy to understand information; and that labelling - be it pictorial or descriptive - should not mislead over product nature or quality. Key principles relate to mandatory provision of information, which must be easily identifiable and not obscured by marketing or voluntary information; and information to be made available at point of purchase. The FSA is asking stakeholders for their thoughts on the framework approach, and whether they agree with the principles identified in the areas of safety, key product identifiers, and nutrition.

Related topics: Policy, Food labelling

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