SMEs set to benefit from amendments to EU food labelling proposal

By Gavin Kermack

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European union

The draft report on the European Commission’s proposal for the provision of food information to consumers in the EU suggests substantial amendments which would offer small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) more flexibility.

Dr Renate Sommer, rapporteur for the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and author of the report, says that a comprehensive revision of the proposal is “essential”​ because the additional costs to businesses necessitated by the proposal “would impose a severe burden on the food sector”​.

She adds that this consists largely of small- and medium-sized firms who would have to pass the additional costs on to consumers.

Diversity under threat

Sommer’s report, which was released today, has been welcomed in the SME community.

Bob Salmon of the European Association of Craft, Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME) told FoodNavigator.com that the report “indicates that the Commission does take notice of small businesses”​.

He said that many of the association’s suggestions appear almost verbatim in the document and that they would likely be accepted in full.

Prior to the report’s release, UEAPME had submitted several of its own amendments to the proposal, claiming that its demand for the labelling of unpacked food would result in “a remarkable reduction of the distinctiveness of typical fresh European foodstuff”​.

Sommer agrees, pointing out that specialist non-prepacked food manufacturers such as bakers and restaurants are “guarantors of the survival and diversity of regional specialities in the European Union”​.

Under the original proposal, member states would have been responsible for legislating food labelling of non-prepacked products. Sommer says that if they failed to do this quickly enough or at all, such SMEs would be obliged to meet the EU labelling regulations and provide comprehensive nutrition declarations, which they “are hardly in a position to [do]”​.

Incomprehensible

Sommer is particularly critical of the original proposal’s “flexible bottom-up mechanism”​ by which the labelling rules could be adapted for different markets.

She describes this proposal as “incomprehensible”​, saying that it would “render the proposal for a regulation under consideration here absurd”​. The costs to manufacturers of fulfilling the labelling requirements of each country in which they market their products would be enormous.

She does, however, allow for the possibility of providing additional information on packaging, as long as it does not detract from the visibility of the mandatory information.

Ludger Fischer, food policy advisor at UEAPME, is hopeful that the report will make the the legislation much more beneficial to businesses. “The original proposal was made with the intention of satisfying consumers and member states – everyone except those in the food business,”​ he told FoodNavigator.com.

The final adoption of legislation is expected to take place during the first half of next year, under the Czech presidency of the European Council.

The majority of the proposals will come into force after three years, with an extra grace period of two years being granted to SMEs with less than ten employees.

Related topics: Labelling, Policy

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