A recent proposed amendment to the FIR from the Council of Ministers under Annex V states: “In the case of foods that have been frozen before sale, and which are sold defrosted, the name of the food shall be accompanied by the designation ‘defrosted’."
The proposed change represents a significant change to existing EU labelling laws (Directive 2000/13/EC) where you only label goods as 'defrosted' (chicken, for instance) when it is believed the absense of such a designation could potentially mislead the consumer.
Article 5.3 of the above Directive states: "The name under which the product is sold shall include or be accompanied by particulars as to the physical condition of the foodstuff or the specific treatment which it has undergone (e.g. powdered, freeze-dried, deep-frozen, concentrated,smoked) in all cases where omission of such information could create confusion in the mind of the purchaser."
Potential two-tier market
Industry opposition to the potential movement away from this wording centres on fears that it could create a two-tier market for a wide range of chilled foods sold in the EU - with 'non-defrosted' products somehow perceived by consumers as superior - as well as packaging issues and logistical difficulties.
For instance, retailers commonly only freeze part of a butter stock according to demand, and often interchange this stock with identical products that have not been frozen.
Gordon Polson, director of the UK Federation of Bakers told FoodManufacture.co.uk: "We're no different from anyone else in the food industry, and we think you should only have to label products as such if you are misleading the consumer. The need for change is not proven, since there are no safety or quality derogation issues."
Polson said he believed DEFRA (the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) was looking into the wording of the amendment, given that there are "questions over what the Council intended to achieve through it", and he hoped that the issue could even be resolved before the EU Parliament votes on the amendment in late spring/early summer.
However, he said he would join other UK and EU trade bodies, in supporting a move backed by EU parliamentarians to preserve the current status quo on the defrosted labelling issue.
As regards the specific impact that any change could have on the baking trade, Polson said "peak demand products" such as mince pies and hot cross buns would be particularly hard hit, given that stocks are built up during the year in preparation for festivals such as Christmas.
Implementation of the amendment could lead to packaging problems (due to parallel labelling for some goods), he said, as well as the potential for a two-tier market for goods on shelves.
Impact on ingredients suppliers
British Sandwich Association director Jim Winship echoed these concerns, but said: "We don't quite know the potential impact on our industry as yet, if it relates to ingredients then it certainly will affect us, but not if it is limited to finished products, as most sandwiches are only chilled anyway."
Winship said the extent of the regulation change would be unclear until the second reading of the directive, but outlined some of the problems that could arise if it did affect ingredients:
"Ingredients for sandwiches are shipped from all parts of the world and frozen at different stages of delivery in the UK to maintain stocks. If one has to label ingredients as defrosted, then more space will be required on labels, while suppliers of all sorts of food ingredients will face logistical issues in differentiating between products that have and haven't been frozen.
"It's potentially a big issue that could affect suppliers of many chilled products, and we've expressed our concerns. Christmas produce could be particularly hard hit, because naturally not everything sold then is produced at the same time."