Food industry warned against rushing into labelling changes under FIR

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Industry uncertain over labelling regs interpretation
Industry uncertain over labelling regs interpretation

Related tags Food labelling directive Nutrition labelling Food

The food industry should not rush into making labelling changes to ensure compliance with the new Regulation on Food Information (FIR) as there is a fundamental lack of clarity on how to implement some of the mandatory declarations, claims a regulatory expert.

Regulation 1169/2011 (FIR), which will be directly applicable in all member states, was published in the Official Journal on 22 November and comes into force tomorrow, 13 December. The new rules will replace the existing Food Labelling Directive 2000/13/EC and Directive 90/496/EEC on nutrition labelling.

But transitional arrangements mean that most requirements do not apply until 2014 and nutrition labelling will become mandatory in 2016.

Lorraine Eve, head of regulatory affairs at specification and labelling services provider, Ashbury Labelling, was speaking at a recent Brussels conference: Food Safety, Health Claims and Regulation in Europe. ​She believes food manufacturers should await industry wide agreement on contentious areas of FIR such as allergen declarations before investing in major labelling redesign.

Allegen labelling uncertainty

There is a lot of confusion within the industry as to how to interpret the new legislation, with questions over the allergen declarations in particular,” ​said Eve.

While understanding that there must be a clear reference to allergens in the ingredients list, there is uncertainty as to how allergens should be emphasised in that list in terms of font, style or background colour,” ​she told Food this morning.

“Furthermore,”​ notes Eve, “brand owners would like to keep the ‘contains milk, nuts, wheat, etc.’ box on the food labelling but, again, there is a lack of clarity within FIR as to whether such voluntary information declarations are possible.”

Industry-wide consultation

“Food and drink industry trade groups and EU level representatives need to consult on implementing such aspects of the FIR and, as such, brand owners should carefully assess the impact of the new rules before starting on any major label redesigns in the intervening time,"​ added Eve.

The regulatory expert also reported the concern from the food manufacturing audience at the Brussels event in relation to introduction of the minimum font size requirement, noting the major cost impact this would have for the food industry, especially for multi-language labels.

Help sought on legibility requirements

The FIR sets out a timetable for a number of Commission impact assessments or reports on issues that could not be sufficiently resolved during negotiations on the regulation, including extension of country of origin labelling, nutrition declarations, ingredients listing on alcoholic drinks and how to deal with trans fats, which may be accompanied by legislative proposals 'if appropriate'.

Eve, who will be watching such developments closely, added: “The food and drinks sector needs to have a realistic timeframe in regard to implementing these possible extensions, and it is up to the Commission to provide clarity on the legislative timetable for any amendments to FIR, particularly if it is planned to phase them in within the three year transition period."

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