Regulation 1169/2011 (FIR), directly applicable in all member states, was published in the EU’s Official Journal in November last year and came into force the following month.
The new rules replace the 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.
But a lot of uncertainty remains in relation to how to interpret the new legislation.
Brussels-based advocates for the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the food manufacturing sector - the UEAPME Food Forum - sought clarification on a number of sections of the FIR, following repeated queries from its member associations.
The Forum aims to monitor developments in EU food legislation so as to ensure that the regulations affecting SMEs are fair and feasible.
Vitamin and mineral declaration
In relation to Article 32 (3) and (4) of FIR, the UEAPME said some of its members said these could be interpreted as meaning that the declaration of the percentage of reference intakes for vitamins and minerals are voluntary but the content per 100g/100ml is the mandatory declaration, while others read them to mean that % RDA is mandatory alongside the per 100g/ml figure.
The Commission responded that the legislation is the same as under the previous directive - Article 6(5)(a) of Directive 90/496/EC.
“Regulation 1169/2011 requires through Article 32(2) that the information should be provided on the basis of 100g or 100ml and Article 32(3) requires that, in the cases where vitamins or minerals are declared, the information on the percentage of the reference intakes on the basis of 100g or 100ml also be given.”
But the Commission stressed that the declaration of the reference intakes in relation to energy, fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt, under FIR, is voluntary.
Indeed, Lorraine Eve, head of regulatory affairs at specification and labelling services provider, Ashbury Labelling, speaking at a Brussels conference on regulatory issues in December last year said food manufacturers should await industry wide agreement on contentious areas of FIR such as allergen declarations before investing in major labelling redesign.
“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 Navigator.com at the time.
“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.”
“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.