On 31 January 2020, the UK officially withdrew from the European Union. A transition period sees EU laws continuing to apply in the UK – including those relating to food safety, composition, hygiene, and labelling – until 31 December 2020.
By 2021, it is expected the two parties will have negotiated a trade agreement, and the UK will no longer be treated as a Member State. A body of ‘retained EU law’ will be created in the UK. And this will cover elements of food law, including food labelling, general food safety and hygiene, and rules around nutrition and health claims.
However, there will be some short-term changes that will impact UK food and beverage manufacturers, according to regulatory compliance expert Nicola Smith, from global law firm Squire Patton Boggs, ‘particularly for those who are selling in the EU’.
Name and address
Perhaps the most significant impact in terms of the number of producers it will affect, Squire Patton Boggs’ Director, Environmental, Safety & Health, told FoodNavigator, is in relation to the name and address on prepacked foods.
The name of the food business operator (FBO) is one of the mandatory particulars that needs to be included on labels under the provisions of the EU regulation governing food information for consumers; and it also has to be provided on the prepackaging, or the commercial documents accompanying deliveries for business to business sales.
The FBO is defined under the legislation as being “the operator under whose name or business name the food is marketed or, if that operator is not established in the Union, the importer into the Union market”.
As it stands, any product sold in the EU which is labelled with the UK address of its manufacturer, currently complies with the requirement because the UK is of course still treated as being in the EU. Therefore, such a company is ‘established in the Union’, Smith explained.
However, at the end of the transition period, the name and address given on the packaging – for UK-produced or branded products – will need to change to the importer into the EU, to comply with these EU labelling laws.
“So, the default position in the EU from 1 January 2021 – if the transition period is not extended – will be that the UK manufacturer selling products into the EU will need to arrange for the appropriate EU name and address to appear on the packaging,” she elaborated.
“UK manufacturers should remember that changes to the name and address of the FBO on the packaging is likely to mean that direct consumer feedback or complaints, or even safety concerns that could require urgent action to be taken, will be redirected.”
Use of EU logos
The use of EU logos may also be affected in the short-term. It could be that at the end of the transition period, UK manufacturers that currently use either the EU emblem – which might be used where a producer has benefited from EU funding, for example – or the EU organic logo on food and drink products made in the UK, are no longer authorised to do so.
The exception, in the case of the organic logo, would occur if the UK organic control body is authorised by the EU to certify UK goods for export to Europe as meeting EU organic standards. Alternatively, the UK and the EU may agree to recognise each other’s standards. “This may depend on the results of negotiations as to a trade deal,” Smith explained.
Country of origin labelling
Concerning country of origin labelling, UK manufacturers who label their food and drink products and ingredients with a specific country of origin, can continue to do so after the end of transition.
However, changes will be required where such products are labelled as being of ‘EU Origin’ if they derive in whole, or in part, from the UK.
And for EU food and beverage makers?
Again, in the short-term, EU food and beverage manufacturers (as well as UK-based importers of food and drink from EU manufacturers) will be required to make some changes.
The UK Government is adopting the equivalent position to the EU regulation in relation to the name and address of the FBO. “For example, if you are selling a food product in the UK, it will need to have a UK company and address on the packaging,” Smith explained. “And if the manufacturer is outside of the UK, this will need to be the address of the importer to the UK.”
Concerning regulatory responsibility, the importer into the UK will be in charge of ensuring that the label, and the product, meet UK food law requirements. In the early days, Smith predicts this will be ‘easy’, because “the retained body of EU law will mean there is no real difference in the requirements”, but this may change as time continues, she warned.
“So, it may be may be sensible to review agreements where there are potentially enhanced responsibilities to ensure that this is reflected as required.”
EU manufacturers will also need to be wary of using ‘EU origin’ labelling where a product or ingredient originates from the UK, in the same way as UK manufacturers will, Smith cautioned.
In the longer term, EU manufacturers should consider how Brexit will affect protected geographical indications (PGIs).
A PGI is designed to protect regional foods that have a specific quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to that area. Broadly speaking, products with a protected name have higher sales values than their non-protected counterparts.
After the end of the transition, the UK will have its own scheme for PGIs. While the Withdrawal Agreement provides for existing EU PGIs to be protected in the UK after the end of the transition, any new PGIs may need to be registered separately in the UK as well as the EU, explained the Squire Patton Boggs lawyer.
At this point, EU manufacturers would need to factor in use of the UK PGI logo. “Unfortunately, it’s not yet possible to plan for this as the UK scheme is not yet up and running; and whether separate registration will be required will likely depend on the outcome of trade negotiations.”
No material changes in the EU or UK will manifest until after the end of the transition period – scheduled to end 31 December 2020.