The new EU food labelling regulations

Published: 18/01/2012

In December 2011 the new Food Information for Consumers Regulations ("FICR"), designed to make food labelling easier to understand for consumers, came into force. 

The FICR brings together previous rules on general food and nutrition labelling into a single EU regulation. Transitional arrangements set out in the FICR mean that the general provisions will apply from December 2014, and the food labelling provisions from December 2016.

As the FICR will directly affect the UK, businesses should start to take steps to implement the necessary changes prior to the 2014 and 2016 deadlines, including co-ordinating these changes with any planned re-labelling cycles. 

As the UK has already implemented its own domestic legislation to address many of the issues dealt with under the FICR, the changes will not be felt as dramatically as in other member states.  However, producers should be careful that the changes are incorporated into labelling within the correct time limits.

The EU has also agreed:

  • to make it easier for alcoholic drinks companies to voluntarily include calorie information on product labels;

  • to enable voluntary provision of calorie information in ‘out of home settings’ such as restaurants, bars and café’s; and

  • to continue to permit selling by numbers – such as a dozen bread rolls or eggs.

The headings below detail the key changes brought about by the FICR:

Country of Origin 
Subject to further discussion, the introduction of mandatory information for most fresh and frozen meat. For example, it will be possible for ‘Scotland’, ‘Wales’ and ‘Northern Ireland’ to be used on food labels without mentioning ‘UK’ under provenance rules. Also, the origin of main ingredients will have to be given if different from where the final product is made.

Labelling Requirement 
Nutrition labelling will be required for most foods. Simplified information may be provided voluntarily on front of the packaging.

Labelling Clarity 
A minimum font size has been set for all mandatory information on most food labels.

Allergen Information 
Information will have to be provided on all food (whether sold pre-packed or loose). For pre-packed foods, the allergens will have to be highlighted on the ingredient list.

Caffeine Content 
Drinks with high caffeine contents will have to be additionally labelled as not recommended for children or pregnant and breastfeeding women, with the actual caffeine content quoted.

Added Water 
Meat and fish products that look like a cut, joint or slice and contain more than 5% added water will have to show this in the name of the food.

Vegetable Oil 
The types of vegetable oil used in food, such as palm oil, must be stated.

Nutritional Information 
Core nutritional information must appear on all pre-packed food labels: energy; fat; saturated fat; carbohydrate; sugars; salt and protein. Amounts must be indicated per 100ml or 100g. The information may be expressed ‘per-portion’ as long as the portion is quantified on the label.

Distance Selling 
Where businesses are distance selling (such as via a website) most of the required nutritional information must be made available to the consumer before the purchase is concluded.

Provenance Labelling
Where a product contains 50% or more of fresh meat from sheep, goat, poultry or pigs the label must provide details of the origin of the meat. This is a change from current legislation, which allows such details to be provided on a voluntary basis unless its absence could mislead consumers.

This article has been written by James Austin, a partner at Birketts.

It provides only a general summary and is not intended to be comprehensive. Specific legal advice should be taken in any individual application. Law covered as at 18 January 2012. © Birketts LLP 2012.

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