1. Under Italian law, food is subject to a range of specific prescriptions on labeling requirements and information to the general public as to characteristics, ingredients, duration and expiration date (frequently also as to origin) of the product.
The basic regulation, Legislative Decree no. 109 of 19921, requires products' labelling and presentation as well as all advertising for food to offer correct and transparent information and not to:
- induce misperception with respect to products' characteristics,
- associate the product with improper or non-existing qualities or effects,
- suggest that a certain product has particular characteristics, while these are common to all products of the same kind,
- claim therapeutic effects for certain food products.
2. To achieve harmonization with the provisions of EU Regulation no. 1169 of 20112, this current legal frame work will have to undergo an extensive review. While Legislative Decree no. 109 of 1992 is likely to be maintained as the basic sector regulation, a broad range of additional modifications of the current text are to be expected.
3. The general principles and provisions laid down in the 'Consumer Code' become also applicable and imply that advertising likely to mislead or able to affect negatively the targeted public's behavior is banned.
Specifically, the Code considers as unfair commercial practices those:
- Omitting to provide consumers with suitable information about products likely to endanger users' health and safety, where such failure induces consumers to act without taking normal precautions or respecting safety rules.
- Implying the marketing or sale of a product in a way (inclusive illegal comparative advertising) likely to cause confusion with a product, trademark, distinctive sign of a competitor.
4. Concerns about an increasing obesity problem among young people and social costs related to diseases deriving from nutritional disorder have caused a political debate on possible restrictions for advertising of 'junk food'.
To address these issues, Government and local administrations have started an initiative aimed at making certain types of food – such as soft drinks and snacks – less accessible to children.
In October 2014, the State Department of Health and the Regions' Councilors for Agriculture signed a memorandum of understanding to favor healthier nutritional habits among young people. The protocol intends to strictly ban - in all publicly accessible venues - vending machines offering soft drinks (if carbonated or containing sweeteners or nitrate additives) and snacks high in fat sugar or salt. In such locations (especially in schools), these machines should offer healthier food such as, yoghurt, fresh fruit, sandwiches with genuine, high quality filling.
5. The Italian Marketing Self-Regulation Code also provides guidelines for advertising food products. Aside from the general principle requiring advertising to "avoid any statement likely to mislead consumers even by means of omission, ambiguity or exaggeration", Section 23-bis sets that "marketing communication relating to food supplements and health foods should not claim to have properties that do not correspond to the actual characteristics of the products, or that the products do not actually possess. Furthermore, such marketing communication should not encourage consumers to make nutritional errors and should avoid referring recommendations or statements of a medical nature. These rules also apply to infant formula and baby foods, products designed to wholly or partially substitute mother's milk, products used for weaning and food supplements for children. In particular, as regards marketing communication relating to food supplements for weight loss or control and other specific supplements, the provisions contained in the relevant Regulations, which form an integral part of this code, shall apply."
6. Additional, restrictive, legal provisions are on their way. In February 2016, the Movimento 5 Stelle (a political party of the Italian House) has presented a bill to amend the TV and Broadcasting Act by proposing a total ban for commercial communication in programs targeted to children aged under ten.
In June 2016, MPs of another political party introduced a bill with provisions to "grant adequacy of nutritional value in food and beverages distributed through vending machines, placed in public places accessible to minors".
While such bills will probably not have an easy way through the House, Movimento 5 Stelle – who with one of its MPs chairs the Supervisory Board of Public TV and Broadcasting – has already succeeded in obtaining spontaneous implementation of such ban on public TV programs targeted to children since May 2016.
1 It was amended by Legislative Decree no. 181 of 2003 (to adapt domestic law to the EU Directive no. 2000/13/EC) and by Legislative Decree no. 114 of 2006 (to implement EU Directives no. 2003/89/EC, no. 2004/77/EC and 2005/63/EC).
2 EU Regulation No. 1169/2011 of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.