European Union: New Legal Requirements: Labeling Of Food Products

Last Updated: 17 September 2012
Article by Loredana Ralea and Valentina Parvu

EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, amending existing EU legislation on food and nutrition labeling, entered into force on 13 December 2011 (the "Regulation").  The Regulation shall generally become applicable on 13 December 2014.

The Regulation aims at adapting current legislation for new marketing practices and the expectations of the modern consumer, while responding to the needs of consumers and the food industry. This will have a significant impact on operations in the food sector at EU level and beyond, since all food products sold in the EU, including imported products, must comply with the new rules.

General requirements regarding food information

Food information provided to consumers, including through advertisement and presentation of food, must not be misleading or attribute or refer to the property of preventing, treating or curing a human disease, except as provided by Union law regarding natural mineral waters and food for particular nutritional uses. Such information must be accurate, clear and easy for consumers to understand.

Responsibilities of operators

Responsibility for food information rests primarily upon the operator under whose name the food is marketed or the importer of the product into the EU, if the operator is not established there.

Responsibility is extended to operators who, because of the information they hold as professionals, ought to know or presume that the food products they supply are non-compliant with the legal requirements. In practice, such extensions may trigger additional costs to operators such as retailers, who may have to verify food products to ensure compliance. Information held by the operator allowing it to assess compliance of food products with information law may become subject to verification by consumer protection authorities.

Substantive amendments of current legislation 

The Regulation introduces requirements regarding information provided for food products, for example: 

  • Mandatory information shall be visible, clear and legible and therefore shall be placed in the same field of vision, using prescribed fonts.
  • Mandatory information shall include: the name and net quantity of the food, the list of ingredients, the date of minimum durability, and the business name and address of the operator.
  • Omission of certain information is permitted for specific food products, such as beverages containing more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol.
  • Foods offered to the final consumer or to mass caterers without pre-packaging, and foods packed on the sales premises upon the consumer's request or pre-packed for direct sale have specific rules regarding mandatory information.
  • Information regarding substances or products linked to allergies or intolerances is mandatory for all food products and shall be emphasized by a distinctive typeset. However, inclusion of information on the possible and unintentional presence of such substances or products remains voluntary.
  • Indication of the country of origin or place of provenance is mandatory:
    • where failure to inform might mislead the consumer as to the country of origin or place of provenance; and
    • regarding certain types of meat (this is subject to the adoption of implementing acts).

 Where the country of origin or place of provenance of the food is not the same as that of the primary ingredient:

    • the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient shall also be given, or
    • the country of origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient shall be indicated as differing from that of the food.
  • The nutrition declarationis mandatory except for certain products. It shall include the energy value of the food and six nutrients: fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. The declaration may also include voluntary information. Measurement units and the order of presentation are prescribed.
  • Mandatory information accompanying the name of the food must include (without limitation), where appropriate, the physical condition of the food, any substitution of ingredients, and any added water.
  • Additional mandatory information shall be provided for certain types of foods (such as for foods packaged in certain gases, foods containing sweeteners, beverages with high caffeine content, etc.).
  • Voluntary information must not mislead the consumer, be ambiguous or confusing and must rely upon relevant scientific data.
  • Voluntary information shall not be displayed on the labels to the detriment of the space available for the mandatory information.

Transitional measures

The Regulation shall become applicable on 13 December 2014, with two exceptions: (i) requirements for the designation of "minced meat" become applicable on 1 January 2014; and (ii) Art. 9 (1) point (l) regarding the mandatory nutrition declaration becomes applicable on 13 December 2016.

Foods already placed on the market or labeled prior to this which do not comply with the Regulation, may still be marketed until stocks are exhausted. The Regulation encourages operators to anticipate the new requirements and start adopting the necessary measures for compliance prior to December 2014.

 Possible further measures regarding labeling of food products

The Regulation anticipates further labeling rules to be adopted regarding products such as: beverages containing more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol, trans fats, milk, unprocessed foods and single ingredient products. Such future legislation is subject to reports to be produced by the Commission by 13 December 2014, to assess its impact. 

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 14/09/2012.

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