European Union: Labelling Consultation - Weights and Volumes

Last Updated: 12 May 2005
Article by Helen Pope and Richard Welfare

Originally published March 2005

On 20 January 2005 the European Commission launched a consultation on the labelling of weight and volume (metrological requirements) for prepackaged products. The consultation follows recommendations by the SLIM team (Simpler Legislation for the Internal Market) to simplify the current legislation. The European Commission is suggesting consolidating and amending the existing legislation, in particular, the scope of the legislation and the labelling rules.

BACKGROUND

Legislation on weights and measures was introduced in the 1970's to ensure that consumers were sold the quantity indicated on pack. Two key pieces of legislation at EU level which govern metrological requirements were adopted; Directives 75/106 and 76/211. These Directives prescribe the labelling requirements for indicating the weight or volume of a product. Pre-packaged products which comply with these Directives can be marked with the "e" mark. Products that carry the "e" mark benefit from free movement within the EU. However, Members States have continued to implement, in parallel, national provisions.

The European Commission (the "Commission") is proposing to consolidate the existing EU legislation into one directive and to "sweep away" the current national rules. As part of the public consultation the Commission has produced a working document setting out possible amendments to the existing legislation.

LABELLING

The Commission is considering several changes to the current labelling provisions including:

  • Increasing to a minimum of 5mm the size of the text indicating the quantity. Current legislation permits a range of text sizes from 2mm to 6mm depending on the amount contained in the package
  • possible abolition of the current "e" mark which signifies compliance with Community legislation
  • pequiring the quantity indication to be set out on the primary display panel on the front of the pack
  • requiring the consumer to be informed of the percentage of the filling where there is "surplus" packaging
  • permitting the indication of the weight or volume of the free part of a product, where a percentage of the product is given "for free", but only in addition to the overall content indication and in a different type setting.

The Commission is also consulting on additional labelling requirements for those products that are preserved in a liquid medium, including:

  • two separate content declarations where both the product and the liquid medium can be consumed
  • an indication of the combined content of the solids and liquid medium where the liquid medium is "integral" to the product, and
  • an indication of the "drained weight" where the liquid medium is not consumed.

EXTENDING THE SCOPE OF THE LEGISLATION

The Commission is considering extending the scope of the Community legislation. The current Community legislation applies to the contents of pre-packaged products ranging from 5g (5ml) to 10kg (10l). The Commission is considering extending the range of products that would be covered by the legislation from 0 to 25kg (25l) as was proposed by the SLIM team. The Commission suggests that if the scope of the legislation was extended to 50kg (50l) this would assist with worker protection rules that require in certain circumstances the indication of gross weight for heavy loads and would be in line with international standards formulated by the OIML (Organisation Internationale de Metrologie Legale).

In addition, the Commission raises the question as to whether the unit of measurement should be extended so that it not only applies to weights and volumes but also applies, for example to the number of washes of washing powder, and the number of items contained in a packet. However, the Commission is concerned that this could lead to a problem of choice, for example, whether biscuits should be indicated by weight or by the number of biscuits contained in a packet.

DECEPTIVE PACKAGING

The Commission does not consider that, in light of the Commission's proposal for a directive on unfair commercial practices, additional legislation on deceptive packaging is necessary. However, it is suggested that the OIML R87, which gives guidance on which misleading practices should be prohibited, could offer a basis for standardisation for compliance with the unfair commercial practices proposal.

HARMONISE DIFFERENCES IN CONFORMITY ASSESSMENT AND ENFORCEMENT

The Commission believes that the current approach to conformity assessments and enforcement has been very successful, in particular, the emphasis placed on the conformity assessment taking place at the premises of the packers and importers. The Commission wishes to maintain this system but puts forward three possible changes:

permit third party verification by bodies, other than competent authorities, which could be authorised to operate across national borders

procedures undertaken by packers could be harmonised

use of of automatic packaging machinery specified in the Measuring Instruments Directive (2004/22) could give rise to a presumption of conformity.

NEXT STEPS

The Commission has invited stakeholders to complete an online questionnaire and to forward comments to the Commission by 15 March 2005. The Commission intends producing in June 2005 a report of the views

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.

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