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02/12/2016

New EU-wide food labelling rules begin to apply

Agriculture & Food

New EU-wide food labelling rules begin to apply

Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU Commissioner in charge of Health and Food Safety, said the new rules will put consumers first but will also be manageable for businesses.

[epSos.de/Flickr]

New EU food labelling rules will come into force on Saturday (13 December). The aim is to ensure that consumers receive clearer and more accurate information about what they buy and eat.

The new rules will force restaurants and cafés to list 14 different allergens in the menus – including nuts, gluten, lactose, soy or milk.

Displaying allergens was until then only mandatory for pre-packed foods.

Nano components will also have to be included in the ingredients list. Oils will need to refer to the plants used in their production, such as sunflower, palm or olive.

Fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry will need to carry a mandatory origin label, with a font size of at least 1.2 milimetres.   

Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU Commissioner in charge of Health and Food Safety, said the new rules will put consumers first but will also be manageable for businesses.

The European food and drink industry highlighted that the sector has been working hard over the past years to comply with the regulation in due time.

“Although some uncertainties still exist as to the interpretation of certain aspects of the new legislation, our members remain committed to providing information in a clear and understandable way to enable consumers to make an informed choice,” Mella Frewen, director general of FoodDrinkEurope, said in a statement.

She added that the industry will now closely monitor the implementation of the regulation at national level, particularly in order to avoid barriers to trade in the EU single market.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) said clearer food information became necessary since the horsemeat scandal in 2013, which shook up consumers’ confidence.

>> Read: EU-wide alert as British horsemeat scandal takes ‘criminal’ turn

“Consumers are often in a hurry when food shopping, so shunting nutrition information to the backof-packs requires them an extra effort. Such key information should be upfront. Food manufacturers will still be free to define portions. Foods for one person, such as a frozen pizza or yoghurt, are obvious portions, but the same cannot be said for foodstuffs like cereals and soup. Unrealistic portions can disguise unhealthy ingredient levels and regulators should provide guidance on portions,” said BEUC’s Director General Monique Goyens.

Whether a new horsemeat scandal can be prevented with the new rules remains questionable however. 

“The origin of fresh meat will be less mysterious with the new rules – the countries in which the animal is reared and slaughtered will be finally on display. But we see no valid reason why birthplace labelling was scrapped. Consumers want full origin information, not just scraps,” Goyens said.

Food business operators have had a transitional period of three years to ensure that rules will come into effect on 13 December 2014. New mandatory rules for nutrition declaration, such as energy, fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt on back of a pack per 100 gram or mililitres, will only apply from 13 December 2016. 

Background

The current legislation on general food labelling dates back to 1978 and nutrition labelling rules were adopted in 1990.

Consumer demands and marketing practices have evolved significantly since then.

After more than three years in the making, the new legislation aims to help consumers make informed decisions on the food they buy as well as contributing to better lifestyles with healthier choices.

Timeline

  • 13 Dec. 2014: New EU food labels enter into force.
  • 13 Dec. 2016: Rules on mandatory nutrition information will apply.

Further Reading

European Commission

Press articles