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       Consumer Goods 29/09/2011
 
Better information on food for consumers
 What are the changes that this law will introduce?

Allergens

Compared to the current rules (in force since 1990), the new regulation improves the requirements on information for consumers on allergens and certain substances that cause intolerance. In addition to the existing obligation to provide this information for pre-packed foods, the same requirement was set for non-pre-packed foods. The member states are authorised to decide on the means through which this information on non-pre-packed foods is to be given to consumers, but not on the obligation itself, as is currently the case. This means that the information requirement will also be applied to food sold in restaurants and other catering establishments. The current data shows that 70% of anaphylactic shocks occur when people are eating out.

In addition, the allergens will have to be highlighted on the labels of pre-packed foods.

Nano-ingredients and imitation foods

The presence of nano-ingredients in a food will have to be indicated in the list of ingredients.

Fair information practices

Rules on fair information practices have been reinforced to include socalled "imitation foods", which are products that look like other foods, but are made of different materials to those expected (for example, "cheese" produced from vegetable oils).

Nutrient content

The socalled mandatory nutrition declaration is the information on nutritional characteristics of foods that will have to be presented on food labels. This declaration covers energy, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt. These will have to be expressed per 100g/100 ml, and may, in addition be expressed as a percentage of reference intakes (Guideline Daily Amount, or GDA).

The mandatory nutrition declaration will not apply to certain foods, such as unprocessed foods, e.g. fresh meat or apples, and products that do not have high levels of energy, such as spices, coffee, tea, etc.

On a temporary basis, alcoholic beverages will also be excluded from this rule. That exception will be reviewed three years after the entry into force of this regulation.

Furthermore, if the food package is very small (less than 25 cm2) the declaration is not required, however the name, allergens, net quantity and date by which the product must be consumed must always be displayed on the package, irrespective of its size.

The new regulation also contains rules on the presentation of the nutrition declaration. The nutrition declaration must be presented in a single field of vision. In addition, on a voluntary basis, food business operators may choose to repeat the most important elements of the nutrition declaration on the front of the package.

The mandatory nutrition information must, where space permits, be presented in a tabular format. Otherwise, the declaration must appear in linear format. The energy value and the amounts of nutrients are to be expressed per 100g or per 100ml. In addition to these forms of expression and formats, the nutrition information may be given in graphical form or using symbols.

Legibility

Consumers used to complain about the illegibility of the information provided on food labels. The new rules address this problem: the food information must be presented in such a way as to be easily visible, clearly readable, not hidden by slogans and other advertising information, and in clear contrast to the background. In order to tackle the specific legibility issue, the EU legislator agreed on a minimum font size for characters used on the label.

Country of origin

Currently the indication of the country of origin is compulsory for beef and veal and several other products, such as honey, fruit or olive oil. The new regulation extends the application of this rule to pork, mutton, goat meat and poultry meat.

Entry into force and application

The regulation will enter into force on the 20th day following its publication, but producers will have a three-year transitional period to adapt to it. The mandatory nutrition declaration will have to be implemented within a five-year period after the regulation enters into force.

More information:
Council enables consumers to make healthier dietary choices - Press flash (pdf)
Q and A on food labelling (pdf)

 
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