Date 13th Dec 2014 marks the beginning of the application of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers. This legislative act of the EU amends and repeals a number of EU acts, regulating food and drinks trade while at the same time it decrees new rules on the provision of food information to consumers.
The Regulation shall apply for all prepacked foods, designated for the final consumer, including foods, sold by mass caterers, and foods, intended for supply to mass caterers. The Regulation shall also apply in all cases of distance selling of foods by mass caterers to the final consumer via transportation company intermediaries. This automatically implies, that the broadly spread home food catering services shall not remain untouched by the new regulations.
Stocks of foods not complying with the new measures which have been placed on the market before the expiry of the transitional period of the Regulation may continue to be sold until exhausted. The Regulation shall apply without prejudice to labeling requirements provided for in specific Union provisions applicable to particular foods.
Some of the general food information requirements shall be that food information is accurate, clear and easy to understand for the consumer and with the exception for natural mineral waters and foods for particular nutritional uses food information shall not attribute to any food the property of preventing, treating or curing a human disease, nor refer to such properties. The Regulation further places these requirements for food advertising and food packaging, by virtue of which the Regulation shall be not only observed by food and drinks producers but by advertising agencies and product design companies as well.
The food business operator responsible for the food information shall be the operator under whose name or business name the food is marketed or, if that operator is not established in the Union, the importer into the Union market.
Food business operators, supplying non-prepacked food to other food business operators, who will in turn pack that food and sell it to the final consumer, shall ensure that food information is transmitted to the food business operator, receiving the food in order to ensure the provision of mandatory food information to the final consumer. This shall in turn guarantee the opportunity for engaging recourse responsibility of the previous food business operator by the last in chain food business operator in all cases of claims of the final consumer against the responsible food business operator.
Generally, the Regulation provides for the following pieces of mandatory food information – the name of the food; the list of ingredients; any ingredient or processing aid listed in Annex II of the Regulation or derived from a substance or product listed in that Annex causing allergies or intolerances used in the manufacture or preparation of a food and still present in the finished product, even if in an altered form; the quantity of certain ingredients or categories of ingredients; the net quantity of the food; the date of minimum durability or the use by date; any special storage conditions and/or conditions of use; the name or business name and address of the responsible food business operator; the country of origin or place of provenance of the food; instructions for use where it would be difficult to make appropriate use of the food in the absence of such instructions; with respect to beverages containing more than 1,2 % by volume of alcohol, the actual alcoholic strength by volume; a nutrition declaration. All these pieces of information shall be indicated with words and numbers.
Certainly, it is to be pointed out, that the Regulation includes specifics regarding the necessity for providing and the way for doing it for all pieces of mandatory food information with the possibility to omit some of them being provided for certain cases and types of food packaging. The Regulation further determines which pieces of food information and in which cases should be presented in one field of vision, whether it should be presented in tabular form or not. Thus, beverages containing more than 1,2 % by volume of alcohol, their name, their net quantity and the actual alcoholic strength by volume shall be indicated in one and the same field of vision.
Mandatory food information, with the exception of the date of minimum durability or the use by date, in all cases of distance selling shall be provided to the final consumers in an appropriate way before the conclusion of the sales agreement (which could be either in writing or not). An exception to this rule is only applicable in the event of foods offered for sale by means of automatic vending machines or automated commercial premises.
Food additives and flavourings, better known as the “E”-s, shall be from now on indicated with their popular names, which is mainly aimed at raising the awareness of the consumer.
Mandatory food information shall be only placed on the package of the food or the label attached to it. The information shall be easily seen and readable. Hiding it or shading it with any other text or material is not permitted. Size of letters shall be such that the height of the letter “x” is at least 1,2 mm. However, exceptions to that rule are also provided for.
The Regulation also provides for specific requirements for the name by which foods are sold on the market with the main goal of this being, again, securing the informed choice of the final consumer.
The list of ingredients shall not be required for:
- fresh fruit and vegetables, including potatoes, which have not been peeled, cut or similarly treated;
- carbonated water, the description of which indicates that it has been carbonated;
- fermentation vinegars derived exclusively from a single basic product, provided that no other ingredient has been added;
- cheese, butter, fermented milk and cream, to which no ingredient has been added other than lactic products, food enzymes and micro-organism cultures essential to manufacture, or in the case of cheese other than fresh cheese and processed cheese the salt needed for its manufacture;
- foods consisting of a single ingredient;
The Regulation clearly differentiates “use by date” and “date of minimum durability”. “Date of minimum durability” means the date until which the food retains its specific properties when properly stored. “Use by date”, on the other side, refers to foods, which from a microbiological point of view, are highly perishable and are therefore likely after a short period to constitute an immediate danger to human health. After the “use by date” foods shall be deemed to be unsafe in accordance with Article 14(2) to (5) of Regulation (EC) No 178/2002.
The mandatory nutrition declaration shall include the following:
- energy value (computable using the conversion factors stipulated in the Regulation);
- the amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt;
For specific cases the Regulation provides for the opportunity for adoption by the Commission of delegated implementing acts which supplement it or amend it. For some of those cases the Regulation further contains an opportunity for the member states to adopt legislative measures on national level while observing certain requirements.
Open still remains the question for the sanctions applicable for not abiding by the Regulation, so far as it does not provide for such. This legal vacuum, however, is unlikely to remain for long. And although by now there are no administrative sanctions ensuring the implementation of the Regulation, responsible food business operators shall not forget the rather realistic option of their financial liability being engaged by final consumers for any damages they have suffered as a result of a breach of the Regulation.