Food labelling law - insights and trends

* 3 min read

Food labelling law is a complex and ever moving entity, with new regulations often been introduced in stages over a set timescale. As a result it can be difficult for our clients to keep on top of the latest developments and the services of our legal division are invaluable in offering fast, accurate legal and technical advice. Here we take a closer look at what is going on in the industry at the moment and the trends that we are seeing.

The Catch All Law

The key piece of law that is extant in this area is the European Union Regulation 1169/2011, commonly referred to as the ‘Food Information Regulation’ or simply ‘FIR’ or ‘FIC’. This legislation has gone through a process of implementation, resulting in a situation whereby it was mandatory to comply with its provisions by December 13th 2014.

However, that is not the whole story, with various elements of the law having further implementation dates. For example, by 13th December 2016 it will be mandatory to include nutrition information on products that presently are not required to have it.

It is also the case that the European Commission has tasks that it must action that will develop the scope of 1169/2011 right up to December 2018, when it will review the country of origin mandatory requirements for key meats [other than beef that has been separately regulated in this regard for some time].

In short, although it was mandatory for the food industry to comply with this law since December of last year, there are still many things to come that will generate questions from the industry - perhaps especially concerning nutritional information.

The Law of Fish

The fish industry doesn’t only have to contend with the general provisions described above, but also a surprising number of measures that relate specifically to labelling of fish. Within 1169/2011 itself there are specific measures whereby fish sold in a frozen state must display the date of first freezing. Or if the fish is not sold frozen, but has at some point been frozen, there is a requirement to indicate ‘defrosted - fish type’ - unless it can be argued that there is no detriment to the quality and safety of the product as a result of it having been previously frozen.

Beyond the key provisions of 1169/2011, there are specific regulations that apply to fish. Again of European origin, EU Regulation 1379/2013, dealing with markets in fishery and aquaculture products, provides a degree of consumer protection that might surprise shoppers.

For example, as well as fish requiring the presence of its commercial name e.g. ‘salmon’, it is also required to contain its scientific [Latin] name. So for ‘salmon’ the designation ‘salmo salar’ must also be present on pre-packaged food. If this was not enough, the consumer is also entitled to know how the fish was caught [i.e. seines, trawls, gillnets and similar nets, surrounding nets and lift nets, hooks and lines, dredges, pots and traps].

Additionally, they are entitled to know the region of capture and if the region happens to be the ‘North East Atlantic’ or the ‘Mediterranean and Black Sea’, then the subarea or division is also required e.g. ‘Iceland and Faroes Grounds’ or ‘Balearic’.

As can be imagined, so much change has resulted in much discussion within the fish and packaging industries.

Overseas

One of the most notable recent trends is the amount of interest in international food law. Sun Branding Solutions has for many years worked with retailers associated with the Irish market and this reflects the export statistics of food and drink, whereby £1,582M worth of export business came from that country in the first half of 2014. This figure is approximately twice that of our next biggest market – France.

Having mentioned fish in the first two paragraphs, it is interesting to note that at the international level the increase in certain fish sale exports [i.e. salmon to USA + £27M, salmon to China + £14M and frozen fish to China + £14M in the first half of 2014] reflects interest that we receive in terms of membership enquiries.

Additionally, the increase in export activity to North Africa, the Near East and the Middle East [e.g. Algeria, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates] also strongly points to trends of interest in these markets. The trend is likely to impact significantly the direction of the international development of the membership and training aspects of Sun Branding Solutions moving forward.