EU Regulation 1169/2011 entered into force on 13 December 2014, and will affect how food information is provided to consumers. This replaces previous rules on food labelling and includes mandatory nutrition information on processed foods; mandatory origin labelling of unprocessed meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry; highlighting allergens in the list of ingredients, e.g. peanuts or milk, including non-prepacked foods and those sold in restaurants and cafés; and better legibility i.e. minimum size of text. Although not perfect (no mention of trans-fats, alcohol labelling), it is a major step towards greater transparency on the food we consume.

These changes will be progressively introduced; food manufacturers will be obliged to align their product packaging with the rules by December 2016. Rules relating to mandatory nutritional labelling for processed food will only apply from 13 December 2016.

Important changes include:

Allergens must be highlighted in the ingredients list in bold, underlined or in different colours or against a different coloured background, including on non-packaged foods;
– Restaurants and canteens have to display allergen information;
– Improved legibility of information – however, the minimum size has been set at 1.2mm, the size of a poppyseed!
– Same labelling requirements for online, distance-selling or buying in a shop;
– Indication of substitute ingredients for ’imitation’ foods;
– Clear indication of ’formed meat’ or ’formed fish’;
– List of engineered nanomaterials in the ingredients;
– Developing an EU database to facilitate the identification of all EU and national mandatory labelling rules in a simple way, to be carried out during 2015.

There is still significant room for improvement. For example, the nutritional declaration instead of being positioned on the front of the pack, still has to occupy a more hidden space on the back. Food manufacturers will still be free to define portion sizes which still constitutes a problem for high sugar, salt and/or fat foodstuffs, such as soup, ice-cream or cereals. It is not uncommon to make references to unrealistic portions in order to disguise unhealthy ingredient levels, such as those of salt, sugars or saturated fats.

The EU Commissioner in charge of Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “As of 13 December 2014, European citizens will see the results of years of work to improve food labelling rules. Key content information will now be more clearly marked on labels, helping people make informed choices on the food they buy. The new rules put the consumer first by providing clearer information, and in a way that is manageable for businesses.

To find more:

The European Commission website on the new EU law on food information to consumers

EPHA article: *Updated* Proposed Regulation on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers

Infographic explaining new food labelling rules

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