THE STORY SO FAR
Until late 2014, labelling of foods in the UK had largely been controlled by The Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (FLRs). These gave effect to requirements laid down in European directives in areas such as food labelling, nutrition labelling, and labelling of alcohol. Control via directives meant that every Member State was obliged to pass legislation that attained the aims of the directives – a harmonisation process. FLRs also contained UK provisions such as compositional requirements for cream and ice cream, and rules relating to misleading descriptions. The FLRs were largely revoked on 14th December 2014 by the Food Information Regulations 2014 (FIRs).
FIRs were made at UK level, and do not contain much detail in respect of requirements for food information to consumers for pre-packed foods. The detail is held in Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers(FIC). FIC takes the form of a directly applicable European regulation, meaning that every Member State has exactly the same legislation. This is a method of standardisation across Europe.
FIRs contain detail of offences, enforcement provisions and penalties, and also provides for derogated provisions which are those that FIC allows Member States to decide and legislate upon at national level. Examples of these include labelling of foods sold loose, pre-packed for direct sale, or by catering establishments and the method by which allergen information is given to consumers by these Food Business Operators (FBO).
FIC has been in force since November 2011, but has become a legal requirement since 13 December 2014. Any food placed on the market or labelled from this date must comply with FIC. Products that have been labelled or placed on the market before this date can still be sold, even if they have a very long shelf life. However, stocks of non-compliant labels not attached to foods can no longer be used. There are exceptions to the main date in respect of labelling of minced meat (in force from 1 January 2014) and mandatory nutrition labelling (in force from 13 December 2016). However, where nutrition declarations have been given (either voluntarily or to comply with previous legislation), these must comply with FIC format from 13 December 2014. Extended country of origin requirements for ‘popular’ meats came into force on 1 April 2015. Some provisions from Food Labelling Regulations 1996, including compositional requirements for cheese and labelling of alcoholic drinks under 1.2% abv will be retained until 13 December 2018.
The main changes to provision of food labelling information have been well publicised and there is particularly useful guidance available relating to labelling of allergens, nutrition declarations and front of pack labelling. The last of these is voluntary, but has its roots in FIC since the Regulation permits repeating of prescribed nutrition information on the main face of packages.
FIC is littered with further developments (some mandatory, some voluntary) that will be carried out at European level, and so it seems as though change in requirements for food information will be with us for some years to come.
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