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Food and Feed Labelling

18 January 2010
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 21 January 2010

In the EU rules are put in place on the labelling of foodstuffs to enable European consumers to get comprehensive information on the contents and the composition of food products. Labelling helps consumers to make an informed choice while purchasing their foodstuffs. For certain foods it is considered particularly important that the products should also be of a specific quality. In such cases legislation has been established defining specific rules on, for example, composition.


Community Legislation

Community legislation on the labelling of foodstuffs includes general provisions on the labelling of foodstuffs to be delivered to the consumer, as laid out in European Parliament and Council Directive 2000/13/EC of 20 March 2000, and labelling provisions contained in legislations which apply to specific products, such as beef or chocolate.

Directive 2000/13/EC has been amended by Commission Directive 2001/101/EC of 26 November 2001 regulating the definition of meat for labelling purpose, where meat is used as an ingredient in foodstuffs, and by Directive 2003/89/EC of 10 November 2003, as regard indication of the ingredients present in foodstuffs.

This last amendment makes obligatory for all ingredients to be indicated on the label. The new labelling rules in particular aim to ensure that consumers suffering from food allergies or who wish to avoid eating certain ingredients for any other reason are informed. They foresee that all ingredients in foodstuffs will have to be included on the label and abolish the "25% rule" which up to now meant that it is was not obligatory to label the components of compound ingredients that make up less than 25% of the final food product. The new Directive also establishes a list of ingredients liable to cause allergies or intolerances; alcoholic beverages will also have the obligation to mention allergens on their labels.

These new provisions were fully implemented as from 25 November 2005. Informal guidelines relating to Art 6 §10 of Dir 2000/13/EC as amended by Dir 2003/89/EC regarding the provisions set out in Article 6, paragraph 10 of Directive 2000/13/EC as amended by Directive 2003/89/EC, have been elaborated by the Commission' services and representatives of member States in order to clarify some questions relating to the indication of the ingredients listed in Annex IIIa of the Directive. These guidelines were approved on 23 June 2005 by the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health.

However, since it is possible that some ingredients or substances, derived from allergens, are not likely to be a risk for allergic peoples, the Directive establishes, during a transitional period, a procedure which allows the industry to provide scientific justification for that, and to obtain a provisional labelling exemption for these ingredients or substances.

Guidelines have been adopted by the Commission's services for the implementation of this procedure. Commission Directive 2005/26/EC, establishing a list of substances provisionally exempted, has been adopted by the Commission on 21st March 2005, following EFSA's opinions on each request.

These provisional exemptions are granted until 25 November 2007. Requests for exemptions beyond that date could be introduced and new guidelines from the Commission services have been elaborated in that purpose.

Council Directive 2000/13/EC on labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs to the final consumer is the main piece of EU legislation regarding the labelling of foodstuffs. This Directive is based upon the principle of functional labelling. Its aim is to ensure that the consumer gets all the essential information as regards the composition of the product, the manufacturer, methods of storage and preparation, etc. Producers and manufacturers are free to provide whatever additional information they wish, provided that it is accurate and does not mislead the consumer. Furthermore, this Directive prohibits the attribution to any foodstuff of the property of preventing, treating or curing a human disease, or reference to such properties to Directive 2000/13/EC.

Finally, because labelling, tends to be complex and unclear, which goes against the sought objective and involves additional difficulties in application and control of the applicable provisions, the Commission has also taken steps, in close co-operation with the representatives of the Member States, of consumers, of industry and of trade, to engage in making an evaluation of legislation on labelling, from a modernisation and simplification point of view. Indeed, consumers today express a particularly strong expectation for complete and precise information on foodstuffs.

The conclusions of this study have been recently finalized. They identify the key points on which the Commission will now have to focus for drawing-up a future proposal with a view to modernising the Community legislation on labelling. It is expected that such a proposal could be put forward in 2006, following a consultation process with all interested parties.

In 1997 general guidelines for implementing the principle of Quantitative Ingredients Declaration (QUID) were introduced. Labels are to indicate the quantity of certain ingredients expressed as a percentage of the final product. The Guidelines were revised in December 1998.

Indication of Price

The indication of prices is regulated by Directive N° 98/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 February 1998, on consumer protection in the indication of the prices of products offered to consumers.

The purpose of this Directive is to stipulate indication of the selling price and the price per unit of measurement of products offered by traders to consumers in order to improve consumer information and to facilitate comparison of prices.

Quinine and Caffeine

Certain ingredients or substances, used as such or for flavouring purposes, may, if consumed to excess, or simply if consumed at all, adversely affect certain persons, even if they pose no problems to the majority of consumers. Caffeine and quinine are two such examples. Quinine, used as a flavouring in certain soft drinks, may be contra-indicated in persons with certain metabolic disorders. Caffeine, when consumed to excess, may produce adverse effects. Therefore, the Commission adopted a Directive N° 2002/67/EC aiming at ensuring that consumers are systematically informed on the presence of caffeine or quinine in foodstuffs and on a high caffeine content in softdrink.

For quinine and caffeine additional labelling rules have been established by Directive 2002/67/EC : the presence of quinine and caffeine in food has to be clearly indicated. Secondly, in the case of caffeine, where the amount is in excess of a specific level in beverages which do not normally contain caffeine, a warning message and an indication of the amount has to be provided.

Labelling of beef

Commission Regulation (EC) N° 1825/2000 of 25 August lays down detailed rules for the application of Regulation (EC) N° 1760/2000 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the labelling of beef and beef products. From January 2002, in order to give the consumers more detailed information on the beef on sale, the beef label will have to include in addition to the place of fattening, slaughtering and cutting also precise information about where the animal was born and reared.

GM Food or Feed

The EU recognises the consumers' right to information and labelling as a tool for making an informed choice. Since 1997 Community legislation has made labelling of GM food mandatory for:

  • products that consist of GMO or contain GMO;
  • products derived from GMO but no longer containing GMO if there is still DNA or protein resulting from the genetic modification present;

Latest regulation concerning GMO Labelling:

Regulation (EC) 1830/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003 concerning the traceability and labelling of genetically modified organisms and the traceability of food and feed products produced from genetically modified organisms and amending Directive 2001/18/EC were published in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Previously, the labelling of genetically modified foods was based on the provisions of article 8 of Regulation (EC) 258/97 on novel foods and novel foods ingredients.

The labelling of GM maize varieties and GM soy varieties which did not fall under Regulation 258/97 are covered by Regulation (EC) 1139/98 concerning the compulsory indication of the labelling of certain foodstuffs produced from genetically modified organisms as amended by Regulation (EC) 49/2000.

In addition, all GM additives and GM flavourings have to be labelled according to Regulation (EC) 50/2000 on the labelling of foodstuffs and food ingredients containing additives and flavourings.

In accordance with the general labelling rules of Directive 90/220/EEC, the labelling of 4 out of the 8 authorised GMOs for use in feed is mandatory.

Genetically modified seed varieties must be labelled in accordance with Council Directive 98/95/EEC.

Source: European Commission

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