Munich - The new regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 (FIR) governing provision of food information to consumers came into effect throughout Europe this year. In future, consumers will be provided with more detailed information from manufacturers to enable them to make suitable choices from the vast selection of foods available on the market. The FIR will achieve this by requiring clearer mandatory product information and labels. The food experts at TÜV SÜD explain what will change under the new regulation, and what benefits for consumers it will involve.
Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011, as FIR is officially known, includes new provisions regulating the labelling, presentation, description, advertising and 'distance selling' of foodstuffs. In Germany, national regulations including the Food Labelling Regulation (Lebensmittelkennzeichnungsverordnung, LMKV), Nutritional Value Labelling Regulation (Nährwertkennzeichnungsverordnung, NKV) and elements of the Finished Packaging Regulation (Fertigpackungsverordnung, FPackV) and Additives Regulation (Zusatzstoffzulassungsverordnung, ZZulV) will be linked and updated. The FIR must be transposed into national law before 13 December 2014. From this date, all food producers without exception, from regional cheese-makers to international conglomerates, must provide standardised labelling on their products to inform consumers of the energy value, origins and allergenic potential of their products. As a new feature, where declaration of allergens is concerned the Regulation is not limited to pre-packaged foods; in future, consumers can also expect more precise information on all sales of unpackaged foods in bakeries, butchers' counters, farm shops and restaurants. Internet trading with foodstuffs will come under particular focus in the new Regulation.
"Lawmakers are hoping that people suffering from food allergies will experience particular benefits", says Dr Andreas Daxenberger, food expert at TÜV SÜD. "For example, information on allergies must be clearly visible by being printed in a different font or displayed against a different-colour background. In addition, in future declaration requirements for allergens will apply to loose products such as bread as well as to pre-packaged foods. Allergens in non-pre-packaged products traded over the Internet will also have to be declared prior to purchase." Furthermore, restaurants will be obliged to indicate allergens in their menus. There will be no changes to the list of allergens for which declaration is mandatory.
The main changes at a glance:
Additional information to be mandatory for manufacturers: In addition to a description of the foodstuff, list of ingredients, percentage of certain ingredients, net weight, best-before date, alcohol content and information about the food company, all food packaging must now show energy values, information on how to use the food and – for foods partly produced abroad – information on the country of origin. This information must be displayed on all pre-packaged foods, even those destined for further processing; previously these details have only been required on packaging destined for consumers. The requirements also apply to foods ordered by consumers over the Internet. Customers must be provided with this information before making their online purchase, not merely when they read the packaging of their order after delivery.
Print size and display panels to become more consumer-friendly: All mandatory information must be printed at a clearly visible location on the packaging. A minimum print size of 1.2 mm, measured on the basis of a small 'x', will guarantee clarity and legibility for consumers. The only exceptions will be very small packages such as those for chewing-gum or chocolate bars; print sizes may be smaller on packages where the largest part of the surface area is smaller than 80 square millimetres, but must still have a minimum height of 0.9 mm.
Confusion caused by 'fake foods' to be reduced:Analogue cheese, reformed ham and crab sticks will be governed by specific labelling regulations in future. For example, analogue cheese must carry the wording "Produced from vegetable fats" immediately adjacent to the product name. To protect consumers from fraud, meat and fish products which consumers may mistake for whole cuts but which are actually manufactured by 'gluing' together scraps of the corresponding substance must now bear the legend "Formed from…", such as "Formed from cuts of pork legs" or "Formed from fish flesh". As the minimum print size of this declaration must be 75 % of the print used for the product name, consumers will be able to spot imitations straight off the supermarket shelf in future.
Labelling of the country of origin for meat: To date, labelling requirements for meat have been restricted to beef in the wake of the BSE crisis. In future they will extend to fresh pork, lamb and mutton, goat and chicken. In addition, food manufacturers of deep-frozen fish and meat products will have to show the date of freezing on the packaging in addition to the best-before date.
Caffeine content: Cola drinks, energy drinks and coffee-and-milk drinks could be harmful for children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. The FIR therefore requires them to carry a clear warning directed at these categories of consumers.
Obligatory information: In future, consumer information labels must not only indicate whether foodstuffs contain caffeine or aspartame, but must also warn of the presence of vegetable stearins and nanosubstances. They must also declare whether the food has been thawed before sale. Information on the country of origin of any vegetable oils and fats used will now be mandatory.
Nutritional values: While information on nutritional values has been voluntary in the past, FIR will render it mandatory for the majority of foods. With the exception of food supplements (declarations for which are governed separately in the German Food Supplement Regulation – NemV), mineral water, herbs, salt, coffee, tea, alcoholic beverages, loose goods and small-size packages, all foods must now display information on the "big 7": a chart of a predefined size presents consumers with at-a-glance details of calories (energy content), fat, saturated fats, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and salt. To allow consumers to compare individual products more effectively, the information is always given per 100 g or 100 ml of the foodstuff. Additional information on mono- and polyunsaturated fats, high-percentage alcohol, fibre, starch, vitamins and minerals is permissible, but cholesterol and trans fats must not be included in the nutritional details. No information about ingredients and nutritional values is required for alcoholic beverages containing over 1.2 per cent alcohol. Nutritional information is not yet mandatory in 2014, but must only be added to packages from December 2016 onwards. Information guidelines on recommended daily allowances of substances (RDAs), which are currently a voluntary gesture on the part of the manufacturer, will remain so in the future.