The question of indication of certain terms on food packaging, in particular, the term “natural”, is not directly regulated by the Ukrainian legislation, and thus, there is no either direct permit, or direct prohibition on its use.
According to the general rule, “everything is permitted that is not prohibited by law”, it can be concluded that it is possible to indicate certain terms on food products if such labelling in general complies with the laws of Ukraine.
However, there are pitfalls regarding use of the term “natural”, can it actually be used? Let us try to clarify.
In accordance with Art. 1 of the Law of Ukraine “On basic principles and requirements for food safety and quality”, information about a food product means information about the properties of food products that is brought to the consumer by marking, adding supporting material, electronic means, or in any other way, including advertising.
According to Art. 32 of the Law of Ukraine “On basic principles and requirements for food safety and quality”, food products that are in circulation in Ukraine must comply with the legislation on safety and individual quality indicators of food products.
According to Art. 39 of the Law of Ukraine, circulation of food products, which labelling does not satisfy statutory requirements on safety and some quality indicators of food products, shall be prohibited.
According to Art. 5 of the Technical regulations on food labelling rules approved by the State Committee of Ukraine for Technical Regulation and Consumer Policy No. 487 of October 28, 2010, food labelling and the way it is performed, shall not:
- mislead the consumer regarding:
- characteristics of the food product, in particular, its nature, identity, properties, condition, composition, quantity, life time (storage) characteristics, origin, method of production or receipt;
- unjustified indication of information about properties of the food product, which it does not have;
- information about the particular properties of the food product, although all similar products have the same properties.
Can designation “natural” on food packaging be misleading and what is actually a “natural product”?
According to the Academic Thesaurus, “to mislead” means “deliberately misinform”. In this case “Misinformation” is “a false perception of reality caused by its incorrect, distorted reflection by organs of senses”.
The concept of “misinformation” is very controversial, because it depends on many conditions and factors. It is usually possible to determine whether any designation or term is misleading only by means of opinion polls, or special expert research.
It is doubtful that a food product can be misleading as to whether it is natural, when it is made of raw materials of natural origin, without use of genetic engineering and when it does not contain any artificial (chemical) ingredients and additives.
Based on the etymology of the word “natural”, according to the Dictionary of the Ukrainian Language (in 11 vols. / USSR Academy of Sciences, Institute of Linguistics, ed. by I.K. Bilodid. – K: Naukova Dumka, 1970-1980. – V.5. 0 P.219), “NATURAL” means “of natural origin; contrary to artificial”.
Ordinary consumers, when seeing the designation “natural” on food packaging, subconsciously understand that such product must not have ingredients made of artificial (synthetic) raw materials, of chemically modified origin; artificial, nature-identical colorings and flavorings; artificial, chemically modified stabilizers and preserving agents, artificial food additives. At the same time, consumers also understand that such a product can not be made of artificial (synthetic) raw materials, of chemically modified origin, and that the product is manufactured without use of genetic engineering methods in general.
According to Art. 39 of the Law of Ukraine “On basic principles and requirements for food safety and quality”, circulation of food products, which labelling does not comply with the legislation on safety and individual quality indicators of food products, shall be prohibited.
Labelling of food products must provide a consumer with the information that allows him to choose the food product that satisfies the needs of the consumer.
For example, according to the Law of Ukraine “On milk and dairy products”, it shall be prohibited to use non-dairy fats and proteins, and any stabilizers and preservative agents during production of traditional dairy products.
Thereto, the following is also separately required: pasteurization and sterilization of dairy products as a kind of technological processing for their decontamination (neutralization), that ensures their safety for people and animals and environment protection (Order of the State Department for Veterinary Medicine of the Ministry of Agrarian Policy of Ukraine “On approval of Rules of veterinary and sanitary examination of milk and dairy products and requirements for their sale”).
Thus, the question of specifying certain terms, in particular, the term “natural” on food products is not directly regulated by the Ukrainian legislation.
Thus, we can conclude that it is possible to call (label) as “natural” the food product:
- in which raw materials, ingredients and auxiliary substances (colorants, flavorings, preservative agents, stabilizers, etc.) are of natural origin;
- in which raw materials, ingredients and auxiliary substances are not artificial;
- in which raw materials, ingredients and auxiliary substances are not chemically modified;
- in which all vitamins and minerals (calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, etc. are preserved;
- which is made using only physical and biological processes (such as separation, normalization in protein and fat, pasteurization, homogenization, fermentation by pure cultures of dairy ferments, pumping, cooling, mixing with other components of natural composition), which is in accordance with the established processing of such products.
In this case, pursuant to clause 5 of the Technical regulations on food labelling rules, the condition that all similar products do not have the same properties shall be met.
Considering that certification of food products in Ukraine is not mandatory, a manufacturer of natural food products, as appropriate, shall provide any documents that may be appropriate to confirm the absence in the product of artificial (synthetic), chemically modified ingredients, additives , colorants, flavorings, preservative agents, stabilizers, GMO.
According to Art. 56 of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union (hereinafter, the Agreement), Ukraine takes the necessary steps to progressively achieve compliance with the EU technical regulations and systems of standardization, metrology, accreditation, conformity assessment and the EU market surveillance and agrees to abide by the principles and practices set out in the EU-1 effective decisions and regulations.
According to Art. 58 of the Agreement on mandatory marking or labelling of goods, Ukraine should try to minimize its requirements for marking or labelling, other than those required for the adaptation of the EU acquis in this area, and marking or labelling to protect health, safety or the environment, or for other important needs of public policy.
According to analysis of the European Union legislation on labelling of food products and their manufacturing, it can be concluded that its provisions do not directly regulate labelling of products by the term “natural”, but set only the general requirements for food quality and safety, and their labelling.
It should also be noted that many food products in the European Union contain indication “natural” on the packaging, mainly dairy products, jams, juices, flakes (oats, corn, etc.) and other.
Let us consider the situation with the term “organic”
Unlike “natural”, designation “organic” has a clear legislative regulation in Ukraine.
Provisions on manufacturing of organic products are contained in the Law of Ukraine “On the production and turnover of organic agricultural products and raw materials” of September 03, 2013, No. 425-VII, which almost completely reproduces requirements, standards and rules of the European Union on organic products enshrined in the Council Regulation (EU) No. 834/2007 of June 28, 2007 “On organic production and labelling of organic products”.
According to Art. 15 of the Law of Ukraine “On production and turnover of organic agricultural products and raw materials” during production of organic products and/or raw materials the methods are used that:
- exclude use of GMO, GMO derivatives and products made of GMO as food products, feed, processing aids, plant protection products and soil improvement products, fertilizers, seeds, planting stock of vegetative origin, microorganisms and animals;
- exclude use of chemically synthesized substances, preservative agents, synthesized (artificial) colorants, hormones, antibiotics, flavors, stabilizers, flavor enhancers, growth-promoting substances;
- exclude use of ionizing radiation for treatment of organic raw materials or feed used in the production of organic products;
- exclude hydroponic production;
- use living organisms and mechanical production methods;
- are used in plant nutrition mainly through soil ecosystem;
- are based on risk assessment and use preventive measures.
Ukraine also developed the state logo for organic products in accordance with the Order of the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine “On approval of state logo for organic products (raw materials)”, No. 495 (effective since February 09, 2016).
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In the European Union the designation that confirms “organic nature” of products is.
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It is also permitted to label and advertise products by derivative and shortened terms, such as “bio” and “eco”, alone or in combination.
The Council Regulation (EU) No. 834/2007 separately contains a provision that any terms, including terms used in trademarks, or practices used in labelling or advertising liable to mislead the consumer or user by suggesting that a product or its ingredients satisfy the requirements set out for organic products and raw materials under the above Regulation shall not be used in labelling and advertising of food products.
Thus, the terms “natural” and “organic” are basically much similar, but not identical. Natural products may not 100% satisfy the concept “organic”, but shall also be the products of natural origin and be free of any artificial and genetically modified ingredients.