The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has recently issued Guidance Note No. 29 on the Use of Food Marketing Terms (Guidance Note 29). This guidance aims to give greater clarity to both food businesses and consumers on the permitted use of the words ‘Artisan’, ‘Farmhouse’, ‘Traditional’ and ‘Natural’. Guidance Note 29 is the work of an FSAI working group composed of representatives from large and small-scale food producers, consumer organisations and trade associations.

Guidance Note 29 does not replace more specific rules for the marketing of particular commodities, such as EU rules on traditional butter, the rules relating to natural mineral water, or foods registered under the EU’s traditional specialities guaranteed scheme.

ARTISAN

Guidance Note 29 establishes the following 4 criteria for the permitted use of the term ‘Artisan’ or ‘Artisanal’ on food labels:

  • The food is made in limited quantities by skilled craftspeople;
  • The processing method is not fully mechanised and follows a traditional method;
  • The food is made in a microenterprise at a single location; and
  • The characteristic ingredient(s) used in the food are grown or produced locally, where seasonally available and practical.

‘Limited quantities’ means 1000kg per week over an average of one year. The notions of ‘skilled craftspeople’ using ‘traditional methods’ draws on a similar concept contained in EU law, where a method of food production has a proven usage on the domestic market for a period that allows ‘transmission between the generations’, which period is to be at least 30 years. ‘Micro- enterprise’ is also a concept defined at EU level and is taken to mean a business which employs fewer than ten people and whose annual turnover does not exceed €2 million. ‘Locally produced’ is taken to mean within a 100km radius of a manufacturing premises.

FARMHOUSE

For the correct use of the marketing term ‘Farmhouse’, the following criteria have been laid down by Guidance Note 29:

  • The food is made in a single location on a farm (as that term is defined under Common Agricultural Policy rules);
  • The food is made by a micro-enterprise; and
  • The characteristic ingredient(s) of the food are grown locally.

Guidance Note 29 goes on to clarify that certain foods, including bread with a split and rounded crust and soup made with course cut or chunky vegetables, which do not meet these criteria per se, may continue to be marketed as ‘farmhouse’ products. This allowance is based on the understanding that the term ‘farmhouse’ has become synonymous with those foods over many years. Guidance Note 29 provides a further clarification that use of the term ‘farm fresh’ for pasteurised milk and cream is not affected by the new criteria for the term ‘farmhouse’.

TRADITIONAL

The criteria laid down for use of the term ‘traditional’ draws heavily on the existing definition of that term under Regulation 1151/20121 concerning the traditional specialities guaranteed scheme, albeit with a recognition that methods of mass production do not automatically disqualify a food from being described as ‘traditional’. Guidance Note 29 provides that the term ‘traditional’ may be used where at least one of the following two criteria are satisfied: 

  • The food is made to an authentic recipe which can be proven to have existed without significant modification for at least 30 years, OR
  • The food has been made using a method of preparation that has:
    • existed for more than 30 years, although automation and mechanisation of these methods is acceptable, and
    • does not deviate substantially from the traditional food processing method associated with a certain type of food. 

NATURAL

For single ingredient foods to be branded as ‘natural’, the food must be formed by nature and not significantly interfered with by man. The FSAI re-iterates in Guidance Note 29 that, as provided for in EU Regulation 1169/20112 on food information to consumers, the term ‘natural’ may not be applied to foods when in fact all other similar foods are also natural. Minimal processing such as chopping, slicing, peeling and juicing will not disqualify a single ingredient product from being termed ‘natural’. Compound foods, being, by their nature, manmade, cannot be marketed as natural products. It is, however, possible to use the indication ‘made from natural ingredients’ where the ingredients of a compound food themselves individually satisfy the criteria for the use of the term ‘natural’ and the final compound food can be said to be:

  • additive-free, or
  • contain flavouring defined as natural under EU Regulation 1334/2008 on flavourings, or 
  • contain other food additives that are obtained from natural sources.

‘FARMHOUSE-STYLE’ AND ‘TRADITIONAL-STYLE’

Use of the terms ‘farmhouse-style’ and ‘traditional-style’ on products not meeting the criteria for the indications ‘farmhouse’ and ‘traditional’, is deemed under Guidance Note 29 to be an unhelpful qualifier for consumers. The FSAI advises that, should these qualifiers be used, the overall marketing of the food must not seek to convey to the consumer that the product is an authentic farmhouse or traditional food.

CONCLUSION

Guidance notes issued by the FSAI are aimed at assisting food businesses in complying with general principles of food law, such as the overarching obligation not to mislead consumers, though they do not constitute a definitive interpretation of the law. Indeed, Guidance Note 29 itself leaves further scope for interpretation. Earlier this year, following an expression of concern from the FSAI, McDonalds removed the word ‘artisan’ from its promotion of a new range of hamburgers, further underlining the significance of FSAI guidance notes for food business operators.