On December 13, 2014 the EU regulation no. 1169/11 on the provision of food information to consumers, entered into force. The Regulation, aimed at establishing a consistent European legal framework, overlaps with the obsolete national legislation of the Legislative Decree no. 109/92 and combines the provisions of Directive 2000/13/CE -on labelling of foodstuff- and the directive 90/496/CEE on the nutritional indications in the labelling of foodstuff. The new Regulation is aimed at improving, facilitating and harmonizing the level of information and protection of European consumers by providing them with the grounds to make informed choices and to make safe use of food, also from a health, economic, environmental, social and ethical standpoint. Member States may adopt national laws regulating these matters if the issues are not expressly provided for by the regulation, and only if there is no prohibition or limitation to the circulation of goods compliant with the regulation.
The operators of the food sector whose name products are commercialized, are the subjects responsible for providing consumers with correct information on food. For non-EU operators, the importer is responsible within the EU. In order to avoid any responsibility, operators who cannot affect the information indicated on the food, shall not commercialize those products which are known or deemed to be uncompliant with the (national or EU) legislation.
The information as described by the Regulation has to be displayed on any food product which is intended to the final consumer or to the community, with exception of specific cases explicitly provided for by the Regulation. In particular, the elements which must be displayed, relate to the characteristics of the food and include: its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, conservation terms, country of origin or place of provenance and the manufacturing or production method.
The presence or absence of specific ingredients and/or nutritional substances shall be explicitly highlighted, by means of the description or the illustration of the product on its label or packaging. The presence of specific nutrients or ingredients even if they are normally present or generally used in such product but have been substituted with a different component or ingredient, must also be clearly highlighted.
Moreover, the information on food shall be precise, clear and easily understandable by the consumer.
The most significant provisions of the new regulation also include the following:
- the font dimension used to print the mandatory information shall not to be smaller than 1,2 mm (0,9 for packing or smaller packs);
- the allergens shall be highlighted in the list of ingredients in order for them to be clearly identifiable;
- the labels of beverages containing caffeine in a proportion in excess of 150 mg/l must include the a specific reference to this with the sentence: “High caffeine content” as well as the indication “Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women”;
- full address of the food business operator must be indicated, while the details of the production or packaging plants are optional. This indication shall be clear and comprehensible, and included in such a way as to avoid confusion in the consumer;
- it is now compulsory, for a number of food types, to clearly indicate a nutrition declaration which must contain the kilocalories, the presence of specific nutritional substances and information on the nutritional characteristics of the product in order to allow the consumer, including those who have to follow specific diets, to make an informed choice.
These provisions are also applicable to consumers purchasing prepackaged food products remotely.
Notwithstanding the entering into force of the Regulation on the 13th of December 2014, the food products issued on the market before that date, and those which are still in stock, may still be commercialized till selling out.
Food products lacking the nutrition declaration but already issued on the market (or already labelled) will benefit of a higher tolerance and will be allowed to circulate until the end of 2016.