On 31 January 2013, the European Commission published guidance on new food labelling rules that will be applicable, in principle, as from end of this year. The guidance document, entitled "Questions and Answers on the application of the Regulation (EU) N° 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers" was elaborated by a Working Group of Member States experts established by DG Health and Consumers in order to provide answers to a series of questions concerning the application of the Regulation.
On 25 October 2011, the European Parliament and the Council adopted Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (the 'FIC Regulation', see our previous update). The FIC Regulation repeals Directive 2000/13/EC on labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs and Directive 90/496/EC on nutrition labelling for foodstuffs and entails a re-design of food labels in the EU by introducing changes such as mandatory nutritional labelling, minimum font size or modification of food information presentation rules.
The questions included in the guidance concern both rules on food labelling in general, which will be applicable as from 13 December 2013, and rules on nutritional labelling, applicable as from 13 December 2016. The document is not aimed to be exhaustive and comprehensive as it gives explanation only on some of the questions that were raised by the stakeholders following the adoption of the new rules.
As regards general labelling, the Commission undertook to answer the questions concerning, inter alia:
- Availability and placement of mandatory food information (including multipacks)
- Instructions of use
- Conditions for use of a minimum font
- Allergen labelling for prepacked and non-prepacked food
- Distance selling (including the responsibility for providing the information, means and time of providing it)
- Labelling of nano-materials in the list of ingredients
- Indication and designation of ingredients as regards the origin of oils or fats
- Issues related with the indication of the date of freezing
- Indication of the presence of added water
- Indication of the net quantity of individual packages of varying weight or glazed products.
As for nutrition declaration rules, the Commission clarifies issues such as the scope of the rules, content of the mandatory nutrition declaration, reference quantity, other forms of expression, exemptions from providing the nutrition declaration, optional nutrients, indication of vitamins and minerals, energy value declaration of the nutrient content "as sold", repetition of the nutrition information front of pack, use of GDA (guideline daily amount) indication or RI (reference intake) abbreviation and other practical questions.
The guidance also explains the application of transition measures with regard to general and nutrition labelling. As regards nutrition labelling, the Commission also clarifies the rules on the anticipated use by food business operators, i.e. prior to 13 December 2016, of the new provisions on nutrition labelling.
Since this is a guidance document, it does not have any binding legal force. Indeed the EC does not have the competence to interpret the European law. This is a prerogative reserved to the courts and the Court of Justice of the European Union as a last resort. Although application of the guidance may not fully protect food business operators from a legal challenge of product labels, it will, however, assist all players in the food chain as well as national authorities in understanding and correctly applying the FIC Regulation.