In this article, we will take a quick look at what the current position is in Italy and what differences there are with the European  Food Information Regulation.

The first thing to note is that, in the area of food labelling, the European Food Information Regulation which came into force in 2011 does not cover certain areas which current Italian legislation does.  In any event, we expect that where there are aspects or areas not covered by the new Food Information Regulation, national laws will need to be passed in order to incorporate the “missing” areas.

It has to be noted that in Italy, food labelling is governed by legislative decree 109/1992. A food label is described as “the words, images, instructions and symbols which refer to the food product and feature on the product packaging or on a label attached to the product or on ties used with the product”.  The type of food product also determines which legislation is applied as we will see in a moment.

The decree also requires attention to be given to the type of material used for the packaging and labels, the look and feel of the labels and the layout of the labels.

The end consumer has a wide meaning in Italy: it means the consumer, restaurants, hospitals, canteens and other similar services, and it is worth noticing that food products sold to non-consumers are governed by different legislation.

As previously mentioned, it is important to work out which legislation applies to the products.  Under Italian law, there is a distinction between “prepacked” products and “wrapped” products. “Prepacked” products are those products that contain the food item and respective packaging and which cannot be altered without the packing being opened i.e. the product is presented “as is”. The packaging represents part of the product itself. An example of prepacked food is a ready meal whereas loose fruit is not.  Whether a product is prepacked or not is usually assessed on a case by case basis.

“Wrapped” products are described as those which are wrapped on site in the shop/outlet i.e. cheese from the deli counter which is wrapped in protective film by the shop assistant.

The reason this distinction is important is that the law governing “wrapped” products is much blander than that which governs “prepacked” products. Over the years, shops and supermarkets and manufacturers have used this distinction in order to reduce the cost and burden of labelling and packaging food.  However, case law has not been clear-cut in this area and many manufacturers and food producers have been caught out. For example, mozzarella which was sold over the counter but then wrapped and sealed with little metal rivets was considered “prepacked” by the Italian courts whereas cheese sold over the counter sealed with a heat sealant was not.

Now that we have established when food labels are required, it is important to take into consideration which information need to be  included on food labels under current Italian legislation.

The first thing to note when talking about food labels for prepacked products is that the language needs to be one which is easily understood by the end consumer where the product is sold.

It has to be highlighted that the label must contain the following information:

  • Name;
  • List of ingredients;
  • Net weight;
  • Use by date or best before date;
  • Brand, logo and manufacturer and manufacturer’s registered office;
  • Address of manufacture if different;
  • Alcoholic content if above 1.2%;
  • Product identity/stock number;
  • How to store and how to use;
  • Place of origin if omission would mislead end consumer as to origin;
  • Ingredient percentages.

There are several areas where Italy’s current food labelling legislation is not covered by the incoming European Food Information Regulation, and more specifically under legislative decree 109/92 there is a requirement to include the address of manufacture (which may be different to the address of the manufacturing company).

This is not covered by the European Directive, which is not surprising as this requirement is not covered by EU law, it is something specific to Italian law.  It has anyway to be noted that the Food Associations in Italy would prefer that this requirement remains and lobbying is expected to promote the retention of this information on food labels in order to protect the “made in Italy”.

The European Directive has introduced the following elements which are not currently covered by Italian legislation:

  • Packed goods have to have a nutritional value table with seven categories (calories, fat, saturated fats, carbohydrates, protein, sugar and salt) per 100g of product;
  • The writing must be legible, i.e. not smaller than 1.2mm or 0.9mm for small products;
  • It is mandatory to specify the country of origin and for beef, poultry, pork and lamb, the place of origin;
  • A defrosted product must state that if it has been defrosted or frozen at any point in its preparation;
  • Products injected with water must state the percentage of water (if higher than 5%);
  • Allergens need to be listed in the ingredients (in bold and colour);
  • Compulsory wording/information must be near the name of the product;
  • The list of ingredients can be made available separately to the product.

At the moment, it is not clear what the exact impact will be on food businesses in Italy.  It is clear that there has been a lot of noise in the food press in Italy about the Food Information Regulation.  One concern is that the long gap between the coming into force of the Regulation and national implementation (2014 and 2016) will create confusion.

The European regulation is clearly going to impact on label designs for food products sold in Italy and a knock on effect of greater information on food labelling may be product development and changes in consumer trends; moreover, the more stringent requirements will make quality control and supply chain control essential.

It has to be noted that there are going to be increased costs for entrepreneurs of food business which will be passed on to the end consumer but may make the products less competitive.

As a final note, please bear in mind that the enforcement of the European regulation is not clear yet and how this will evolve in the future is not foreseeable: it is therefore advisable to watch this space in the near future.