On 29 September 2011, the Council of the European Union adopted a new EU Regulation which overhauls the existing food labeling regime and imposes additional food labeling requirements aimed at providing more and better information for consumers. 

Food business operators have three years—and for certain specific requirements, five years—from the Regulation’s entry into force (expected in December 2011), to ensure that the labeling of their products complies with the new requirements.

Most importantly, the Regulation requires that:

  • the labeling of prepacked foods includes mandatory nutrition information, in particular the product’s energy value, amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrates, sugars, protein, and salt per 100 g or per 100 ml;
  • country of origin information is displayed for fresh meat from swine, sheep, goats and poultry (in addition to products for which this is already required, such as beef and fruits), as well as for products where failure to do so would mislead the consumer;
  • the presence of allergens is indicated on non-prepacked foods (previously only on prepacked foods), and their presence in prepacked foods is highlighted;
  • the presence of nano-ingredients is indicated on all labels;
  • stricter information requirements are applied to “imitation foods” (e.g., foods produced from ingredients different than what is suggested by their presentation);
  • the specific origin of vegetable oils is indicated (the Regulation does allow the combined listing of different oils of vegetable origin under the designation “vegetable oils”); and
  • all mandatory information is clearly visible and legible, not hidden by other information, and in a specific minimum font size (at least 1.2 mm).

In addition, the Regulation indicates that country of origin labeling requirements may be extended to other categories of food, such as milk (including when used as an ingredient), unprocessed foods, and ingredients that represent more than 50% of a food.

The Regulation further provides that within three years of its entry into force, the European Commission must assess the impact of possible further measures concerning trans fats, including labeling requirements and other restrictions, and prepare a legislative proposal if deemed appropriate.

Food business operators are advised to carefully review the new food labeling requirements against current practices, and to start the necessary preparations to ensure that their products comply with the new legislation in due time.