On 13 December 2014, a new regulation on the labelling of foodstuffs entered into effect, namely Regulation (EC) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers.
The former regulation already provided for a number of obligatory mentions on food labels: the name of the foodstuff, a list of ingredients, an indication of any ingredient or processing aid causing allergies, the quantity of certain ingredients or categories of ingredients, the net quantity of the product, the shelf life or "use by" date, any special storage conditions and/or conditions of use, the name and address of the food business operator, the country of origin or place of provenance, the alcoholic strength of beverages, and certain other mentions.
The goal of the new rules is to provide consumers with clearer, more comprehensive and more legible information.
What's changed in practice?
Scope of application
All food business operators providing foodstuffs (prepackaged or not) to end consumers as well as catering organisations (dining halls, restaurants, etc.) are subject to the rules. The legislature has also taken into consideration the growing importance of electronic commerce. In the case of distance sales, all required information must be available free of charge prior to the conclusion of any purchase and upon delivery.
The required information must be printed in characters with a font size of at least 1.2 mm or 0.9 mm for packaging whose largest surface has an area of less than 80 cm². Small packaging whose largest surface area does not exceed 10 cm² need only mention the name of the product, any allergens, the net quantity, and the shelf life or "use by" date.
The name(s) of the allergens must be highlighted in the list of ingredients, in boldface, capital letters, colour, etc.
Particulars accompanying the names of certain foodstuffs
The names of meat products, meat preparations and fishery products must be accompanied by the following information:
- any added proteins of a different animal origin;
- added water making up more than 5% of the weight of a finished product which has the appearance of a cut, joint, slice or portion of meat or fish;
- "formed meat" or "formed fish" when the products may give the impression of being a whole piece of meat or fish but is in reality composed of different pieces combined together with other ingredients.
Specific provisions concerning the indication of ingredients
It is henceforth necessary to identify vegetable fats and oils (peanut, colza, palm, sunflower, etc.), specify the "nano" nature of ingredients present in the form of engineered nanomaterials, and mention if water has been added to meat, meat preparations and unprocessed fishery products, even if the 5% threshold by weight is not met.
For non-prepackaged foods, the allergens must be indicated, orally or in writing, in accordance with the provisions of the Royal Decree of 17 July 2014. These rules are applicable notably to bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants, dining halls, etc.
The responsible operator is the business under whose name the foodstuff is marketed or, if this business is not established in the European Union, the importer of the product into the EU. The responsible operator is thus not necessarily the manufacturer, packager or seller.
Changes to come
Indication of the country of origin or place of provenance
This mention, which was already required for beef, will be obligatory as from 1st April 2015 for (unprocessed) fresh, chilled and frozen meat of swine, sheep or goats as well as poultry.
As from 13 December 2016, all foodstuffs must include a nutritional statement informing consumers of the energy value and the amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt, per 100 g or 100 ml. Effective 13 December 2014, this statement must be made in accordance with the new rules.
Foodstuffs placed on the market or labelled before 13 December 2014 may be sold until the depletion of stocks.
Consumers thus have a little more time to get accustomed to the new labels. Food business operators, on the other hand, must already apply the new rules.