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 Food Regulations and Compliance

Food Regulations and Compliance

November 30, 2009

In building an internal market where goods are able to freely move across borders, food became the subject of a number of European regulations. The main regulations passed in 2002 enounce the essential principles to protect the consumer interest in the EU, namely regulating food labeling and marketing. A solid understanding of the EU regulations on food labeling can ensure that your products get on the shelves and stay on the shelves. But what are some of the main aspects of food labeling? Essentially the main principles are that labels should be comprehensive, accurate and sufficiently detailed. Even a slight omission of an ingredient on labelling can result in the product being withdrawn from the shelves and the producer having their reputation diminished. For example, in February this year, Sainsburys had to withdraw a ham product due to some ingredients not being reported on the labels, please click here for further details.

Accuracy of labeling has often led to some interesting results. For example, the FSA states that in order for a food “to be called ‘chocolate’ [… it] must have a certain amount of cocoa solids”. Further ‘chocolate’ must not have more than 5% vegetable fat. This minimum standard had even partly affected household names, such as Cadbury’s, from selling their products in Spain and Italy, as the latter were alleging that Cadbury’s chocolate should be labeled as chocolate substitute not chocolate due to its high milk content. In 2003, the ECJ found that both Spain and Italy were breaching EU trade mark laws with such requirements.

So accuracy and compositional compliance in labeling is vital, but what of the marketing of foods sold across Europe. Obviously there are a number of Euromyths that distort somewhat the EU standardisation effort. But that being said, for over 20 years, the marketing of foods in the EU has been a tightly regulated area where regulations go as far as stipulating the size and shape of 36 categories of foods. However, in the context of reducing bureaucracy, edible waste and being sensitive of the current economic crisis, since July of this year, new EU regulations have removed such stipulations for 26 of the 36 categories. The implication being that the knobbly carrot and bendy cucumber should now find its way back in our supermarkets and grocery stores (please see Stole Rives LLP Blog).