Food Labelling: What’s Next on the Menu?

On 17 December 2021 the Department of Health published a report summarising the results of a public consultation conducted in conjunction with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (“FSAI”), which sought views on front-of-pack nutrition labelling, nutrient profiles, origin labelling and date marking (the “Consultation”). The results of the Consultation indicate a strong preference among stakeholders for a mandatory and harmonised food-labelling regime at an EU level.  It will be interesting to see if the results of a recently launched consultation on the provision of food information to consumers by the European Commission will also indicate a similar preference.

FSAI Consultation on Food Labelling

The Consultation ran from 11 February 2021 to 25 March 2021 and sought views from all stakeholders on front-of-pack nutrition labelling, nutrient profiles, origin labelling and date marking. In total, 262 respondents took part in the Consultation and the main findings summarised in the Department of Health’s report were as follows:

  • Front of pack nutrition labelling (“FoP”) – A significant majority (91%) of respondents were in favour of a harmonised EU FoP nutrition labelling scheme, with a sizeable majority of respondents (79%) expressing a preference for such a scheme to be mandatory. Around two-thirds of participants were in favour of a nutrient-specific colour-coded food labelling system (such as multiple traffic light labelling), where just over half of respondents did not think that there should be exemptions for specific food categories such as single ingredient foods or foods with a protected designation of origin or geographical indications.
  • Nutrient profiles A significant majority (87%) of respondents were in favour of establishing harmonised EU-wide nutrient profiles.
  • Origin labelling Similar to FoP labelling and nutrient profiles, a significant majority (82%) of respondents were in favour of the introduction of mandatory EU-wide origin labelling to additional food categories. In respect of preferred geographical levels for proposed origin labelling:
    • 39% of respondents were in favour of regional labelling (e.g. labelling the town, country or region of origin of the relevant ingredient);
    • 26% of respondents were in favour of Member State/third country labelling;
    • 16% of respondents were in favour of EU/Non-EU labelling; and
    • 38% of respondents were in favour of a combination of all of the above methods.
  • Date Marking - Around a quarter of respondents indicated a preference for no change to the current date marking system, while 37% of respondents voted to improve the expression and presentation of date marking in order to better differentiate between the food safety/health (‘use by’) and quality (‘best before’) concepts.

The outcome of the Consultation will feed into the European Commission’s proposal to harmonise mandatory food labelling as part of its Farm to Fork initiative, under the so-called ‘European Green Deal’.  The Farm to Fork initiative aims to promote fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food systems by highlighting that the provision of clear information on food labels enables consumers to choose healthier and more sustainable diets, which in turn benefits their quality of life and reduces health-related expenditure.

EU Public Consultation on Food Labelling

The European Commission (the “Commission”) has now launched a similar public consultation, which seeks comment from the public on proposals for the revision of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers (the “Food Information Regulation”). This consultation will consider many of the same key areas as the FSAI consultation, including:

  1. Front of pack nutrition labelling and nutrient profiling criteria: a proposal for EU harmonised and mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling and for the setting of ‘nutrient profiling’ criteria, which are thresholds of nutrients above or below which nutrition and health claims on foods are restricted;
  1. Origin labelling: An extension of mandatory origin indications to certain products; and
  1. Date marking: A revision of the EU rules on date marking (‘use by’ and ‘best before’).

In addition, the Commission’s consultation will also consider the introduction of mandatory indications of the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration for all alcoholic beverages.

What’s next?

The Commission’s consultation is open until 7 March 2022 and submissions may be made by way of an online questionnaire available here.  

The Commission is committed to adopting a proposal for EU-wide food labelling by the end of the year and any developments will be monitored closely.

Also contributed by Ruth Hughes.

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.