How the Proposed European Food Labeling Regulation Will Affect the Ingredients Industry

The big news of the month is, of course, the European Parliament (EP) vote on the proposed text for the regulation on Food Information for Consumers.

The attention grabbing headlines include the extension of country of origin labelling for all meat, poultry and fish and, somewhat controversially, the proposed ban on traffic light labelling (and all similar national schemes) in favour of one harmonised GDA (Guideline Daily Amount) label.

These proposals, and more, will be sending food manufacturers and retailers into a tailspin, but what is the impact for ingredients companies and the ingredients industry? For this, it is necessary to scour the small print.

Impact for ingredient companies

The age-old argument about product descriptions and packaging pictorials that focus consumer attention on certain ingredients, which may be artificial (e.g. flavourings) and therefore potentially misleading, may be taking a turn towards clarity – EP wants such products to be accompanied by a prominent statement of ‘imitation X’.

Take flavourings, for example, this would be in addition to the new labelling regulations imposed by the flavourings regulation, which feels like complete overkill. In other attempts to make labelling more blatant, the statement ‘with sweeteners’ currently required to accompany the product name (which often slips to the back of pack!), will be required in the principal field of vision, i.e. the front. Predictably, aspartame cannot escape prominence – the proposal changes the statements of ‘phenylalanine’ content to simply ‘contains aspartame’.

Within the ingredient list itself, some changes are proposed. Nano-ingredients will be required to be clearly indicated as such, and EP has proposed that common rules should be drawn up to cover the labelling of traces of allergenic ingredients in foods.

Presumably this is to get round the ‘may contain’ statements that litter food packaging, a subject that industry and authorities have struggled to agree on for many years. Another topic that has recently received Commission attention has been incorporated here – the status of foods with colouring properties in relation to regulated colour additives – EP has proposed a new generic category of foods (natural extracts from fruit, vegetables and edible plants) to be included in Annex VI as ‘colouring food’.

The question is (and probably always will be), how is natural defined? Surely this is a good time to finally put this question to bed and satisfy the contention across so many ingredient categories? We can but hope!

Nutrition labelling

Nutrition labelling is the other huge issue addressed by the proposed regulation, and ingredients won’t escape under the radar. Trans fats (both natural and artificial) are suggested for inclusion in the front of pack nutrition labelling, which would no doubt be a further nail in the coffin for such ingredients.

Also of interest is that ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘reduced fat’ claims would not be permitted without a reduction in overall calorie value, which could impact many formulation issues.

Overall, should we be concerned? Commission indicates that the EP proposals are unlikely to be accepted as they stand, and this debate is likely to roll well into 2011.