The right label in the right country

Q. What areas are seeing the most activity in food labelling and new regulations?

The introduction of new labelling legislation (Food Information to Consumers Regulation) at EU level and the upcoming Nutrition Facts Panel amends in the US and Canada are some of the largest changes introduced in decades.

Although the majority of provisions introduced at EU level by the Food Information to Consumers (FIC) Regulation are applicable since December 2014, nutrition declaration became mandatory from December 2016 and rules on country of origin labelling for primary ingredient are likely to be published by the second half of 2017.

France has adopted additional measures relating to origin declaration and set a two-year trial period (1 January 2017 start) for a national country of origin indication scheme for milk in milk products, followed by applications to establish similar rules by other member states.

Discussions are ongoing to establish a harmonised approach to lactose free and low lactose claims, allergen cross contamination statements (for example ‘may contain’) and agree on guidance and common opinion for a number of issues.

Another important subject for the dairy industry is the term ‘probiotic’, which is considered a non-permitted health claim by a majority of EU member states. None of the probiotic claims have received a positive opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and have not been authorised. Considerations are being given whether a probiotic claim can be classified as a voluntary statement under FIC Regulation, and we wait to see if any changes emerge in 2017.

In one of the largest changes to food labelling legislation in the US for decades, the “iconic” nutrition facts panel on food packages will have a different look from the middle of 2018, according to a final rule published by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that became law in  July 2016. This means that over 800,000 food labels will need to be changed.

Much like the US, Canada has made significant changes to its Nutrition Facts Table, to reflect the consumption patterns of Canadians. The format for the ingredient declaration has become much more standardised with various amendments introduced. For example, all sugars-based ingredients (mono- or disaccharrides or combinations thereof) must be declared as if they were a compound food under the heading ‘sugars’.

Changes are also being made to labelling regulations in the Eurasian Economic Union, Brazil and Chile. Amendments to customs union technical regulations are set to clarify the terminology of milk containing products and provide stricter labelling requirements due to widespread use of milk fat substitutes (including palm oil). Proposed amendments to technical regulation on labelling of food products should also clarify requirements for easy readability (font size, contrasting background), intelligibility and reliability.

In Brazil, a law making lactose declaration on the labels compulsory was published in 2016, with implementing provisions established in 2017.

These new laws require that foodstuff containing more than 100mg of lactose per 100g of product (or 100ml) must indicate the wording “contains lactose” after the ingredients list. Specific provisions apply for lactose free and low lactose products. Several dairy products (butter, cheese, yogurt) may also be affected by the new law on food labelling in Chile that came into force in June 2016, as warning signs must be applied if defined quantities of sugar or sodium are exceeded.

Q. What are the most pressing labelling and regulation issues?

Two of the issues facing the industry are nutrition and country of origin declaration. Nutrition declaration became mandatory for all products (with few exemptions) on 13 December 2016 in the EU. It may affect dairy producers since the fat and saturates content of products will become immediately apparent to the consumer. The nutrition facts panel on food packages in the US will have a different look from the middle of 2018, meaning that large numbers of labels will need to be changed. In Japan, nutrition labelling becomes mandatory from 2020 and this could affect some dairy products that are high in energy or fat.

In Canada, food packaged after 14 December 2021 must appear with the new labels. However, it should be noted that if the new Nutrition Facts Table is used, then all other aspects of the labelling amendments, including the new ingredient list format, must be changed as well.

Another issue is the country of origin declaration, particularly at EU level. Forthcoming origin labelling of foreign primary ingredients is the outstanding requirement of the FIC Regulation. There has been a proposal for the implementing act, which may be published before the second half of 2017. This is not likely to apply until April 2019. Varying national schemes relating to origin declaration for milk in milk products are currently being established.

Q. How has the industry changed over the past few years?

With the increasing pressure from the government and consumers to reduce fat, sugar and salt content of food, the wider area of nutrition, health and wellbeing has become high on the list of priorities for food manufacturers and retailers. Various initiatives have been announced to prevent the epidemic of diet-related diseases, such as Action on Salt and Sugar in the UK or changes to mandatory nutritional labelling under EU, US, Canadian and Japanese legislation. Food manufacturers have started to reformulate their products, change portion sizes and run ad campaigns to address the issue.

The concept of sustainability has also been progressively evolving and became an important part of supply systems and policies over the last years. The environmental aspects are being more frequently promoted by the food industry and it is likely that industry-led initiatives addressing food sustainability will continue to grow. The legislation focusing on environmental aspects is currently very fragmented at the global level. Appropriately designed environmental laws may encourage development of new sustainable technologies in the future.

The approach to food labelling has also evolved over the years. The ‘clean labelling’ trend, although not defined in legislation, has led food business to focus more on consumer expectations, reduce number of ingredients and seek naturally sourced alternatives, as well as simplifying wording on the labels to be more easily understood by consumers.

Q. What should dairy producers remember when labelling products?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ label, although progress has been made to harmonise legislation and enforcement. Many food-related matters are no longer under national jurisdiction but regulated at Eurasian Economic Union, GCC, European Union or Codex Alimentarius levels, but national differences can be seen.

The way allergenic ingredients are declared varies depending on the country. For example,  coconut is considered an allergen in the US but not in the EU. In Brazil allergens must be declared on the label according to specific regulations. The list of allergens to be declared includes some unusual ones, such as natural latex. Another example is the nutrition panel: different nutrients, their order and presentation may be required depending on the country.

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