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EU - Labelling Requirements

4.1 Labelling Requirements

Legislation and regulations with respect to food labelling  requirements  exist  at  both  national and EU levels to ensure food safety for consumers. It is important to note that the EC has adopted a proposal on the provision of food information to consumer. A horizontal food labelling legislation approach by combining Directives on labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs as well as nutrition labelling was proposed. This proposal was developed to simplify the regulatory process while ensuring the safety of food and public health. In the EU, comprehensive information on labelling can be found at European Commission (EC) Food Safety website http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/labellingnutrition/index_en.htm

The objective of foodstuff labelling in the EU is to ensure that consumers have access to complete information on the content and composition of products, in order to protect their health and their interests (European Commission ). Other information may provide details on a particular aspect of the product, such as its origin or production method (European Commission ). Some foodstuffs, such as genetically modified organisms, allergenic foods, foods intended for infants or even various beverages, are also subject to specific regulations (European Commission ).

Manufacturers should be mindful that, in addition to the EU's mandatory and voluntary schemes, national voluntary and mandatory labelling schemes might still apply. These schemes may be highly appreciated by consumers, and thus, become unavoidable for marketing purposes. Manufacturers are advised to take note that all labels require metric units although dual labelling is also acceptable. The use of language on labels has been the subject of a Commission Communication, which points out that labelling of foodstuffs for sale to the final consumer must be in an easily understandable language which is generally interpreted to mean the language of the country of marketing (European Commission ,2010). Nonetheless, foreign terms or expressions which are easily understood by the foreign consumer can also be used (European Commission , 2010).

It is also important to note that the EU's food safety framework is comprehensive and one of the strictest in the world. The framework covers not  just safe food, but also animal health, animal welfare, plant health and extends to food hygiene. It ensures that food is traceablethroughout the food  chain, from the farm, where the food is grown, to the tables, where the food is consumed by EU consumers (so- called 'farm-to-fork' approach). As such, all actors in the food supply chain, including producers and exporters in developing countries, are involved in making sure that only safe food enters the EU market. According to the European Commission, the labelling, advertising and presentation of foodstuffs must not:

  • Mislead the consumer as to the characteristics or effects of the good; and
  • With some exceptions, attribute to foodstuff properties for the prevention, treatment or cure of a human illness.


The Commission further outlines a number of compulsory labelling particulars for food products:

  • Name under which the product is sold;
  • List of ingredients, which are listed in descending order of weight and designated by their specific name, subject to the derogations provided in Annexes I, II, III and IIIa). Ingredients which belong to more than one category are indicated according to their principal function. Under certain conditions, the listing of ingredients is not required for:
  • fresh fruit and vegetables;
  • carbonated water;
  • fermentation vinegars;
  • cheese,  butter, fermented milk and cream; and
  • products  comprising a single ingredient, where the trade name is identical with the ingredient name, or the trade name enables the nature of the ingredient to be clearly identified.

Certain additives and enzymes are not considered as ingredients; this relates to those which are used as processing aids or those contained in an ingredient, which serve no technological function in the finished product.

Quantity of ingredients or categories of ingredients expressed as a percentage

This requirement applies when an ingredient or a category of ingredients:

  • appears in the name under which the foodstuff is sold or is usually associated with that name by the consumer;
  • is emphasized on the labelling in words, pictures or graphics; or
  • is essential to characterise an indicated foodstuff (certain exceptions may be provided).

Net quantity expressed in units of volume in the case of liquids and units of mass in the case of solids and gases. However, there are specific provisions for foodstuffs sold by number and solid foodstuffs presented in a liquid medium;

Date of minimum durability This date consists of the day, month and year, except in the case of foodstuffs that will not keep for more than three  months  (the  day  and  month  are sufficient), foodstuffs which will not keep for more than 18 months (the month and year are sufficient), and foodstuffs which will keep for more than 18 months (year is sufficient).

The date shall be preceded by the words: 'Best before ...' when the date includes an indication of the day or 'Best before end ...' in other cases.

The date of durability is not required for the following products:

  • Untreated fresh fruits and vegetables;
  • Wines and beverages containing 10 % or more by volume of alcohol;
  • Non-alcoholic soft drinks;
  • Fruit juices and alcoholic beverages in individual containers of more than five litres, intended for supply tomass caterers;
  • Bakers' or pastry cooks' wares which are normally consumed within 24 hours of their manufacture;
  • Vinegar;
  • Cooking salt;
  • Solid sugar;
  • confectionery products consisting almost solely of flavored and/or colored sugars;
  • chewing gums and similar chewing products; and
  • individual portions of ice-cream.

In the case of foodstuffs which are highly perishable, the date of minimum durability shall be replaced by the ‘useby’ or ‘expiration’date;

  • any special storage conditions  or conditions of use;
  • name or business name and address of the manufacturer or packager, or of a seller established withinthe Community. However, Member States shall be authorised, in respect of butter produced in their territory, to require only an indication of the manufacturer, packager or seller;
  • place  of  origin  or  provenance where failure to give such particulars might mislead the consumer;
  • instructions for use should be included to enable appropriate use of the foodstuff; and
  • indication of  the acquired   alcoholic strength of beverages containing more than 1.2 % by volume ofalcohol.

Some important links on labelling in the EU are now provided:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2000:109:0029:0042:EN:PDF

http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/consumers/product_labelling_and_packaging/l21090_en.htm

http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/consumers/product_labelling_and_packaging/l21092_en.htm

http://exporthelp.europa.eu/thdapp/taxes/show2Files.jsp?dir=/requirements&reporterId1=EU&file1=ehir_eu11_01v001/eu/main/req_lblfood_eu_010_0612.htm&reporterLabel1=EU&reporterId2=GB&file2=ehir_gb11_01v001/gb/main/re q_lblfood_gb_010_0612.htm&reporterLabel2=United+Kingdom&label=Labelling+for+foodstuffs&languageId=en&status=PROD

http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/labellingnutrition/foodlabelling/comm_legisl_en.htm