Food must not just be safe, but also must be what it says it is.

Food information to consumers, primarily shared via the product label, must not mislead and the food label itself is the primary means of providing essential information to consumers. This includes the products’s ingredients (e.g. allergens), durability, origin, quantity, nutrition, storage requirements, any key safety information and the details of the responsible food business. As an evolving area, the physical food label can also be accompanied by food information via digital channels.

The following are some key areas of consumer food information:

  • Detailed nutrition information on the back of pack is mandatory for most prepacked foods and is a powerful tool in helping consumers make better-informed choices and improving their overall food literacy and health. In addition, many manufacturers voluntarily provided simple, at-a-glance nutrition information on the front of pack (e.g. UK traffic light scheme).
  • Provided criteria are met, manufacturers can highlight the particular beneficial health effects and nutrition of their products. A health claim refers to a relationship between a food or ingredient (e.g. ‘Calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal bones and health’) and a nutrition claim refers to a nutritional benefit of a food (e.g. ‘high fibre’ or ‘low fat’).
  • The current legislative framework in place regarding origin labelling ensures that misleading origin statements are not made and that consumers are accurately informed. Origin labelling is mandatory for several foods (e.g. honey, fish and meat), and for all other categories, only when the absence of such information may mislead the consumer. Since 1 April 2020, in the UK there has been an additional requirement to declare the primary ingredient's origin when different to that of the product’s given origin. Food businesses are also able to declare voluntary origin statements.

 

As one of the many FDF Committees and groups available for members' only access, the FDF runs the Food Law & Labelling (FLL) Committee which provides members with the latest updates on food information policy and the opportunity to influence our policy positions and workstreams.

Updates & milestones

Our Food 2022: Joint FSA/FSS report on food standards

On 8 November 2023, the second annual joint FSA/FSS report on food standards was published. Despite the issue faced by the sector over 2022, the food system showed signs of resilience and, in general, food standards compliance remained stable.

As critical challenges ahead, the report highlights the following three aspects:

  • Local authority resourcing: 14% decline in food hygiene posts in Local Authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland over the last decade, with Scottish food law officer numbers falling by 25% compared to 2016/17. UK food standards officers has also fallen by 45% compared to 10 years ago.
  • Availability of Official Veterinarians: a 27% fall in the number of people joining the veterinary profession between 2019 and 2022. A particular reluctance among domestically qualified vets to take on public health roles, with continued over-reliance on overseas recruitment to secure sufficient staffing
  • Import controls: FSA was disappointed by the delays in the UK Government’s implementation of new imports Border Target Operating Model now coming into play in 2024. These controls provide assurance that EU imports meet UK safety standards and allow the FSA to identify and stop potentially unsafe food at an earlier stage. FSA call for no further delays in order to provide a greater level of public health protection.

The FSA also published its Local Authority Capacity and Capability Report, which aimed to allow a better understanding on the barriers and facilitators encountered by Local Authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It makes a series of recommendations for future focus and the CIEH and CTSI are taking steps to address these challenges.

Post-Brexit: Food Law In Great Britain & Northern Ireland since 1 January 2021

Following the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020, the UK entered a time limited transition period until 31 December 2020. Since the transition period has ended, regulation is an autonomous matter for both the UK and the EU as 2 separate legal and regulatory systems.

From 1 January 2021, all EU regulations and tertiary legislation relating to food law (i.e. safety and labelling) were retained in accordance with the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 as UK law. Now that the UK is no longer an EU Member State many of these retained EU laws have subsequently been amended in order to make them operable (i.e. replacing references to the European Commission with UK Government Ministers and national competent authorities) and further policy developments are expected over time.

The Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP) provides that EU food legislation, as detailed in Annex 2 of the NIP, continues to be directly applicable in Northern Ireland (NI).

It is important to note that any EU food law published after 1 January 2021 has not and will not directly apply in Great Britain (GB) and a separate national risk analysis process will take place.

Through the FDF’s multiple regulatory committees, we are committed in supporting our members to track and understand policy developments across GB and the EU (where they will directly apply to NI) and to influence the review of retained EU law.

FoodDrinkEurope Guidelines on the Legibility of Food Labelling

On 31 October 2022, FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) published an updated version of the FDE Guidelines on Legibility of Labelling. The objective of this work was to proactively address concerns, expressed by the European Commission and other stakeholders, about the (perceived) lack of visibility of date marking on food labels. Therefore amongst other amends, this includes new information on how to enhance date marking legibility.

This best practice advice is also generally applicable for the UK market.

For this publication, FDE has shared the following:

“The food and drink industry is committed to helping consumers make informed choices by providing them with accurate and transparent information on pack. However, the demand for more information to be provided on pack continues to increase while the amount of space available is decreasing due to the fact that companies are working to reduce packaging for environmental reasons. We recognise that this can cause challenges for the legibility of on-pack information and we are committed as an industry to providing a workable solution to this. FoodDrinkEurope, which represents the EU food and drink industry, has developed this ‘Code of Practice’ to provide guidance for manufacturers and enforcement authorities to ensure that all on-pack information is truthful, legible and accurate. This Code is not intended to be a substitute for legislation. It aims to provide recommendations and best practices to help Food Business Operators to ensure the legibility of the information provided on the label. The legibility of the information and compliance with the requirements set by EU law is ultimately the responsibility of the Food Business Operator.”

UK Government Extending to 1 January 2024 the Transition Period for EU Related Labelling to Continue to be Permitted on the GB Market (inc. EU FBO Addresses & ID Marks)

On 7 September 2022, Defra confirmed that, in line with protecting consumers from unnecessary costs, the national GB food labelling rules that were due to apply from the 1 October 2022 will formally be delayed to now come into force on 1 January 2024. Delaying these labelling requirements will mean that EU addresses (in relation to the importer or FBO address requirement) and some labelling terms will continue to be permitted on the GB market for an additional 15 months.

Additionally, to further help UK businesses it has also been decided to further extend the deadline to use “UK/EC” identification marks on the GB Market to 1 January 2024.

Defra, Welsh Government, Scottish Government, FSA England and Wales, and Food Standards Scotland are all aligned under this GB market decision. For more information FDF members can access the following information note (FLL-049-22).

Science for Sustainable Agriculture Consumer Research on How natural is our food, and what does 'natural' mean anyway?

In July 2022, Science for Sustainable Agriculture published the findings of recent consumer research to establish a representative snapshot of public and consumer attitudes towards scientific intervention in agriculture and food production, and particularly to establish how much people understand about where their food comes from, and how much scientific innovation goes into its development and production (press release).

The results, detailed in full in the report entitled ‘How natural is our food, and what does ‘natural mean anyway?’ reveals a lack of knowledge – even among self-identified ‘foodies’ - as to the true provenance of many of our familiar food crops, and the transformational changes they have undergone in order to be grown in the UK. The research highlights the need for more effective communication about the role of science in food and agriculture, and raises serious questions about the validity of current public discussions around issues such as precision breeding, when most consumers appear unaware of the level of scientific intervention which has already gone into the development of our everyday foods.

“There is a clear understanding among consumers of the many challenges facing our food supply, and the need for urgent action to tackle those challenges. As the world gets hotter, and people get hungrier, more effective communication about the role of science in food and agriculture, delivered by trusted sources, using the right language and terminology, will be absolutely critical.”
[Fellow SSA advisory group member, science communicator Dr Julian Little]

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