On the outside
Carmen Paun discusses how new EU food labelling rules are bringing harmonisation, but also challenges.
The new European Union (EU) food labelling rules that came into effect on 13 December 2014 have brought harmonisation in terms of how and what information should be given to EU consumers, representatives of the confectionery industry say. But upcoming changes that are still being discussed may pose some challenges to manufacturers and packagers alike.
Under the newly enforced EU regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, confectionery manufacturers have to clearly highlight allergens, such as soy, nuts, gluten and lactose, in their products’ ingredient lists, through the use of specific text fonts, style or background colour.
European chocolate, biscuit and confectionery makers association Caobisco thinks the industry will take this demand in its stride. Spokeswoman Laurence Vicca argues that the sector already has an obligation to identify allergens in EU countries, but says there are no harmonised rules on how this should be done. “The difference is that this information is now mandatory and the rules have been harmonised; this information should appear in a consistent manner in the list of ingredients on all food products and should be emphasised,” she explains, noting that this should help consumers who have food allergies.
This will include those buying confectionery and sweet bakery products that have not been pre-packaged. Under the new rules, information must be supplied about allergens too – via posters in supermarkets, on the menu in restaurants, or even verbally at some food service outlets, the European Commission has explained.
Another new requirement for the industry with regard to pre-packed products relates to when an ingredient is an engineered nanomaterial, according to a technical definition provided in the EU regulation. If so, this should be indicated by writing ‘nano’ in brackets following the name of the ingredient.
Nanoparticles used in food and other products destined for the general public have provoked concern among food health specialists and consumers over the past few years in both Europe and the US. “We tend to think of nano, especially in food, as everything under 500 nanometres,” explains Ian Illuminato, health and environment campaigner at US Friends of the Earth, speaking at an event discussing nanomaterials held in Brussels on
10 February, organised by the Centre for International Environmental Law – CIEL; the European Citizen’s Organisation for Standardisation (ECOS); and the German Öko-Institut. One nanometre is one billionth of a metre, or roughly 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.
Illuminato authored a report last May in which he named major US chocolate and confectionery producers and others using nanomaterials in their products, which he claimed was done “with no labels and scant evidence of their safety”.
Upon the release of the report ‘Tiny ingredients, big risks: nanomaterials rapidly entering food and farming’, he said: “We know too little about the safety of these small but powerful ingredients to be conducting this widespread experiment on our bodies and the environment”. In Brussels, he welcomed measures requiring food items including nanomaterials to be labelled as such, giving people the freedom to make well informed choices.
However, European confectionery producers do not appear worried that labelling ingredients as nano will spark fears among EU consumers. “We haven’t received any information indicating that nanomaterials will be a particular concern for our industry,” says Caobisco spokeswoman Vicca.
The new rules also require confectionery manufacturers, as well as other food producers, to provide more information about the oils and fats in a specific product, such as their source – for example, palm oil or olive oil – as well as the mention of ‘fully hydrogenated’ or ‘partly hydrogenated’ accompanying the hydrogenated oil and fat, if present.
Form and function
While palm oil plantations have been accused in the past of being responsible for rainforest deforestation in countries such as Indonesia, Caobisco says that the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA) “has worked a lot to communicate with the public about this type of oil,” including its specific function and sustainability. “It must have been helpful to address some of the public’s concerns about palm oil,” says Vicca, noting that no significant shift in consumer demand for the use of specific oils and fats in confectionery products including palm oil has been seen so far.
The new rules also require manufacturers to inform consumers if a product has been frozen and then defrosted before being sold. If so, the term ‘defrosted’ should accompany the name of the product that has been previously frozen and sold defrosted.
And all of this information needs to be provided in a minimum font size of 1.2mm, if the largest surface on the package or containers is more than 80cm2. For packages where the surface is smaller than this, the minimum font size has to be 0.9mm, according to the new EU rules.
However, there are exceptions for very small packaging; confectionery and other food product packages with a surface area of less than 25cm2 are exempt from the requirement of printing mandatory nutritional information, according to a European Commission note.
Even so, challenges will remain for fitting all the mandatory text at the minimum font size required on the labels, says Luke Murphy, regulatory manager at Leatherhead Food Research. And more challenges lie ahead for confectionery producers, since under upcoming rules under regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 they will have to add nutritional information about the product, such as energy, fat, saturated carbohydrates, sugar and salt, from 13 December 2016, on all packaging with a surface area above 25cm2, Murphy warns.
While noting that the new rules bring consistency with regard to the nutrition information that needs to be displayed on most packs, he thinks they will be detrimental to company marketing messages and design, since the law will ensure “voluntary food information shall not be displayed to the detriment of the space available for mandatory food information”.
There are also issues relating to how to measure surfaces to decide whether they exceed the 25cm2 threshold, according to a spokeswoman for EU food industry association FoodDrinkEurope. This calculation method is not defined in the EU regulation governing the new rules and some EU countries interpret it differently, she explains.
According to a European Commission briefing note, “in the case of rectangular or box shaped packages, the determination of the ’largest surface area‘ is straightforward; ie one entire side of the package concerned (height x width)”.
Brussels does admit that it becomes more complicated when the packaging of a food product is another shape, such as a cylinder or bottle.
“A pragmatic way to clarify the concept of ’largest surface‘ for cylindrical or bottle shaped packaging, with often uneven shapes, could be, for example, the area excluding tops, bottoms, flanges at the top and bottom of cans, shoulders as well as necks of bottles and jars,” it explains.
Even if this problem is overcome, some experts claim that the additional information required from 2016 will pose real problems for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
For example, Poiana Soarelui is a small Romanian company headquartered in the central Romania city of Braşov, which manufactures bakery and pastry products. With only 20 employees, there are no specialists who could calculate the nutritional value of every product, according to Lucia Nica, its director general. “Small companies like ours cannot afford to pay external contractors to calculate the nutritional value of each and every product,” she tells Confectionery Production. She is worried that putting in place a system to calculate the nutritional value of each product will bring financial trouble.
In the meantime, Nica says that the way to calculate these nutritional values is nowhere in the regulation. “I did not manage to find authorised laboratories [in Romania] that could provide the analysis necessary for the calculations requested by law,” she explains.
She hopes to solve these problems step by step, as 2016 approaches, by finding institutions that could help small producers calculate nutritional information. “Then, depending on the company’s financial possibilities, we could manage to set the nutritional value for product category,” she explains.
But the problems do not end there, Nica adds. “Then we need to print the labels, which are an added cost,” she says, nonetheless expressing optimism about ultimate compliance. “We are aware that we need to ensure consumers’ safety and thus I am convinced that we will manage to get to the next level, which is to label our products according to European rules.”
One aid should be a database that the commission is planning to launch this year to help food companies comply with the new rules. Brussels has said that the database will be a user friendly tool that food business operators and particularly SMEs could consult, for information including that related to the estimated nutritional value of certain products and ingredients, a commission official tells Confectionery Production.
Meanwhile, the new and upcoming rules may not be the only regulations confectioners and bakers need worry about. Caobisco says that the European Commission is considering proposing a rule insisting the country of origin is stated for ingredients that represent more than 50 per cent of a food product.
Its outcome could be important for the chocolate industry, for instance, which may have to label the country of origin for ingredients such as cocoa. Also, the definition of what is an engineered nanomaterial in food is expected to change this year to bring it into line with a general definition released by the European Commission in 2011 .