The Food Information to Consumers (FIC) regulation (EU 1169/2011) – described by the GS1 UK as a ‘very significant piece of European legislation’ - will come into effect on December 13.
It will require highlighted allergens in the list of ingredients (such as gluten, peanuts and milk); better legibility of text (such as minimum sizing); and mandatory origin labelling of unprocessed meat from certain animals.
Snapshot of progress
GS1 UK works with members to encourage efficient sharing of information. Andy Mulcahy, PR and communications manager, GS1 UK, told FoodProductionDaily.com awareness and understanding of the upcoming regulations has improved throughout this year.
“A lot of our members are affected by this. Our role [at GSI] is communicating with them, making sure they know it’s coming. At the beginning of the year, awareness wasn’t necessarily getting through. We’ve known about it for three years, but when you say something is coming at the end of 2014 it goes to the back of the pack [for businesses].”
GS1 UK has commissioned Campden BRI to provide a snapshot of progress at quarterly intervals throughout the year. In April, a basket of 20 products (taken from four categories: prepared ready meals, meat, confectionery, and flour/bakery wares) showed four were compliant, with a further four requiring only minor changes.
The nutrition information format under FIC was found to be a big area of non-compliance, with a range of layouts (some from outside the EU) being used. FIC sets out a minimum font size for product labelling, which was found to be a challenge for smaller products or where multiple languages are used on one label.
The report concluded there was a ‘mixed degree of uptake’ of the FIC requirements, with ready meals showing the best degree of compliance out of the products considered.
A second report will be issued later this month.
“The impression we have is things are improving,” said Mulcahy. “If you look at brand owners in particular, they seem to have made some pretty good progress. Smaller ones tend to have made far less progress. That’s not a major surprise, you would expect that to happen.”
Smaller businesses have constraints in resources and are less likely address new regulations until it becomes a pressing issue. But they may find it easier to amend labelling if they only have one or two products to consider, Malcahy added.
Roadshow and webinars
However, it is important for a business to have time to change its labels and there are a number of issues to consider.
“The regulation sets out many things – not just one. When you’ve got all of these, it’s quite possible people understand but miss out one. Some are more complicated than others.”
GS1 is now working to help smaller businesses who have questions on the regulations. Last week the organisation held a series of training roadshows in the UK in association with Brandbank and Leatherhead Foods. Locations included London, Bristol, Birmingham, and Manchester. GS1 is also hosting webinars.
“The challenge that’s facing us now is there’s only so much capacity to sort this stuff out in a short space of time – the number of printers available, etcetera. And there’ll be an inevitable flurry of activity at the end of the year.”