Effectiveness in doubt in France
Front-of-pack nutrition labelling schemes have been criticised and partially addressed within the context of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as well as the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is a joint body of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
During the meeting of the WTO Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Committee) from Nov 10-11 last year, a report of the thematic session of regulatory cooperation between WTO members on food labelling was distributed, addressing, in part, front-of-pack nutrition labelling schemes. It was reportedly recalled that Costa Rica, among other WTO members, had expressed concerns on this matter since 2014.
Recent reports of the TBT Committee meetings reveal in particular that there are differences of opinion between a number of WTO members and proponents of such schemes – including Canada, the US and the EU – with respect to the WTO and Codex consistency of regimes such as Chile’s nutrition ‘stop’ sign and warning labels.
Such schemes have been increasingly adopted in the EU. The most notable example is the UK’s ‘traffic light’ nutrition labelling scheme. Similar systems emerged in France and in the Netherlands last year (i.e. the ‘Choices’ logo by a smartphone application that allows consumers to scan products for nutrition information). Outside of the TBT Committee, such labelling has not been formally addressed within the context of the WTO.
From May 9-13 last year, the Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL) agreed to discuss front-of-pack nutrition labelling through an electronic Working Group composed of 43 countries and 13 NGOs, and co-chaired by Costa Rica and New Zealand.
The working group has been given three main tasks: to collect information on existing front-of-pack nutrition labelling schemes around the world; to consider the need to develop general principles for such labelling; and to prepare a discussion paper and a draft project document for consideration at the next CCFL meeting.
Its objectives are to determine whether the Codex Guidelines on Nutrition Labelling provide adequate guidance on front-of-pack nutrition labelling; and the role of Codex in promoting the harmonisation of such labelling implemented by various stakeholders.
The approval of this new task for the Codex Alimentarius Commission reportedly occurred last July, and a first discussion paper should have been circulated to working group members the following month. The deadline for comment on the first document lapsed last October. From May to October this year, the discussion document could be further considered and a draft revised standard could be adopted.
Front-of-pack nutritional labelling schemes must be implemented in line with the EU Regulation on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers, also referred to as the Food Information Regulation (FIR).
As of Dec 13 last year, point (l) of Article 9(1) and Article 55 of the FIR require a nutrition declaration on the labelling of all foodstuffs – including the energy value and the amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and salt (eventually supplemented by the amount of monounsaturates; polyunsaturates; polyols; starch; fibre; and certain vitamins or minerals).
Article 35(1) of the FIR allows for the voluntary declaration of the energy value and of the amount of nutrients. Such labelling cannot be given in isolation. It must be provided in addition to the full mandatory nutrition declaration.
Any additional labelling of foodstuffs must be objective, non-discriminatory and must not create obstacles to the free movement of goods. Moreover, supplementary forms of expression of the nutritional content of the food must be based on sound and scientific research and may not mislead consumers.
The European Commission is set to submit a report on the effects of ‘visual labelling’ schemes to the Council of the EU and the European Parliament by December this year.
Source: FratiniVergano, European Lawyers