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Regulatory update - April

Stronger food import controls

Following the damage to the Japanese nuclear plant resulting from the recent Tsunami, the EU has seen fit to strengthen import controls on all foods and feeds entering the EU from certain areas of Japan in order to ensure there is no risk to EU consumers. The controls are designed to ensure imports met stringent EU food safety and food hygiene regulations in respect of possible risks of radioactive contamination etc. A new EU Regulation 297/2011 sets specific testing requirements on goods prior to their shipment from Japan to EU, and EU Border authorities will be implementing a higher level of checking on goods arriving from Japan. Materials already despatched from Japan prior to 11th March are unaffected.

Minimum font size suggestion

EU suggestions that a minimum font size should be used on all Food Packaging text, including Food Supplements, to ensure pack text is legible, have been under discussion for some time. Initial indications were that a 1.0mm minimum font size might be acceptable on Food Supplements now seems to have been rejected, and signs are that a mandatory minimum font of 1.2mm (which is the height of the lower-case x in any font on packs) on any packs with surface areas greater than 60cm2 is now likely to be adopted across all foods. Where packs have surface area of less than 60cm2 a minimum font size of 0.9mm may be acceptable. While this poses no problem for the majority of food products, this poses a major problem for Food Supplement products where a complex product (e.g. an A-Z Multivitamin) may be packed in a small container with limited surface area (especially where there is no secondary packaging (e.g. no carton). The need to meet mandatory labelling requirements means a lot of text has to be present (nutritional information, lengthy ingredients lists etc), and the quantity of text is disproportionate to the pack size.

Current Food Supplement pots and labels may not offer sufficient surface area to carry all necessary information at 1.2mm font, so alternate options such as additional cartons, larger packs or use of expensive ‘peel and read’ labels may be necessary – all of which add cost, and/or increase the quantity of packaging needed to accommodate the larger font. While it is accepted that text must be legible for the majority of consumers, the unique circumstances surrounding Food Supplements do seem to suggest a limited degree of exemption would be more beneficial outcome, otherwise packaging waste and product costs seem likely to rise, neither of which seem beneficial to the consumer.

German authorities and fish oil intakes

There are suggestions that German authorities are trying to set maximum daily intakes for Fish Oils, as they believe that a number of consumers are at risk of consuming high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which the German authorities believe pose health risks. The German case is based on a study of the German population, and does not seem to highlight a major cause for concern. EFSA have not yet seen any reason to set a daily intake limit on fish oil, or on oily fish, and wider studies they have referred to suggest that the vast majority of the EU population are consuming less fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids than is recommended. Thus there seems to be a conflict between the competent authority of a single member state and EFSA technical experts. There is provision for such a challenge to be lodged with EU, but no such challenge has been made before. The EU Commission are looking into the exact mechanism and procedure necessary to handle such a challenge should it proceed.

While consumer safety is the over-riding ethos of EU Food Legislation, and genuine safety concerns should not be ignored where there is sufficient, valid, evidence to support them, of greater concern is the fact that should the German authorities manage to progress their case, then it may set a precedent for single States to challenge the safety of many other nutrients, even though data on which a State may choose to base a challenge may not seem to be reflected in other, wider, studies.

Food contaminant legislation

Under the ongoing review of Food Contaminant legislation, the EU has issued a new EU Regulation 310/2011 which updates and amends pesticide limits set in the earlier Regulation 396/2005. The new pesticide limits apply to a number of ingredients including herbs and some botanical ingredients which appear in some Food Supplement products.

EU Novel Foods Directive

As has been seen in some media coverage, the long awaited, proposed, update to EU Novel Foods Directive has failed to reach the statute books, as the EU Commission and EU Parliament could not resolve differences over some issues, including labelling of cloned meat products. There is no room to partially adopt the proposed changes, so the whole review process has been rejected, and EU Novel Foods Regulations remain unchanged for the foreseeable future.

Last updated: 05-04-2011