Fuel PR: An Insight Into the Effects of The Nutrition Declaration on Small Quantities
In my work with Defra I met with many compliance officers from both small and large business. They were, to a person, knowledgeable and resourceful in their work and I think we can proud of their efforts. The work they have done to ensure compliance with the EU’s labelling legislation and Government demands means that UK consumers are better informed than in most other EU member states. If only consumers took the time to read it!
However, the compliance officers have a complaint that I used to hear all of the time – it’s OK for you to demand that we comply with the legislation but in [X] the enforcement officers do nothing. For X you substitute any one of the 27 member states of the EU. And the further away the better, although Spain was always a popular choice. I have just returned from a very enjoyable week in Prague teaching enforcement officers from across the European Union and beyond and I know this not to be the case. Every one of the attendees was keen to learn from each other and understand the nuances of the regulations.
One interesting question which arose from an Italian delegate concerned the derogation from nutrition Labelling for foods sold ‘locally or in small quantities’. There are two points here. The first one is that the derogation gives small (micro) businesses an opportunity to expand beyond selling directly to the consumer and allows the producer to supply into retail shops in the local community without having to invest immediately into new and potentially expensive investments in new labels. But secondly it doesn’t take into account modern industry practice of using the internet to sell on the wholesale market.
So what is small and local for this regulation? Local has long been defined in the UK as 35 miles or the next county but a small quantity is much harder to define. Without any solution coming from the centre, maybe we should suggest something andals push our national authorities to making a stab at defining a small quantity. We shouldn’t blame them for not having done this earlier. Small quantities will differ from one sector to another. Moreover, civil servants are not experts in assessing the turnover and manufacturing process for small businesses. I spoke with many stallholders at a food fair recently and I was surprised by the amount of product they sold.
However, an indication would be helpful. I also remember meeting a small ice cream manufacturing who said he made his ice cream in small batches and packed it into small tubes, changing the lid to indicate the type of ice cream and give the mandatory information. Having to add a nutrition declaration would mean changing the whole packaging process as there was no room left on the lid.
I have sympathy with the Civil Servants who have to make this decision. There is little data for them to use. This is also a measure that will cover all of the packaged food industry and the market for sweets is very different to the market for cheese – so the definition of small quantity will be different. Maybe they should simply allow the exemption from the nutrition declaration to apply to microbusinesses (ie less than 10 employees and a turnover of below €2M) and as the business grows food business operators should be investing in improving their nutrition labelling.
 European recommendation of 6 May 2003 (document number C(2003) 1422, (OJ L 124 20.03.2003, pp. 36 – 41, updated 11.01.2016)
Mr Stephen Pugh
Specialist in EU Food Labelling Law.
For more information, please contact Gillian Waddell at Fuel PR (Gillian@fuelrefuel.com)