Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food


  1.  This Memorandum of Evidence is submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) in reponse to a request from the HoC Scottish Affairs Committee. It explains the regulatory framework under which the drinks industry operates. The Memorandum also considers the industry sponsorship and consumer protection roles of MAFF as they relate to the bottled water, soft drink and alcoholic drinks industries.


  2.  MAFF has lead responsibility for negotiating EU legislation because foreign policy issues are a non-devolved matter and relations with the EU are the responsibility of the UK Parliament and Government. The UK negotiating position in Europe on issues relating to devolved matters is developed by MAFF in conjunction with the devolved administrations. However, the making of national implementing legislation in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish Executive. Responsibility for legislation in areas solely within national competence is also the responsibility of the Scottish Executive.

  3.  The responsibility for implementing the legislation that controls the production methods for natural mineral water, spring water and spirit drinks and provides consumer protection where it relates to food additives, contaminants, hygiene and labelling in Scotland has now passed to the Scottish Executive.

  4.  MAFF sponsors food producers, distributors, caterers and retailers and the alcoholic drinks industry. Under devolved arrangements, MAFF will be consulting the Scottish Executive on matters relating to sponsorship issues in Scotland, as appropriate. The overarching objective of this sponsorship is to promote competitiveness in the food and drinks industry, within the framework of government industrial policy. Current issues include the impact of wider Whitehall policies (eg social and taxation) on the alcoholic drinks industry, encouraging the drinks industry to participate in technology transfer programmes, and the support of exports through the timely issue of export certificates.

  5.  MAFF has responsibility for the EC regime for processed agricultural products (non-Annex I goods) including export refunds. These refunds are payable on basic agricultural products (cereals, milk, sugar, rice and eggs) contained in processed products, including spirits, beer and soft drinks. Their purpose is to compensate manufacturers for the higher cost of using EU-sourced raw materials under the Common Agricultural Policy. The refunds are paid by the Intervention Board in collaboration with Customs and Excise. Consideration is currently being given to delivery of EU commitments in the WTO to reduce expenditure of subsidised exports.

  6.  MAFF's role vis-a-vis the drinks sector will be redefined with the transfer of certain responsibilities to the UK Food Standards Agency, proposed for April 2000. Whilst MAFF and the Scottish Executive will maintain roles of industry promotion and market related activities, the Food Standards Agency will have responsibility for food safety and consumer protection issues (but not pricing). The Foods Standards Agency will advise Health Ministers. A close liaison between MAFF, the Scottish Executive and the Foods Standards Agency will be maintained along lines defined in publicly available concordats.


  7.  EU and UK legislation distinguishes three categories of bottled waters that are intended for drinking: natural mineral waters, spring waters, and bottled drinking water. Details of the European, and UK implementing, legislation which covers all three categories of bottled waters are given in Annex I.

  8.  In order to provide guidance on the legislation covering bottled waters, officials are currently drafting Guidance Notes for interested parties. The Guidance Notes will cover the existing legislation, and the forthcoming amending legislation. They will provide informal, non-statutory guidance on the legislation, and will not give authoritative statements or interpretation of the law, as only the courts have this power. A draft will be circulated to interested parties for comments prior to publication.

  9.  The industry, in liaison with the Department of Health, enforcement bodies and other interested organisations, has also been developing an "Industry Guide to Good Hygiene Practice: Bottled Water Guide". When agreed, this will provide advice to bottled water companies on compliance with the Food Safety (General Food Hygiene) Regulation 1995 and other hygiene related requirements concerning the production of bottled waters.


  10.  Following the revocation of the 1964 Soft Drinks (Scotland) Regulations in 1995, there are now no legal compositional standards for soft drinks. However, soft drinks are subject to the general provisions of the Food Safety Act 1990, which sets down safety limits on contaminants and additives (see Annex II), and by the general provisions of the Food Labelling Regulations1996 (as amended) which requires that the food is labelled appropriately to inform the purchaser of its true nature (see Annex III). Guidance notes on both sets of legislation have been issued by MAFF to assist industry. The Food Advisory Committee has also issued guidance on the content of caffeine in energy drinks.


  11.  EC and UK legislation governing the definition, description and presentation of spirit drinks is detailed in Annex IV. In negotiating the EC Regulation, MAFF was successful in protecting the distinctive nature of traditional products, such as Scotch whisky. The operation of the EU legislation is monitored by the Spirit Drinks Implementation Committee.

  12.  There is currently no EC or national compositional legislation for alcoholic drinks below 15 per cent abv (apart from wine). However, beer is defined in the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 for excise duty purposes. This legislation is the responsibility of HM Customs and Excise. Both spirit drinks and beer are subject to food additives and contaminants legislation.

Annex I


  1.  The definition, labelling and microbiological safety standards of natural mineral waters and spring waters are covered by EC Directive 80/777EEC, as amended by 96/70/EC. The chemical safety of spring water, and the chemical and microbiological safety and labelling of other bottled drinking waters, such as "table waters" are covered by the Drinking Water Directive 98/83 (EC) (recently replacing 80/778/EEC). The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions takes the lead on all aspects of Directive 98/83 other than bottled drinking water and water used in food production.

  2.  The provisions of EC Directives 80/777, 96/70 and 80/778 covering bottled waters are implemented in Great Britain by the Natural Mineral Water, Spring Water and Bottled Drinking Water Regulations 1999. (Similar, but separate legislation applies in Northern Ireland). These Regulations require the recognition of a natural mineral water (NMW) source by the relevant local enforcement authority. Before a water can be recognised as a NMW, it has to be demonstrated that it:

    (a)  is obtained from an underground source;

    (b)  has a stable composition;

    (c)  is protected from all sources of pollution;

    (d)  meets chemical and microbiological safety standards; and

    (e)  is not subject to treatment which affects its characteristic properties.

  3.  NMW must be bottled at source and cannot be sold under more than one trade description. The name of the source and its place of exploitation must be stated on the label together with a statement of the analytical composition.

  4.  In contrast, recognition of a spring water underground source is not required. Spring water has to meet the same chemical and microbiological standards as tap water and, currently, can be subject to treatment. However, like NMW, spring water must be bottled at source, cannot be sold under more than one trade description and the name of the source and its place of exploitation must be included in labelling.

  5.  Bottled drinking water, which is not restricted to a particular type of source, comprises bottled water other than NMW and spring water and includes water referred to as "table water". Bottled drinking water is required to comply with the same compositional and microbiological standards as tap water. The labelling of bottled drinking waters is subject to general provisions of the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (as amended).

Annex II


  1.  The Food Safety Act 1990 provides the enabling powers under which most food regulations, including those on food labelling and composition, are made. The general provision of the Act make it an offence for anyone to sell, or possess for sale, food which:

    —  has been rendered injurious to health;

    —  is unfit or so contaminated that it would be unreasonable to expect it to be consumed;

    —  is falsely described, advertised or presented;

    —  is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded.

  2.  Specific legislation dealing with the chemical safety of additives and contaminants in food, food ingredients and food production.

Scottish Statutory Instruments

    —  The Arsenic in Food (Scotland) Regulations 1959;

    —  The Mineral Hydrocarbons in Food (Scotland) Regulations 1966;

    —  The Lead in Food (Scotland) Regulations 1979;

    —  The Chloroform in Food (Scotland) Regulations 1980;

    —  The Tryptophan in Food (Scotland) Regulations 1990.

GB Statutory Instruments

    —  The Tin in Food Regulations 1992;

    —  The Flavourings in Food Regulations 1992;

    —  The Extraction Solvents in Food Regulations 1993;

    —  The Pesticides (Maximum Residue Levels in Crops, Food and Feeding Stuffs) Regulations 1994;

    —  The Colours in Food Regulations 1995;

    —  The Miscellaneous Food Additives Regulations 1995;

    —  The Sweeteners in Food Regulations 1995; and

    —  The Contaminants in Food Regulations 1997.

Annex III


  1.  Food labelling rules are harmonised at EU level under Directive 79/112/EEC and apply to most pre-packed foods. These rules are implemented in Great Britain by the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (as amended). Similar, but separate, legislation applies in Northern Ireland. The rules require food labels generally to contain, amongst other information, the name of the food, a list of ingredients and a minimum durability marking ("best before" or "use by" date).

  2.  The general labelling rules require that essential particulars must be easy to understand, clearly legible and indelible, and when the product is sold to the ultimate consumer, the details must not be hidden, obscurred or interrupted by other written or pictorial material. The Weights and Measures Act 1985 requires most pre-packed foods, which includes alcoholic drinks, to carry an indication of the net quantity of the contents on the container. The labelling rules that apply to alcoholic drinks are complex and are summarised below.


  3.  The label on all alcoholic drinks, except wine, must include:

    (a)  the drink's name

    (b)  the name or business name and address of the manufacturer or packer (who may be located anywhere), or of a seller established in the EU;

    (c)  the conditions of storage;

    (d)  the conditions of use;

    (e)  the place of the product`s origin if failure to give such information might mislead the purchaser to a material degree;

    (f)  the instructions for use if its proper use would not be possible without them; and

    (g)  an indication of the alcoholic strength by volume for prepacked drinks with an alcoholic strength of more than 1.2 per cent by volume.

  4.  For drinks with an alcoholic strength of 1.2 per cent by volume or less the list of ingredients in descending order by weight must be given. The term "low alcohol" can be used to describe drinks with an alcoholic strength of not more than 1.2 per cent by volume. Similarly, the terms "de-alcoholised" and "alcohol-free" can be used for drinks with an alcoholic strength by volume of not more than 0.5 per cent and 0.05 per cent respectively.

  5.  The term "non-alcoholic" cannot be used in conjunction with a name commonly associated with an alcoholic drink, other than "non-alcoholic wine" used an unfermented grape juice drink for communion or sacramental use.

Annex IV


  1.  Council Regulation (EEC) 1576/89 sets down general rules for spirit drinks above 15 per cent alcohol by volume (abv), including whisky, gin, vodka and rum. The Regulation provides for minimum alcoholic strengths for individual categories of spirits. Most are set at 37.5 per cent abv, but that for whisky is set at 40 per cent. There is also protection for a number of spirit drinks which are produced in specific geographic areas of the EU and which are marketed with a recognised geographical designation. For the UK, such protection is afforded to Scotch whiske, Irish whisky and Plymouth gin.

  2.  Regulation 1576/89 also contains rules on the labelling requirements for spirit drinks, together with provisions for additives, flavourings and other substances which are permitted for use in the production process. Member States are required to set up national provisions for the enforcement of this legislation. In the UK the Regulation has been implemented by the Spirit Drinks Regulations (there are separate SIs for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), which are enforced by local authority enforcement officers.

  3.  The Scotch Whisky Act 1988 provided for the Scotch Whisky Order 1990 which defines Scotch whisky, whose traditional production methods are more restrictive than those laid down in Regulation 1576/89. As a result of devolution, the Act was amended (by the Scotland Act 1998) to enable Scottish Ministers to exercise in, and as regards Scotland, powers contained within this legislation.

  4.  Spirit drinks and beer are subject to additive and contaminant legislation as detailed in Annex II. MAFF has issued guidance on N-nitroso compounds in beers.


January 2000

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