Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Fourth Report


11. LABELLING OF INGREDIENTS IN FOODSTUFFS


(22636)
11834/01
COM(01)433

Draft Council Directive amending Directive 2000/13/EC on the indication of the ingredients present in foodstuffs.

Legal base:Article 95 EC; consultation; qualified majority voting
Document originated:6 September 2001
Deposited in Parliament:27 September 2001
Department:Food Standards Agency
Basis of consideration:EMs of 10 October 2001 and 10 June 2002
Previous Committee Report:None
To be discussed in Council:No date set
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared


Background

  11.1  In addition to laying down a number of more general principles, Community legislation on the labelling of foodstuffs, recently consolidated in Directive 2001/13/EC[13], contains a number of detailed provisions regarding the listing of ingredients. These in turn are subject to a number of derogations — for example, for fresh fruit and vegetables, which have not been treated — and, although a compound ingredient (such as jam in another product) may be included under a list of ingredients under its own designation, provided it is immediately followed by a list of its own ingredients, the latter condition is not usually necessary where the compound accounts for less than 25% of the finished product.

  11.2  According to the Commission, these rules, which were introduced at a time when food production was less complex and people ate far fewer processed foods, often mean that consumers are badly informed about the exact composition of purchased foodstuffs. It also says that, even though this would inevitably make ingredient lists longer, consumers have consistently expressed the wish for better information about foodstuffs, particularly in the light of recent food scares, including problems arising with allergies, which are often caused by such common foods as milk, fruits, eggs, shellfish, and so on. It is therefore proposing in the current document a number of amendments.

The current document

  11.3  These would:

  • abolish the 25% rule, thus making it compulsory to list the components of compound ingredients;

  • make it compulsory to list certain specified allergens[14] whenever they are used in foods, including alcoholic drinks.

  • At the same time, the proposal would introduce a number of new derogations intended to prevent the ingredient list becoming too unwieldy (though these would not apply to the allergens listed above). Thus:

  • compound ingredients making up less than 5% of the finished product would not have to list their ingredients (other than certain additives) if their composition is defined in Community law;

  • a similar exclusion would apply in the case of prepared sauces and mustards;

  • herbs and spices in mixtures of herbs and spices making up less than 2% of the finished product would not have to be listed;

  • ingredients making up less than 5% of the finished product, and listed on the label after all the other ingredients, would not need to be in descending order of weight;

  • where similar ingredients are likely to be substituted for those making up less than 5% of the finished product, the ingredients list could refer to their presence in more general terms;

  • it would not be necessary to declare the presence of an ingredient in a compound if the ingredient was already mentioned elsewhere in the list on the label, provided a suitable declaration to that effect was made near the ingredients list.

The Government's view

  

  11.4  We first received an Explanatory Memorandum of 10 October 2001 from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Health (Hazel Blears), which said that the Government had been pressing for some time for more comprehensive ingredient listing, particularly for the major food allergens. It therefore supported the proposal, which it considered would make an important contribution to promoting informed consumer choice and controlling the risks from the increasing incidence of food allergens. She added that the Government would be examining carefully the case for the proposed derogations in order to ensure that any loss of consumer information was justified by the impact on label clarity or a justifiable advantage to manufacturers. However, as the Minister also said that a more detailed assessment of the likely costs of the measures would be provided after the Government had completed its consultations, we decided to await that information before reporting on them.

Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 10 June 2002

  11.5  We have now received a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 10 June 2002 from the Minister. She says that the responses to the consultation were all broadly supportive of the proposals. However, consumers and enforcement authorities were generally opposed to the new derogations, which they consider will prevent fully informed choices, and most also want to see similar labelling provisions being applied to non-prepacked foods. Manufacturers and retailers, on the other hand, were more supportive of the derogations, which they think will reduce complexity and make labels more readable. They also had concerns about the advisability of requiring alcoholic drinks to state that they contain allergenic starting materials which may not actually be present, because they have been distilled or processed out, or which may no longer be allergenic.

  11.6  As regards the costs of the proposals, the Minister says that there would be an impact on many food retail and manufacturing businesses, as many ingredient lists would need to be re-configured, with some having to be redesigned. The costs are put at about £1,000 per product, offset by the proposed two year transitional period, and by any benefits arising from increased consumer confidence. The costs to enforcement authorities may also increase, but it is not thought this will happen to any substantial degree.

Conclusion

  11.7  In principle, any increase in the product information available, particularly in an area such as this where the absence of ingredient listing can have potentially fatal consequences for some consumers, is to be welcomed. We have also noted that, although it has not as yet proved possible to provide any very detailed cost information, the Government supports the proposal. Consequently, in drawing this document to the attention of the House, we are content to clear it.


13   OJ No. L.109, 6.5.00, p.29. Back

14   Cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soyabeans, milk and dairy products, nuts and sesame seeds (and any resultant products), and sulphite at concentrations of at least 10mg/kg Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 11 July 2002