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Hunger for more information on food packaging

The new EU regulation will require food manufacturers to make their nutritional information clearer and more consistent. Picture: PA

The new EU regulation will require food manufacturers to make their nutritional information clearer and more consistent. Picture: PA

  • by COLETTE BACKWELL
 

Incoming European regulations will see food packaging changed to give shoppers more information, says Colette Backwell

SCOTTISH shoppers will have begun to notice changes on the labels of their favourite food products as manufacturers and retailers make alterations to comply with new labelling legislation from Europe. The general labelling parts of the European Food Information to Consumers Regulation apply from 13 December this year are designed to drive greater consistency in labels and make food labelling easier for people to use.

All food sold in Europe, even if it is made somewhere else, will have to follow the new law. It will take time to change all of the labels on every food and drink package, and so for a while both the old and the new labels will be in the shops.

Nutrition labelling

Currently, nutrition information is only needed if adding vitamins and minerals to food or making a claim under the European Union nutrition and health claims regulation. From 13 December 2014 providing nutrition information on most packaged foods will become a legal requirement. The regulation sets out what must be provided; this includes: the specific nutrients (per 100g or millilitres) and, the order they must appear in (energy, fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein, salt). In addition, a longer list of other nutrients, including fibre and vitamins and mineral, can be provided on a voluntary basis. Companies can also choose to add information per portion as long as this is given in detail, for example two slices of bread or 80g dry weight pasta.

The term guideline daily amounts (GDAs) will be replaced with reference intakes (RIs), however, the principles behind how these values are determined remains the same. The values provide a guide to the amount of each nutrient that can be consumed daily within the context of a balanced diet. Of course, generic values can only ever be a rough guide and individual requirements will vary; nevertheless the RIs can be a handy reference tool to help consumers put food in the context of their overall diet.

In addition to the nutrition table found on the back of packs, nutrition information can be voluntarily repeated on the front of packs in a format intended to bring consistency to voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labelling. Although the information repeats key elements of what is already provided on pack, simplified front-of-pack information is considered particularly helpful to shoppers, as it is available at a glance as they make choices. Some manufacturers may also choose to voluntarily use the “hybrid” front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme which allows for “traffic light” colours (red, amber and green) to be added to the RIs information.

Allergen information

Food allergy is a significant health issue, affecting around 1-2 per cent of adults and 5-8 per cent of children in the UK. The new rules on allergen labelling build on the current legislation. The 14 major food allergens will still be identified in the ingredients list. Where the allergen is not obvious from the name of the ingredient, there will be a clear reference to the name of the allergen next to the ingredient eg “casein (milk)” “or tofu (soya)”. It is important to note that there will no longer be reference to gluten in ingredients lists. Consumers will instead need to look for the specific cereal containing gluten, such as wheat, rye or barley. Under the new rules the allergenic ingredients must also be emphasised, for example in bold, to make them stand out from the other ingredients.

Help to understand food labelling

Some consumers find food labels confusing, which is why the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) produced a booklet to assist healthcare professionals in explaining to their patients different aspects of the label, related to the imminent changes (www.fdf.org.uk/corporate_pubs/Food_Drink_Labelling_toolkit.pdf).

The new regulation is also a complex instrument for food and drink manufacturers, in particular with regard to what is voluntary and what is mandatory. The Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF), a division of FDF, is hosting an interactive event on 4 June to help food and drink manufacturers based in Scotland prepare for the forthcoming changes to labelling requirements. Delegates will hear expert guidance on the new regulation and the implications of the Food (Scotland) Bill. The event will include a workshop to bring the new laws on labelling to life and give the opportunity for businesses to have one-to ones with officials from Food Standards Agency in Scotland (FSAS). More information on the event can be found on SFDF’s website www.sfdf.org.uk

• Dr Colette Backwell is director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation

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