The legal background labelling

The practical protection which individuals with food allergy and intolerance can expect from the law is information rather than elimination. To this end, comprehensive food labelling requirements have developed. Throughout the European Union these requirements are largely harmonised and stem from EC Directive 79/112 on the labelling and presentation of foodstuffs. The provisions are enacted within the UK as the 1996 Food Labelling Regulations. Although it originated two decades ago, the Directive and its enactments in EU Member States have been progressively updated over the years. The legislation requires that all foods are labelled with either a legally provided name or a customary name which is well understood by purchasers in the place of purchase, or a true name which accurately describes the food. A list of ingredients is required for most foods which details what they contain, including any additives. Notice the emphasis on the word 'most': as with many requirements, there are exceptions, and these exceptions may mask the presence of ingredients which may result in unpleasant, dangerous or fatal consequences for a minority of consumers. The first exemption is that for compound ingredients. Any ingredient which itself consists of two or more ingredients, and does not constitute more than 25% of the finished product, may be labelled by its name alone, without the requirement for all of its constituent ingredients to be labelled. This is subject to the proviso that any additives which are functional in the finished product must be disclosed. By way of an example, consider a ready meal which lists amongst its ingredients:

Fish Sauce (contains Preservative: Sodium Benzoate)

This fish sauce may contain many ingredients which might include shellfish capable of causing an allergic reaction in susceptible people, yet the labelling meets the requirements of the law. Also, the stipulation for the labelling of functional additives may itself give rise to problems. A garlic puree used in garlic bread may have contained sulphur dioxide as a preservative, but because this preserving effect is no longer required in the finished product, possibly because it is frozen, there is no need to label its presence. This may present a hidden problem for asthmatics. Other exemptions may be realised through the provisions which permit the use of generic names for certain ingredients or because the ingredient is a food which itself is not required to be labelled with an ingredients list. Certain foods such as chocolate currently fall outside the requirements of food labelling law and are subject to the specific requirements of their own legislation. Typically, this may not require the food to be marked with a full list of ingredients, but only to disclose the presence of certain ingredients.

The European Commission has already recognised the need for transparent labelling by requiring that any starches or modified starches which contain wheat gluten are declared as such. Thus a potato starch can be described as starch or modified starch, but wheat starch must be described as wheat starch or modified wheat starch. Many retailers in the UK, together with some manufacturers, are anticipating the needs of their customers by voluntarily providing information about potential allergens in their product. This may be by providing a full breakdown of compound ingredients, by highlighting the presence of potential allergens or by making specific claims such as 'gluten free' on the product. Inevitably the law is slow to respond to the needs of consumers, and this kind of initiative can provide a useful means of communicating helpful information.

Although these labelling requirements originate in Directive 79/112/EEC on the labelling and presentation of foodstuffs, there are differences in the way that the legislation is both enacted and enforced between one Member State and another. These differences are largely manifested as extra requirements of a domestic nature, although in recent years greater efforts have been made to harmonise the requirements. In the UK, for example, all the requirements relating to claims and misleading descriptions are purely domestic in nature and will not be found in the Directive.

In 1968 when the Trade Descriptions Act came into force in the UK it was hailed as a consumers' charter. Indeed, its impact went far beyond its own provisions, for it heralded an age of consumer awareness and spurned the creation of civil law advice centres to deal with the influx of complaints and enquiries which did not fall within its scope. Despite being over 30 years old, the Act does not seem to be suffering from mid-life crisis and is still a much-used weapon in the enforcement armoury. It has relevance in relation to food allergenicity, as it provides similar provisions to the misleading label requirements of the Food Safety Act. Thus a label which proclaims that the food inside is nut free or suitable for coeliacs when through a deliberate act or carelessness that is not the case, may also constitute an offence under the 1968 Act. Many local authorities adopt the approach of instituting legal proceedings under both Acts in order to widen their chance of success.

Why Gluten Free

Why Gluten Free

What Is The Gluten Free Diet And What You Need To Know Before You Try It. You may have heard the term gluten free, and you may even have a general idea as to what it means to eat a gluten free diet. Most people believe this type of diet is a curse for those who simply cannot tolerate the protein known as gluten, as they will never be able to eat any food that contains wheat, rye, barley, malts, or triticale.

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