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Recent Tests Find Food Products Breaching EU Labelling Law

On 15 June 2016, the French environmental association Agir pour l’environnement published an analysis of a multitude of foodstuffs currently available on the EU market. The association conducted its food analysis so as to assess whether ingredients found in the products tested contained any nanomaterials.

It was found that none of the food products on the EU market that were tested were labelled as having nanoparticles present in their ingredients, even though this is explicitly required by EU Regulation 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers. The Regulation requires nanomaterials to be clearly indicated in the list of ingredients. Moreover, their names need to be followed by the word ‘nano’ in brackets.

The French environmental association, being worried about the health risks of having an increasing amount of nanoparticles present in food, analysed portions of meat products, confectionery such as chewing gum, biscuits and the spice mix found in guacamole sold by a giant French supermarket. All four products were found to contain nanoparticles, even though not one of them was labelled accordingly. Prior to the actions of the French association, the organisation Friends of the Earth Australia had conducted similar tests. They also found that a range of food products available on the EU market contained nanomaterials without the appropriate labelling.

Keeping these recent tests in mind, it is essential that food business operators from Hong Kong are made aware of the current European legal framework regarding food and nanomaterials.

According to Regulation 1169/2011, any ingredient that contains nanomaterials needs to be labelled as such. The Regulation, after having been amended by the European Commission, defines engineered nanomaterials as ‘any intentionally manufactured material, containing particles, in an unbound state or as an aggregate or as an agglomerate and where, for 50 % or more of the particles in the number size distribution, one or more external dimensions is in the size range 1 nm to 100 nm’.

On a more general note, Regulation 1169/2011 was published in the Official Journal on 22 November 2011, but only started to apply on 13 December 2014. This was done in order to give food suppliers the time to adapt to the provisions of the Regulation. The indication of a nutrition declaration will only be made mandatory from 13 December 2016 onwards. However, in the case that a food product has already been provided with a nutrition declaration before that date, it will need to comply with the relevant provisions applicable to these declarations as they are found in the Regulation.

Food business operators exporting from Hong Kong should be alerted to the section on general food information requirements and responsibilities. According to this section, they are required to comply with ‘fair information practices’, which means that they must ensure that food information is not misleading (e.g. by attributing to the food certain effects which it does not possess) and that it is accurate, clear and easy to understand for the consumer. They should also be aware that this section places the responsibility for the food information either on the food business operator under whose name or business name the food is marketed or, if that operator is not established in the EU, on the importer in the EU market.

Regulation 1169/2011 furthermore contains several key provisions regarding mandatory nutrition information, a minimum font size for all mandatory information and the requirement to highlight allergens and emphasise their presence through a typeset that clearly distinguishes them from the rest of the list of ingredients. Furthermore, the Regulation contains several provisions entailing specific requirements for a range of products, such as ‘imitation foods’ (foods that are expected by consumers to contain a certain ingredient which is normally used or naturally present, but which in reality is substituted for another) and vegetable oils used as an ingredient. The Regulation also contains some provisions regarding voluntary food information.

Hong Kong food business operators may like to examine the provisions of Regulation 1169/2011 or refresh their understanding of some of the provisions relevant to their trade. Please click on the following to read Regulation 1169/2011 and an amendment made in 2013, by means of Regulation 1363/2013.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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