Speaking at a Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum on the new regulation in London today (9 July), a panel of food labelling experts debated the effectiveness of the new rules, which were introduced in December.
The regulations call for more detailed rules around allergen labelling and country of origin and date marketing, and made nutrition information mandatory by 2016 through traffic light labelling.
For retailers like Morrison’s, this has meant converting roughly 7,000 own-brand products to be FIC compliant since 2011, according to lead product compliance manager Ashley Finney.
“The costs have been substantial to us as a business in implementing changes and packaging,” Finney said. “We also only had four weeks to make labels compliant due to the late implementation of UK regulations.”
He added that the supermarket has also faced challenges in making its online store FIC compliant.
“The boom in online food sales maybe wasn’t predicted when FIC was implemented,” he added.
While food labelling regulation used to be criminally enforced, suppliers now first receive a warning notice if they aren’t complying to the rules according to Stephen Pugh, head of food labelling, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
However, Phil Dalton, head of regulatory at Sun Branding Solutions Legal, said there is “little evidence” the regulations are even being enforced.
“Apart from regarding allergens, I’ve only heard of one improvement notice being issued,” Dalton said.
While the reason for this is unclear, David Pickering, joint lead officer of food and nutrition at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, said that improvement notices are seen as “the end of a process”, with discussions had first and agreements being reached before a notice is necessary.
Martin Kersch, executive director at the Foodservice Packaging Association, said the organisation believes the regulations are working, citing Just Eat as an example of a business getting on board. The takeaway ordering site provides clear information on allergens according to Kersch and offers an online chat where customers can ask questions about the ingredients used in their orders.
However, the lack of enforcement could also be due to a lack of staff or resources and may not necessarily indicate that all suppliers are up to speed.
Dalton said the label changes are so far “not very obvious” and added that “on the web there is a long way to go in most cases”.
“We need to deal with the consumer aspect of this change,” he added. “They have the information now, but we need to tell them how to make choices using that information.”