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Is Your Food Really Guaranteed Irish? New Transparency Requirements under EU Food Law

AUTHOR(S): Michael Finn
PRACTICE AREA GROUP: Food and Beverage, Intellectual Property
DATE: 12.02.2019

Provenance of food consistently ranks as one of the most important issues for EU consumers.  A new EU Regulation (Regulation 2018/775) which will take effect in April 2020 is designed to give consumers a new and increased level of transparency regarding the source of a primary ingredient of a food. In this article, Michael Finn, discusses some of the key ‘need to knows’ about the Regulation.

What is the new law for?

The purpose of the Regulation is to ensure that EU consumers are provided with clear information about the origin of food sold in the EU.

Who does it apply to?

The Regulation applies where the country of origin or the place of provenance of a food is given in the information accompanying the food or on the label, but it is not the same as the source of the primary ingredient. For example, chocolate might be labelled “Belgian Chocolate”, but the cocoa beans are not from Belgium.

What’s new?

Where the Regulation applies, the origin of the primary ingredient of a food must be indicated to a consumer if it is different from the origin of the food itself.  The information must appear in the same field of vision as the indication of the origin or place of provenance of the food, which means it will not, in many cases, be possible to provide the information in the list of ingredients on the back of food packaging.

There are two options available to food business operators in order to fulfil their information obligations to consumers. The first option is to provide a clear statement warning consumers that the primary ingredient does not originate from the country of origin or place of provenance of the food. The second option is to provide information on the origin or place of provenance of the primary ingredient. Where this option is chosen, the Regulation provides that reference must be made to one of the following categories of geographical area: (i) ‘EU’, ‘non-EU’ or ‘EU and non-EU’; (ii) the country of origin or the region the primary ingredient is from, if such a region is defined by law or is well understood by informed average consumers; (iii) FAO Fishing area, or sea or freshwater body if defined as such under international law or well understood by normally informed average consumers; or (iv) the country of origin or place of provenance of the ingredient in accordance with EU provisions which specifically apply to the ingredient.

Are there any exceptions?

The Regulation does not apply where geographic terms are used as part of customary or generic names which are clearly understood as not indicating origin or place of provenance of a food (eg, Bolognese sauce, Turkish delight). Food names that are protected geographical indications or registered trade marks are also not affected by the Regulation.

When will the new rules come into effect?

The new rules will apply from April 2020. Any foods that are placed on the market or labelled prior to this date may continue to be sold until stocks are exhausted.

Bríd O'Connell, CEO of Guaranteed Irish, welcomes the new regulation, saying "Where consumers see the Guaranteed Irish symbol, they can be confident that the food they are consuming originated in Ireland and nowhere else." Read Bríd's comments here.

Michael recently spoke to Bríd about the benefits to Matheson of Guaranteed Irish membership, and the new EU food labelling regulation due to take effect in April 2020. Listen to the podcast.

If you need advice in this sector, or to discuss what this might mean for your business, contact Michael Finn.

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