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Labelling: The great cost of non-compliance

03 April 2012

Lorraine Eve, regulatory affairs manager at Ashbury Labelling, talks to FP Express about what the company offers and the significance of new EU Regulation No 1169/2011 on Provisions of Food Information to Consumers

What is Ashbury Labelling?
Ashbury Labelling is a UK-based company providing specification and labelling services to the food and drink industry. We provide food law advice on key areas of a product's life cycle - from concept through to market - including specification completion, pack copy generation and artwork approval, as well as training, consultancy projects and interpretation. Our team has extensive experience working with retailers and suppliers, so we're well placed to advise companies seeking to implement legal guidelines in line with their corporate and brand strategies.

Could you define how and when it was founded?
Ashbury was founded in 1999 to provide comprehensive training services to corporate clients, and this encompassed training technologists on food specification systems. The company spent almost 10 years working on food specification services, gaining extensive insight into the industry across Europe and North America and forging partnerships with food retailers and manufacturers. Earlier this year, the company felt it was uniquely placed to extend the portfolio of services from technical and legal training to legal advice - and Ashbury Labelling was born.

What is the Food Information Regulation and what is its significance for the food and drink industry?
The new EU Regulation No 1169/2011 on Provisions of Food Information to Consumers is actually one of the most significant labelling developments in recent years. It marks a major shift from allowing the food industry to apply its own voluntary labelling requirements to a mandatory approach to regulating food labelling information.

What are the key changes to this regulation?
Some of the key changes include the introduction of mandatory nutrition declarations and the setting of a minimum font size for labelling. In fact, just those two aspects of the regulation alone will result in food and drink companies needing to make real fundamental changes to the way they design their labels. The regulation will be expensive to implement for a variety of reasons. The minimum font size ruling, for instance, will be particularly costly for companies with multi-language labels.

How can manufacturers overcome time and cost issues they will face as they take steps to become compliant?
It is likely the vast majority of food labels currently in use will have to be changed so there are numerous cost implications for manufacturers and retailers. One of the best ways to minimise costs is to schedule re-labelling as part of a normal re-design lifecycle. However, for SMEs at least, this may not be entirely practical and it is likely that smaller companies will be disproportionately affected financially as they take steps towards compliance. Of course, the cost of not complying could be greater still, if this results in an enforcement challenge. In terms of time issues, it's worth bearing in mind that despite the FIR now being in force, there's actually a three-year transition period until all food products must be re-labelled to comply with the new requirements at the end of 2014.

What are your recommendations?
So we're recommending that companies phase their re-labelling work over the next few years. However, they should be cautious of starting too soon, as it is likely that the UK authorities will issue guidance on how best to comply with the FIR sometime next year. Rushing into re-labelling may result in the need for further redesigns in the future.

Are there still key aspects of the regulation that need to be resolved?
Yes. The Commission is yet to report back on many issues, including the labelling of trans-fats, ingredients listing and nutrition information on alcoholic drinks, and extension of country of origin labelling to many more foods, all of which may result in yet more changes to labelling information in the future. Despite this, food and drink businesses should be very wary about leaving it too long - it certainly makes sense to begin gathering guidance and putting together a best-practice strategy for compliance sooner rather than later.

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