ENSURING OF CONFORMITY OF LABELLING OF FOOD PACKAGING
For any manufacturer and distributor of food products, it is important that it is their product that gets on store shelves and reaches its consumer. Manufacturers are required to provide relevant information about their product, but the manufacturer is not the only person responsible for the information provided on the product. An important role is also played by product distributors, who are primarily responsible for labelling products so that they can successfully enter store shelves and reach their consumer. In this process, a chain is created: manufacturer - distributor - consumer. However, without careful compliance of the product labelling with the requirements of the European Union and domestic regulations, food manufacturers and distributors can face several significant problems. Food labelling is not only a legal requirement, but it also provides a high level of consumer protection, considering differences in perception of consumers, adoption of new food habits and their need for information to make justified purchasing decisions. One can even say that labelling is a kind of means of communication between the manufacturer, distributor, and consumer, making the consumer feel respect and care for himself.
Pursuant to Article 9 of Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, amending Regulations (EC) No 1924/2006 and (EC) No 1925/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Commission Directive 87/250/EEC, Council Directive 90/496/EEC, Commission Directive 1999/10/EC, Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Commission Directives 2002/67/EC and 2008/5/EC and Commission Regulation (EC) No 608/2004, the following information must be indicated on the packaging of a prepackaged food product: name of the food product; list of ingredients; substances that cause allergies or intolerances; quantities of certain ingredients or categories of ingredients; net quantity of the food product; minimum expiration date or "use by" date; any special conditions of storage and/or use; the name of the entrepreneur or the name and address of the food distribution company; in special cases, the country of origin or place of origin; instructions for use, if any; for alcoholic beverages, the actual alcohol content by volume and, of course, nutritional information. However, it should be recognized that not all of this information should always be indicated, as there are exceptional cases when it is possible not to provide any of the specified information or it is simply not necessary, for example, it is possible not to indicate the list of ingredients of a food product consisting of one ingredient, if the name matches the ingredient or clearly identifies it.
At first glance, these requirements appear to be easy to implement and do not confuse labelling regulations, but both manufacturers and distributors can face several labelling compliance challenges. One of the most important problems that can be encountered when creating labels is the change and development of legal requirements for the label. That is, the frequency of changes in labelling requirements can make it difficult to follow them and manage differences between new and previous regulations. The best option for managing changes in labelling requirements is to conduct monthly monitoring of regulations to ensure that no changes of any kind have occurred. It must also be noted that each product category has its own labeling requirements, and the legal acts containing these requirements also differ in each Member State. It is therefore also important to consider the labelling requirements established by those Member States in which the product is to be placed on the market. Also, the requirement laid down in the law is not always clearly defined, therefore, it would be best to contact the relevant state institutions before interpreting and applying the legal provision.
Labelling errors can significantly affect not only manufacturers and distributors, but also consumers. That is, minor errors in the labelling can be made, but significant errors can also be made, for example, incorrectly indicated allergens, the lack of additional instructions, if necessary, or additional instructions used for different purposes (the requirements for using such an indication are not met). In such a situation, the consumer may be significantly misled because neither the manufacturer nor the distributor acted properly in order to protect the rights of the consumer. However, most often such mistakes are made unconsciously or due to a misinterpretation of the requirements specified in legal provisions. If an erroneous label is already printed, the manufacturer or distributor will incur additional costs to correct the errors, since relabelling will be required to bring the product label in line with the requirements. For the timely elimination of possible shortcomings, the author considers it necessary to observe the principle of four or even six eyes. That is, not one, but two or even three people look at the product label. Such provision, of course, requires additional human resources, but this is a good way to prevent significant and minor errors in time, since the marking will be considered with a “fresh look”.
Obviously, ensuring that the label complies with regulations is far from simple, but it is not too difficult either. To limit the risks of labelling deficiencies in time, it is important to be aware of possible actions to eliminate deficiencies in a timely manner. However, both manufacturers and distributors, despite their knowledge and capabilities, may at any time encounter ambiguities in regulations and their application, therefore, it is a reasonable decision to cooperate with legal service providers which is competent in such matters. Although at first it seems like a big additional cost, it is still more profitable and safer, as an experienced legal service provider will be able to advise on the correct implementation of the labelling, as well as help to ensure protection of consumer rights.