Experts are warning that many small manufacturers of food and drink could be using fraudulent nutritional labels on their products.
New regulations mean that nutrition declarations will become mandatory, but artisan and independent producers may be about to fall foul of the law.
New Rules Change
The EU has launched the Food Information to Consumers Regulation, or FIR, which is due to come into effect on December 13 2016 – when the UK will still be part of the European Union.
This regulation requires nutrition declarations to be mandatory on the large majority of pre-packaged foods, but many manufacturers may find that their declarations are fraudulent.
These claims have been made by Mike Peters, who is the strategy consultant for Nutritional Information Solutions at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich. He suggests that the 40,000 artisan manufacturers in the UK may particularly be at risk of making illegal claims.
Major retailers are currently working with Trading Standards to ensure that suppliers are compliant with the regulations when they come into force, but this may not be enough – and some producers will perhaps be likely to change the information on purpose, making foods seem healthier than they really are, without the data to back it up.
This is a matter which should certainly worry those in Quality Assurance positions, who often have to check labels and ensure that everything in each batch of products matches up. New labels will need to be introduced, with new variables to be checked off.
“Fifty to 60% will comply by the end of 2017 among the artisan micro-community, with nearly full compliance by 2018,” says Peters. “But we are likely to see more enforcement around poor quality information and claims. Fraudulent front-of-pack is a critical area. We’re starting to see people doing a little bit of recipe reformulation on their software to make sure they can change front-of-pack labels. I think that’s something for the future that is going to need thinking about.”
He further went on to claim that many producers are copying what they see on the labels of rival products on supermarket shelves, or using cheap DIY software which may not be good quality.
Manufacturers are also cutting corners when adding nutritional information, and are perhaps not carrying out the full checks that they should be during food production and manufacture.
Peters says that the primary issue is going to be one of cost, with many independent manufacturers choosing to save money: “We are giving them this as a problem. Their other solution is they can get it calculated for about £25 or, alternatively, they could go for laboratory analysis for round about £150. So, if you are artisan with a product range of 10 products, that is going to cost you anything from free – if you wander into Tesco – or £10, with some very cheap software, or up to £1,500 if you are going to get a full laboratory analysis.”
Many producers may also believe that they do not have to comply with the regulations now that we have voted on a Brexit, but this is simply not the case: the rules become law because we are still part of the EU.
Once we do leave the EU, there is also no guarantee that we will cease to have the FIR as a legal requirement. Part of the process of Brexit will be the writing of current EU laws into British legal structure where it is deemed to be appropriate, so the FIR could simply remain in UK law after the Brexit process is completed.