QeA to EU Commission – Protecting coeliac consumers and gluten-free logos

Question for written answer
to the Commission
Giovanni La Via (PPE) – 18th February 2016

Subject:  Products containing gluten: protecting coeliac consumers

Coeliac disease is an auto-immune disorder that affects 1% of the European population, in which the immune system can cause malabsorption and increases the risk of nutrient deficiencies, anaemia and osteoporosis, given that the obvious sources of gluten are a commonly-consumed range of food products.

Regulation (EC) No 1169/2011 prescribes a mandatory requirement for the supply of information on all foodstuff labels of substances known to cause allergic reactions and intolerances (including grains containing gluten) every time they are used as ingredients in food. Regulation (EC) No 41/2009 establishes EU harmonised conditions for the voluntary use of ‘gluten-free’ indications, without precluding the risk for people suffering from gluten intolerance.

Does the Commission consider that the only label indication on the presence of gluten, moreover in several foreign languages, may risk consumer confusion?

Does it consider it appropriate to establish harmonised conditions for the mandatory use of ‘gluten-free’ wording or the adoption of a clear and obvious European symbol indicating the absence of gluten?

Answer given by Mr Andriukaitis on behalf of the Commission – 6th April 2016

Regulation (EC) No 41/2009(1) lays down harmonised conditions that food business operators must respect to be able to use the ‘gluten-free’ and ‘very low gluten’ statements in the EU. Such harmonisation ensures the free movement of different foods appropriate to coeliacs’ needs and guarantees that such statements have the same meaning for all EU consumers.

To require operators to provide such statements on a mandatory basis would not be necessary to ensure consumer protection, given that Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011(2) requires, for all foods, the mandatory provision of information on the presence of substances known for their ability to trigger allergic reactions or intolerances (including cereals containing gluten and products thereof) whenever they are used in foods as an ingredient. In order to adequately inform consumers and avoid any confusion, Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 requires that such information must be provided in a language easily understood by consumers in the Member States where the food is marketed and must be emphasised on food labels through a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the list of ingredients.

The use of ‘gluten-free’ logos is not harmonised at EU level. The Commission has no information on the use of such logos at national level or whether their use positively influences consumer behaviour, for example by allowing consumers to identify gluten-free products more easily. For this reason, the Commission does not currently intend to harmonise the use of such logos in the EU.

1) OJ L 16, 21.1.2009, p. 3. Regulation (EC) No 41/2009 will be replaced on 20.7.2016 by Regulation (EU) No 828/2014 (OJ L 228, 31.7.2014, p. 5).
(2) OJ L 304, 22.11.2011, p. 18.

(Source: European Parliament)

Brief overview on the Reg. (EU) n. 1169/2011, also known as FIC (“Food information to consumers”).

Following the requests of many of my “non-EU” readers, I publish a brief recap of the new provisions of the Regulation…and some links to useful resources.

As of 13 December 2014, new EU food labeling rules are in force: from this date became applicable the Regulation (EU) n. 1169/2011 on food information to consumers, also known as FIC or FIR Regulation. The aim of the new rules is to ensure that consumers receive clearer, more comprehensive and accurate information on food content, helping them to make informed choices about what they eat. The new Regulation replaces the old Directive 2000/13/EU, which is now repealed.

Some of the key changes to the labeling rules are outlined below:

  • Improved legibility of the information (minimum font size for mandatory information, now 1,2 mm in the most of cases);

  • Clearer and harmonised presentation of allergens (e.g. soy, nuts, gluten, lactose) for prepacked foods (emphasised by font, style or background colour) in the list of ingredients;

  • Mandatory allergen information for non-prepacked food, including those sold in restaurants and cafes;

  • Requirement of certain nutrition information for majority of prepacked processed foods (applicable from 13th December 2016);

  • Mandatory origin information for fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry (Reg. (EU) n. 1337/2014);

  • Same labeling requirements for online, distance-selling or buying in a shop;

  • List of engineered nanomaterials in the ingredients.

  • Specific information on the vegetable origin of refined oils and fats;

  • Strengthened rules to prevent misleading practices;

  • Indication of substitute ingredient for ‘Imitation’ foods;

  • Clear indication of “formed meat” or “formed fish”;

  • Clear indication of defrosted products;

  • Clear indication of added water, especially in meat and fish products.

The Regulation was published three years ago and provides a transitional period for exhaustion of stocks for foods placed on the market or labeled before 13 December 2014 (but this does not includes labels).

Despite food business operators have been given three years to ensure a smooth transition towards the new labeling regime for prepacked and non-prepacked foods, the situation is quite to be clear, especially for non-prepacked foods, where there is not a full harmonization and the EU Commission left space to national legislation.

On this side, there is also an ongoing study on the feasibility of a EU database to facilitate the identification of all EU and national mandatory labeling rules in a simple way. This should offer a user-friendly tool for all food business operators and for SME’s, but it will not be ready at least until the second part of 2015.

Recently, on the DG SANCO website, were published Guidelines related to the indication of the presence of certain substances or products causing allergies or intolerances as described in Article 9.1(c) and listed in Annex II of the Regulation. The document is the subject of a public consultation that will end on 4th January 2015 and it covers also some aspects related to non-prepacked foods.

On 31st January 2013, the EU Commission published the first – and until now unique – document of clarification of some specific provisions: Questions and Answers on the application of the Regulation (EU) N° 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers. More Q&A and guidelines documents are expected to be published in the next few months: they will cover different topics, in particular general labeling, nutrition labeling, the QUID (Quantitative Ingredients Declaration) and specific products’ type (i.e. meat and fish).