EU Exit: focus on labelling

Date : 07 December 2020

Frequently asked questions

In recent months, IGD has had contact with members via webinars and other services concerned with EU Exit. Some common questions have emerged, and this article deals with one of them – labelling changes.

Note that IGD has worked with other organisations to create the EU Exit Food Hub, which goes into more detail and tackles a wider range of questions. Readers may also wish to refer to this source also.

General position

Through the UK’s membership of the EU, EU law has been absorbed into UK law. Much of this will remain in-place in the post-EU period. Many aspects of food and drink regulation will therefore be unchanged, initially.

However, some changes to food and drink labelling will be required when the Transition Period Ends on 31st December 2020 for goods sold in both the UK and the EU.

In the UK, further time will be allowed for businesses to make necessary changes and it is anticipated that officials will take a pragmatic approach to enforcement.

In the EU, however, changes will apply immediately. It is not known what approach EU officials will take to enforcement - this may vary between countries.

The special constitutional status of Northern Ireland adds further complexity for goods produced in that country.

UK law

Note that food is a “devolved” competence and so law and policy may vary between the different UK countries. Enforcement of food standards is carried out at a local level and this may also vary.

The controversial Internal Markets Bill – currently in the House of Lords – is intended to deliver “regulatory equivalence” between UK countries, so goods legal for sale in one country will also be legal in others.

Goods sold in Northern Ireland

As agreed in the Withdrawal Deal, Northern Ireland will be part of the EU for regulatory purposes (and also for biosecurity). Goods sold in Northern Ireland must therefore conform to EU labelling standards.

This may increase complexity for businesses since it may be necessary to create packaging in two different versions (ie: one for GB and one for NI / EU) or in one version that complies with both standards.

Many aspects of this issue remain unclear – policy for enforcing standards is being developed by the UK and Northern Ireland governments.

Goods “on the market”

GB made goods already “on the market” in the EU (eg: on vehicles, within depots, on-shelf in stores) before 01 January 2021 will still be saleable with old-standard labels. No new stock may be placed on the market with old-standard labels after that date.

Food business operator (FBO) addresses

Food packaging in the EU must bear the address of the Food Business Operator (FBO) that markets the product (eg: a producer, retailer, or importer). The address must be within the EU.

This requirement allows consumers or officials to contact the business in the event of a problem (eg: to serve legal papers).

The address must be detailed enough that the business can be located easily. In the UK, a PO Box number is generally acceptable, if it is attended reasonably frequently. Alternatively, an agent’s address (eg: a lawyer or accountant) may be used. Practice within the EU may vary.

Using a PO Box or agent address does not remove the need to have substantive physical presence somewhere, however – food businesses re not permitted to operate as “ghosts”.

When the UK leaves the EU in December 2020, goods sold in the UK will need to have an FBO address within the UK.

Likewise, UK goods sold into the EU market will need to have an FBO address within the EU. Packaging with multiple addresses will be accepted.

Goods sold in Northern Ireland may have an FBO address within either Northern Ireland or some other EU country.

Health marks

A health mark is an oval logo applied to all Products Of Animal Origin (POAO) sold in the EU, identifying the producer with a code.

The mark shows that the producer meets certain standards and allows goods to be traced back to their source.

From January 2021, UK producers will no longer be able to use EU in health marks. Instead, they will need to show country of origin with either the ISO code “GB” or the words “UNITED KINGDOM”.

Note that it is not possible to use “UK”, since this may lead to confusion with Ukraine.

Due to the status of Norther Ireland, food produced here will use a special mark, either “UNITED KINGDOM (NORTHERN IRELAND)” or “UK(NI)”.

Note that a product can only have one health mark – it is not permitted to use multiple health marks. Therefore, the destination of goods must be known at the production planning stage.

Organic goods

When the UK leaves the EU, UK businesses will not be permitted to use the EU “Organic” logo in either the EU or the UK.

The UK government is preparing a new, UK-only organic logo. Until this is ready, businesses may use their own logos to denote organic status, or use a third party logo (eg: Soil Association).

The UK government will continue to recognise EU organic standards after January 2021 – therefore, EU organic goods can continue to be sold as such in the UK.

In December 2020, the EU announced that it would recognise the six organic certification schemes operated in the UK until at least January 2022. It is not clear what will happen after that.

Geographical indication

The UK government will set up a new Geographical Indication (GI) scheme for UK food and drink producers, with a new set of logos. This will be managed by Defra.

This scheme will replace the current EU scheme in the UK from 01 January 2021. The UK scheme will be available to non-UK producers (eg: a Japanese sake producer could potentially obtain protection).

All UK GI products currently protected under the EU scheme will be protected under the planned UK scheme. They will also benefit from continuing protection within the EU, on a reciprocal basis.

Certain items which can be produced anywhere on the Island of Ireland (eg: Irish whiskey) will be protected by both the UK and EU GI schemes.

Product registrations after January 2021 will need to be under the UK scheme (for goods produced in GB), under the EU scheme (for goods produced in Northern Ireland) or both (for specified pan-Ireland items).

Newly registered products will need to use the new UK logos at once, others will be allowed some time to change to the new logos.

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