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Three weeks to go to labelling D-Day: notes from the front

Food labelling consultants, as well as many manufacturers and packaging vendors, are likely in a spin of busy-ness as March 1 approaches and R146 kicks into action. Two leading labelling experts, Nigel Sunley and Moira Byers of the Consulting in Food Labelling team, found some time in their frantic schedule this week to answer these questions on the state of labelling play ahead of D-Day…

Do you still see many non-compliant labels out there?

Yes, probably two thirds of the labels in mainstream retail are non-compliant and this is not surprising as they are trying to use up old packaging.

Will there be plenty of errant products on shelf come March 1?

Yes, since long-shelf life products will remain non-compliant until end of shelf life, but perishables will have to comply immediately.

Have consultants like yourselves been inundated with requests for help?

HELL YES!!! And still pouring in with days to go…

What have manufacturers found the most challenging aspects of compliance?

1. Nutritional information format, in particular:

  • Inclusion of dietary fibre method of analysis as a mandatory footnote to nutri table.
  • Determination of serving size since it has to be scientific, appropriate, evidence-based, justifiable and not simply match the capacity of the packaging material. This has been particularly difficult on products like sunflower oil, sugar, fat spreads etc.
  • Carbohydrate determination in the nutritional information table when making no claims: previously had to be analysed as glycaemic carbohydrate at great cost and at the last minute was changed back to carbohydrate values being calculated by difference. There are many food industry players that are quite legitimately hacked off about this. As far as we are concerned, glycaemic carbohydrate should never have been there in the first place.
  • The highly prescriptive and inflexible layout requirement which makes life very difficult for importers as it is similar but certainly not identical to formats used in other parts of the world.

 2. Trying to accommodate both DAFF (Dept of Agriculture, Forests & Fisheries) and R146 regulations for products which have to comply with both, as DAFF overrides R146 on some issues.

3. Complex ingredient statements.

4. Claims.

5. Trying to apply Guideline 7 that details criteria for making misleading descriptions like “natural, home-made, original, traditional, real/authentic/genuine, best/top/premium/finest, fresh, pure, farmhouse, handmade…”

How do you see policing/enforcement working ahead? Will it largely be self-regulatory, along with peer/competitor pressure, that forces compliance or accuracy, rather than the Dept of Health’s eagle eye and intervention?

Absolutely self-regulatory, with competitors watching each other closely and quite rightly so. We hope, however, that sense will prevail and that only instances where a competitor is gaining an unfair commercial advantage through non-compliance be challenged, rather than petty mistakes.

If people feel compelled to act on non-compliant labels, what is the right path to lay complaints or seek redress?

The formal path would be to contact the local municipal authority but, as we all know, they are under resourced, untrained and probably completely unaware. The next most obvious step is to complain directly to the manufacturer / importer / distributor or retailer. And then, of course, the ASA also deals with complaints (members of the public can do this for free, while industry has to pay a fee to report a competitor).

Do you think R&D/production and marketing deptartment are on the same page with regards to R146 ie what applies to labelling, also applies to advertising and promotion?

This is a problem and this industry is still unfortunately littered with cowboys pushing the boundaries. We run workshops specifically aimed at agencies and any interested parties are welcome to make contact with us on

What’s going to happen with the likes of PureJoy, Nature’s Source etc – long-standing trademarks/brands that are in breach of R146?

That is in the hands of attorneys. We are not qualified to judge.

Other issues that are relevant or look problematic?

There are huge implications for importers who trade in many markets. Some aspects of R146 are potentially barriers to trade and this will mean that a legal precedent will have to be set.

Will the ASA be able to cope with all the potential complaints?

Phase 2 is rumoured to happen this year, but the interim period is going to be difficult to manage. Adding to the complexity are the implications of the amendment R45 of January, which repeals R2034 in its entirety EXCEPT for the section concerning “claims relating to foodstuffs for particular nutritional uses” [3(14)(a)]. This has caused a huge amount of confusion and interpretation is bound to vary.

Consulting in Food Labelling; email:

See: Consulting in Food Labelling

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