Changes to Labelling for UK Food and Drink Exporters to the EU

Author
Rohan Roy
Senior Policy Analyst | Business West
19th November 2020

As of Jan 1, 2021, food products from the UK and placed on the EU market will be required to have the address of the importer labelled (or provided in a document if the product is not packaged). The importer is the Food Business Operator (FBO) established in the EU, who places a product from a third country on the Union market.

They have important and clearly defined responsibilities under Union harmonisation legislation. To a large extent they build on the type of responsibilities which a manufacturer based in the EU is subjected to. This is because the importer is not a simple reseller of products, but has a key role to play in guaranteeing the compliance of imported products into the EU marketplace.

In some circumstances, it may be difficult to ensure that all stock without an EU/NI address label is placed on the EU market prior to 1 January 2021. Where it is impractical to have such produce re-labelled, it may be permissible to over-sticker the UK address with the new EU/NI address, provided of course that this is easily visible and complies with the other regulatory requirements such as font size and clear legibility.

The labelling of the product must include *all* of the following three elements: (1) the importer’s name, (2) the registered trade name or trade mark and (3) the address at which the importer can be contacted.

For UK Food and Drink producers selling to the EU, there are three options, listed below. You must weigh up the pros and cons of each for your business: 

  1. Limit sales to just those customers who are happy to act as the importer.
  2. Engage a distributor
  3. Set up an office. 

Limit sales to just those customers who are happy to act as the importer 

If you sell to a very select number of customers in the EU, you may want to establish if they are happy to act as the importer of the product and take on the obligations of the FBO. In this instance, your customer’s address can be used on the labels that they sell. However, whether this is an option will very much depend on your relationship with your customer as there would be numerous obligations they would take on if they are to act as the importer. 

Engage a distributor

A distributor will act as the importer of your product, which can then be sold on by any number of customers in the EU. 

The article below sets out some good practice on finding a suitable distributor. 

https://www.great.gov.uk/advice/define-route-to-market/use-an-agent-or-d...

Set up an office

The EU regulations state that the EU address on pre-packaged food must be of an ‘established entity’. This legal entity can be anywhere in the EU, and will also include Northern Ireland as NI will be covered by EU legal jurisdiction. FBOs must have an address where they can be reached by mail, but a simple PO box does not qualify as ‘legally established’. There is a grey area concerning the criteria for what constitutes a legally established business.

FAQs

1.Are companies permitted to over-sticker their existing stock with new labelling for use in the EU or are there restrictions?

Yes, over-stickers are possible, as long as the sticker does not obstruct other labelling requirements. Stickers should not be easily peeled off. 

2.Will British companies need to produce different labels for every EU country? E.g. different language versions? 

Food labels must be given in a language that is understandable by consumers in the country in which you are selling your products. 

3.If your product is organic but you are no longer permitted to use the EU organic logo, are you allowed to mention the word ‘organic’ in the descriptive labelling?  

You must not use the EU organic logo on any UK organic food or feed from 1 January 2021, unless either:

  • your control body is authorised by the EU to certify UK goods for export to the EU
  • the UK and the EU agree to recognise each other’s standards (called equivalency)

4.How will labelling effect the non-EU markets I export to? I.e. will need to change their labels too as can no longer use EU mark? 

Food classified as GB origin must not be labelled as ‘origin EU’ from 1 January 2021.

Food from NI can continue to use ‘origin EU’. You should label food from NI as ‘UK(NI)’ or ‘United Kingdom (Northern Ireland)’ where EU law requires member state to do so from 1 January 2021.

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