Labelling

Up to now, the UK has been an integral part of the EU food law system. Although the majority of existing EU food law will initially continue to apply even after the end of transition, even if our standards remain the same, changes will need to be made to labels and other documentation to reflect our new non-EU member status.

These changes will need to be immediate in respect of products intended for export to the EU (and almost certainly for most other destinations). But goods made and marketed in the UK will be given more time to adjust.

There will also be changes to existing Geographical Indication (GI) labels and to Organic certification schemes.

Labelling

Defra’s guidance on food labelling changes is here.

The majority of the food label will remain unchanged after the end of the transition period. However, there will be some changes to food labelling, and these will apply regardless of whether or not we have a deal. These include:

  • Food business operator (FBO) address – Pre-packaged food and caseins exported to the EU market must have an EU or Northern Ireland (NI) address for the food business operator (FBO) or EU/NI importer on the packaging or food label.

You can continue to use an EU, GB or NI address for the FBO on pre-packaged food or caseins sold in GB until 30 September 2022. From 1 October 2022, pre-packaged food or caseins sold in GB must include a UK address for the FBO.

  • EU Emblem – You must not use the EU emblem on goods produced in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) from 1 January 2021 unless you have been authorised by the EU to do so.
  • Health and Identification Marks – EU oval health and identification marks must be replaced with new UK health and identification marks. FSA Guidance on the new marks is here.
  • Country of origin labelling – Food from GB and sold in the EU must not be labelled as ‘origin EU’ from 1 January 2021. However, food from and sold in NI can continue to use ‘origin EU’ from 1 January 2021. Food from and sold in GB can be labelled as ‘origin EU’ until 30 September 2022. For the GB market, additional information such as signage in shops and online information can help clarify to the consumer the origin of the food. 
  • EU organic logo – You must not use the EU organics logo from 1 January 2021 unless either:
  1. your UK control body is authorised by the EU to certify UK goods for export to the EU
  2. the UK and the EU agree to recognise each other’s standards (called ‘equivalency’)

If the UK does not reach an equivalency deal with the EU, you cannot export organic food or feed from the UK to the EU as ‘organic’.

  • Geographical Indications – There will be a new UK scheme with new logos.

Goods sold in NI will continue to follow EU rules for labelling, but you may need to make some labelling changes. Further guidance is expected.

The main labelling considerations depending on your type of business are outlined in the answer to question 1. Defra’s guidance on food labelling changes is here.

The EU has published guidance on general food law here, which includes arrangements with regards to the Northern Ireland Protocol, food labelling, and definitions of ‘placing on the market.

The EU has also published guidance on organic products here.

For some areas, the final detail of how labels are to change is still not available.

It is likely that composition standards and general labelling rules will remain unchanged for the time being. The latest government guidance is available at the links below:

It depends on where you are selling the product. A 21-month transitional provision to 30 September 2022 will apply for labelling changes for goods sold in GB. However, there is no transition  available for UK goods exported to the EU. There may perhaps be some initial leniency in practice but the only way to be sure of being able to place food on the EU market will be to apply the new rules immediately after the end of transition.

In many cases transitional periods for changes to food labelling are being written into legislation. Where this is not the case, and there are legitimate reasons for a delay in reaching compliance, enforcement officers are able to apply a pragmatic approach in discussion with FBOs and in line with current codes of practice. Foods which may be subject to this pragmatic approach are:

  • Food and ingredients where country of origin labelling is used
  • Organic produce
  • Foods which make use of the EU emblem, e.g. fruit and vegetables under the Approved Trader Scheme

I

If the goods have reached the EU before the end of the transition period and meet the relevant definition, they are considered to have been ‘placed on the market’ and can continue to be sold. Food of non-animal origin placed on either the UK or EU27 market before the end of the transition period may continue to be sold on either or both of these markets until the stocks of the food are exhausted.

 Yes, over-stickering is perfectly acceptable in the UK, as long as the label remains compliant with food information law. Following over-stickering, food labels must remain clear, understandable and the sticker must not interfere with any other mandatory information that it does not replace. Where over-stickering is used, it should obscure or obliterate any information that would otherwise be contrary to legal requirements.

Although there is nothing in writing to confirm the EU view on over-stickering, it is not expected to be an issue, provided the over-stickering meets basic labelling requirements.

Food does not need to be labelled for sale to the final consumer in order to cross the border and labels may be changed following its entry to the destination country. Food rarely gets stopped solely for this reason so it is unlikely that it will be stopped any more than it is now because of labelling issues.

Future requirements do not change at all in this respect from the current situation. Mandatory food information should be provided in “a language easily understood by the consumers of the Member States where the food is marketed” which generally means the official Member State language(s) of its destination country.

FBO addresses

After the end of transition, prepacked foods sold in the EU27 must include the name and EU/NI address on the label of either the responsible food business operator or the importer which is established in the EU27 or NI. An address in GB alone will no longer be sufficient. The requirement to be ‘established’ means that the FBO has a physical presence by way of a unit of a food business.

The address provided on the label must be genuine and substantive enough to meet the purposes of the provision which is to enable the FBO or importer to be contacted directly, quickly and easily concerning any issue arising from their product and to allow enforcement notices to be served if necessary. If PO boxes are used on the label they must serve this purpose and do not replace the need for the business concerned to be established with a physical presence. Examples of acceptable substantive FBO addresses include the address of a unit of an FBO that is undertaking production, distribution or processing of food.

At the moment it is not known whether the EU will find PO boxes acceptable on food labels in EU27 countries as this is down to EU interpretation and is not within UK control. If you export food products to the EU, you should get advice from your EU importing contact on the EU’s labelling requirements.

Yes, a label which carries both the addresses of an FBO responsible for the information based in the UK and one based in the EU27 will ensure address requirements are met for both markets, allowing the product to marketed in both EU27 countries and the UK. To avoid this information being seen as ambiguous or confusing, it may be advisable to be clear on the label which address applies to which market.

This will depend on the legal relationship between the two companies. It is recommended that businesses in this position seek their own legal advice and assurance from the EU, as the EU 27 market interpretation of FBO addresses is down to the EU and not within UK control. If you export food products to the EU, you should get advice from your EU importing contact on the EU’s labelling requirements.

Yes. EU regulations allow an address of an established FBO in any EU27 country to be used anywhere in the EU.

Organic Food

No, they cannot be sold as ‘organic’ until the EU has granted an ‘equivalency agreement’ to the UK. They can however be sold as conventional produce.   

Government guidance is available here: gov.uk/guidance/trading-and-labelling-organic-food-if-theres-no-brexit-deal

The UK government will try to expedite the process but no-one yet knows how long this will take.

No, this logo will no longer be valid for UK-produced foods. Enforcement officers in the UK will probably be pragmatic about this in the short term, particularly for products already on the market but you should phase it out as soon as possible. Food already placed on the market will be allowed to be sold through.

The UK government will develop a replacement logo but there is no declared timescale for this yet. You can use your own design to declare the product as organic or a certification mark, such as from the Soil Association.

Yes, because the UK will automatically drop out of some equivalency agreements previously negotiated by the EU. Contact your organic certification body for the latest status and advice.

HEALTH AND ID MARKS

Health and identification (ID) marks are oval stamps that must be applied to certain food products of animal origin (POAO). Also known as hygiene approval numbers, they are required by EU law to be exhibited on POAO to show that the food business responsible has met the relevant EU hygiene requirements and to allow the product to be traced back to the place of production.

At the end of the transition period, competent authorities and food businesses in the UK will not be able to apply the current ‘EC’ health/ID mark to POAO produced in an approved establishment.

The FSA Guidance on the health and ID marks that must be applied after the end of the EU Transition Period outlines the form of the mark that should be used, including new marks for Northern Irish (NI) food producers, and provides a table summarising what form of the mark is permitted in different markets.

For GB exports to the EU, a health or ID mark must remove any reference to ‘EC’ or ‘EEC’ and carry either:

  • The official two digit ISO Code ‘GB’

or

  • The full country name in capital letters ‘UNITED KINGDOM’.

The Guidance also provides details of the 21 month transitional period for using up old packaging (for ID marks) which will apply until 30 September 2022. The period of adjustment will be available to UK food businesses (including those in NI) for POAO placed on the market in GB.

The current EC health and ID marks can be used for the duration of the agreed transition period.

Revised forms of the health and ID marks will need to be used from 23:00hrs on 31 December 2020 onwards for POAO produced in the UK and placed on the UK, EU (including NI), and non-EU markets after that date.

Legislation in England, Wales and Scotland is being proposed to allow a 21-month adjustment period for goods placed on the market in Great Britain to reduce the impact of the change in requirements for identification marks. This will allow UK businesses to deplete existing stocks of labels, wrapping and packaging carrying the ‘UK/EC’ identification mark owned by the food business operator at the end of the Transition Period.

The period of adjustment will be available to UK food businesses for POAO placed on the market in Great Britain. It is not applicable to POAO produced in Great Britain and Northern Ireland for placing on the EU or non-EU markets.

The period of adjustment is not intended to enable businesses to replenish stocks of labels, wrapping and packaging carrying the ‘UK/EC’ identification mark after the end of the Transition Period. Businesses are encouraged to adopt the new markings as soon as possible once the Transition Period ends.

The adjustment period will start from 1 January 2021 and be available for food businesses up to 30 September 2022. After this date, the use of old labels, wrapping and packaging will be unlawful. 

With respect to products for sale to third countries, the UK Government will be writing to non-EU countries explaining the changes that will take place to health and ID marks across the UK at the end of the transition period. The communication will also explain that the full range of changes in UK health and identification marks may not be immediate, as goods may have been despatched prior to 23:00hrs on 31 December 2020. This is in order to take account of products in transit on the water or in the air at the time of the change. However, exporters should ensure that any product despatched to a non-EU country after 23:00hrs on 31 December 2020 bears the new mark.

There is also an allowance for products that have been placed on the EU market before 23:00hrs GMT on 31 December 2020 as they can continue to be traded throughout the EU.

No, a product cannot display two health or identification marks.

The FSA is not planning to change approval numbers, but the health and identification marks would need to change at the end of the transition period (see answers above).

If you are a UK approved establishment in England, Wales or Scotland and currently export POAO into the EU and/or Northern Ireland, or if you are considering doing so in the near future or if you supply products to others that export to the EU or Northern Ireland, you need to be listed with the EU. The FSA has confirmed that they will automatically put all GB approved establishments forward for listing with the EU. Although this may mean that you do not need to take any action, it is strongly recommended that you check your suppliers are also on the list of establishments approved to export to the EU.

For more information on the listing of establishments to export products of animal origin to the EU or Northern Ireland, click here.

At present, the unique identification codes for UK establishments that are approved and listed for POAO exports are typically made up of either a “UK” prefix, a four-digit unique approval code, and an “EC” suffix, for example, “UK 1234 EC”, or a “UK” prefix, a two letter area code and three-digit number forming a unique approval code and an “EC” suffix, for example, “UK AB 123 EC”.

Further information: APHA Briefing Products of Animal Origin- Listing of UK Establishments by Trading Partners Changes to Listing Codes and Associated Matters

Geographical Indications

Government guidance on this topic is available here

Currently, GIs in the UK are registered and protected under the EU GI schemes. The UK will establish its own GI schemes at the point at which EU rules cease to apply in the UK. All existing UK products registered under EU GI schemes by the end of the transition period will remain protected in the UK under the UK GI schemes.

New UK GI logos are available to download here to identify products protected under the UK schemes from 1 January 2021. If you are a producer or retailer of an agri-food GI produced in England, Scotland or Wales and registered before the end of the transition period, you will have until 1 January 2024 to adopt the relevant UK logo on any product packaging or marketing materials. For GIs originating in Northern Ireland, it will be optional to use the new UK GI logos and mandatory to continue using the EU logos when the product is on sale in Northern Ireland. However, DEFRA is encouraging all producers and retailers to start using the new logos once the UK schemes have launched to help raise awareness of and build a positive reputation for the UK schemes among consumers.

The logos will remain optional for producers of wine and spirit GIs.

Producers of GI products that are protected in the EU can continue to use the EU logo in the UK after the transition period, if they choose to do so.

More detailed Government guidance on the UK schemes will be published at the end of the transition period.

All UK GIs registered under the EU GI schemes by the end of the transition period will continue to receive protection in the EU. Producers of GI products that are protected in the EU can continue to use the EU logo in the UK after the transition period, if they choose to do so.