Always read the label: changes to UK and EU food labelling

In preparation for the UK transition on 1 January, product compliance specialists Ashbury provide a summary of labelling changes that must be implemented by UK and EU food businesses.

It is well-known that from January 1st, 2021, the United Kingdom (UK) will become a ‘third country’. In terms of regulatory compliance, this means Great Britain (GB) will face European Union (EU) legislation from a different perspective, while Northern Ireland (NI) will be subject to its own protocol centred around EU legislation.

What do I need to change?

There are 6 areas to consider.

Food Business Operator (FBO) addresses established in market of sale

Currently, it is mandatory to provide an address of the responsible FBO on pre-packed product labels; the FBO needs to be established in the EU (as per regulation (EU) No 1169/2011). As the UK will no longer be part of the EU, a GB address will no longer be suitable for GB origin products being sold in EU member states and vice versa. If you do not have an established address in your intended market, the details of an established importer should instead be used. If several companies are importing directly from a UK supplier, each would need to be identified by their name and address on the products which they are responsible for.

This is a change which has sparked many questions within the industry around the acceptability of addresses. The persons responsible for the labelling must be ‘established’ and directly contactable for any issue relating to the food. The address provided refers to the party responsible for the food within the marketed country which includes dealing with any complaints, claims or recalls. A virtual address is not acceptable while a PO box address is only acceptable if the FBO is also physically present, and if it enables direct contact concerning any issue relating to the products they are responsible for. A Northern Ireland (NI) address will suffice for the EU27 and UK market.

Organic statements and logo usage for GB organic producers

GB Certifying bodies have now been recognised as being equivalent for a year from the end of transition, allowing ‘organic’ products to continue to be marketed as such in the EU. The certifying body logo and codes as well as the EU organics logo, should be used in line with legislation that governs them. The EU organics logo is optional for products produced in GB.

All EU organic food and feed products will continue to be accepted into the GB market. For products produced and sold in GB, you must change the statement of agriculture to ‘UK agriculture’ or ‘UK and non-UK agriculture’ depending on the composition of the product.

New health and identification marks for GB producers

From 1 January 2021 (and not before), the current ‘EC’ health and identification marks will be replaced by new identification marks for UK products of animal origin (POAO). A period of adjustment/labelling discretion until September 30, 2022 will be available to UK POAO placed on the market in GB. It does not apply to POAO produced in GB and NI for placing on the EU or non-EU markets.

New Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL) statements

From 1 January 2021, products of GB origin or mixed origin (blended) that were once labelled ‘origin EU’, must be changed to ‘origin non-EU’ when sold in the member-states; NI produced products can continue to use ‘origin EU’. Depending on the food category and country of sale, different labelling approaches will be required from 1 January 2021 and again after the adjustment period from1 October 2022.

Geographical Indication (GI) protection schemes and logos

EU protection laws will no longer apply to new UK related GI products. The UK has set up GI schemes which will be implemented from 1 January 2021. All existing UK registered GI products will remain protected under the new UK schemes as well as the EU schemes. New registrations from GB producers must secure protection under the UK schemes before applying for the EU schemes; NI do not need to secure protection under the EU schemes before applying to the UK schemes.

UK produced GI-protected food and drink, except wines and spirits, must use the relevant new UK logo. Producers or retailers registered before 1 January 2021 have until 1 January 2024 to make the changes. The EU logo may continue to be used alongside the UK logos for products that are protected under the EU scheme as well. In NI, it is mandatory to use EU logos if the product is registered under the EU GI schemes and optional to use the new UK GI logos if the product is registered here.

Removal of EU emblem on products of GB origin

From 1 January 2021, foods produced in GB (England, Scotland, Wales) must not display the EU emblem unless use has been authorised by the EU.

What about my existing stock?

All products (excluding products of animal origin) placed on the market before 1 January 2021 can continue to be sold, distributed, or transferred in the EU (or UK) without labelling changes. Once on the market, these may be sold until stock is exhausted; they can no longer be placed on the market after this date and cannot be transferred between markets unless necessary steps are taken to ensure compliance with new legislation, for example, re-labelling. For products sold in GB, some additional adjustment periods have been issued to allow a smoother and more manageable transition. For FBO address, health and identification marks and some CoOL this ends September 30, 2022; for GI logos this ends January 1, 2024.

Don’t miss these…

There are some equally important general issues that ought to be on your radar.

    • Annatto, bixin, norbixin — This common additive has been reviewed for safety by EFSA and as a result has been withdrawn and replaced by two others with different permitted levels. This comes into play from January 2nd, 2021.
    • Front of Pack (FOP) — As a part of the obesity strategy, FOP labelling is under consideration. DEFRA and FSA recognise that labelling may only be a part of the story, but that there are ways to utilise and improve labelling to be made simpler and more compelling for consumers. There is a change in perspective across the EU as well, who initially dismissed UK traffic lights on FOP but is now looking to make FOP declaration mandatory – whether using Nutriscore or another scheme.
    • CoOL – Food information and tariffs are not 100% aligned and clients are beginning to ask to change or omit origin for improved tariffs. However, changing this information may affect country of origin declaration for the purposes of food information legislation, causing non-compliance. We are also seeing countries who manufacture products asking for their country to be present on the label to allow the goods to leave; some claim this to be legislation, while others suspect it is protectionism.

Pete Martin

Regulatory Director, Ashbury – The Product Information People
+44 (0) 845 459 5019  | Email >

Exemplas Trade Services Ltd (ETSL) has delivered the contract for the Department for International Trade (formerly UK Trade and Investment) in the East of England for almost a decade.

For more information on how we can support your business in exporting overseas, get in touch.