Thanks to the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, significant changes will be made to the national food legislation, including the regulation of providing information to consumers, in accordance with the Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers. Adoption of this Regulation will ensure a high level of protection of health and consumer interests by providing all the necessary information, which will help them to make informed choices about food products and to determine the duties of market operators, responsible for food information, for misleading consumers.
The need for new rules of informing consumers about the food they buy is also linked to the abolition of state standards. Previously, the state regulated all food production processes through standards, which often created inconvenience and restrictions for manufacturers (for example, modification of the packaging or the release of a new product required the adoption of a new state standard, although it was not related to food safety). With that system the responsibility for the food product was held by the state. Today, standards, in accordance with generally accepted world practice, have become voluntary, and the responsibility for the food product has passed to the operators of the food market. Now market operators, responsible for providing information on food products, in accordance with European standards, need to be aware of the requirements and format of information they must provide to the consumer in a compulsory manner and the responsibility they will bear for not providing such information or misleading the consumer in any other way.
The main requirements of European legislation on providing consumers with food information are:
- lucidity of the name of the food product;
- “readability” of the font;
- mandatory labeling of allergens or substances that may cause food intolerance;
- requirements for designating a period of validity;
- indication of the country or place of origin of the product, if necessary;
- indication of use conditions, in cases provided;
- rules for the provision of information on food products that are sold in a remote way, including using means of remote communication;
- requirements for the provision of information on nutritional value and exemptions from them;
- regulating the duties of market operators, responsible for providing information on food products.
At this stage, Ukrainian food companies are seeing a major problem on the way to meeting these requirements in spending significant funds on the production of new package. However, the law does not require immediate changes, but instead provides a transitional period, which will allow manufacturers to mark their products in line with the legal norms.
Other business precautions are not significant. Mostly, they relate to changing the approach to submitting information about a food product: the allocation of allergens, an increase of the font, which should be mandatory information on the food product on the label, the indication of the country or place of origin of the food product, providing information on whether the food product was frozen or defrosting, and the indication of all ingredients used in the production of food products, provision of information on nutritional value in accordance with standardized legislation requirements that will change the principle of placing information on labels and their reformatting.
These requirements are predominantly technical and will not be a problem for manufacturers of safe, high-quality products. Instead, problems may arise from those manufacturers who deliberately do not want to indicate a complete list of what they use in the manufacture of their products.
The changes will also apply to the restaurant business. Ukrainian tourists abroad could personally see the difference between domestic and foreign menus in catering establishments. In addition to the usual names, scales, composition and prices of dishes, European menus (usually) have certain additional markings for the allergens. Often they are placed alongside the description of the dish, in the form of conditional labels, to save space and to preserve the aesthetic appearance of the menu, the decoding of these tags is indicated on a separate sheet at the end of the menu. In some cases, the owners find the optimal visual solution by listing the dishes in the form of a list with all the necessary labels. The list of substances or products that may cause allergies or intolerances and, accordingly, must be indicated on the menu and on the labels, also defined by European Food Law.
The law on providing information to consumers on food products will protect citizens from the purchase of low-quality products. Ukrainian consumer should be protected from false, fuzzy and inadequate information for a conscious and reasoned choice, as well as the European one.
It should be noted that bringing the legislation of Ukraine in line with the norms of the legislation of the EU will be advantageous for all players of the food market. Market operators will have unified rules for providing consumers with information on food products, which in turn will allow for legal certainty and reduce the administrative burden on market operators responsible for providing this information.
Authors: Liubov Akulenko, Kateryna Potapenko, Ukrainian Centre for European Policy (Kyiv, Ukraine).Author : Ukrainian Liaison Office in Brussels