January 29, 2019
What are the key concepts and crucial changes appearing in the Ukrainian legislation due to the implementation of European food standards? On December 6, 2018, another eurointegrational law “On information for consumers about food products” was added to the Ukrainian food legislation. It obliges food producers and caterers to indicate on the wrapping materials ingredients that are hazardous or potentially harmful to health. This law concludes (so far) the chain of basic food legislation in Ukraine.
The new food legislation is not really that new to the Ukrainian food market. The main novelty is that the number of important concepts are simply better articulated and approved at the highest level. For example, traditionally, in everyday life, we are talking more about quality: ingredients, calories, benefits, while forgetting about the much more important issue – the safety. But new Ukrainian food legislation differentiates and explains these concepts.
Safety and quality
Safe product is one that will not harm the consumer, provided that it is properly consumed. When producer manufactures a product, he must assess the risks of a particular hazard and how these risks will affect the safety of the product. Taking into account these risks, he chooses the form and method of consumption of the product, which is later printed on the wrapping material. After that, the consumer takes responsibility, which means that he now decides to follow or not to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Not following the rules of consumption of certain product – is one of the main reasons for the product to become dangerous.
On the other hand, quality is the capacity of a product to comply certain established and predictable requirements, acceptable to consumers. The law has set requirements not only to safety, but also to the quality of products, and it regulates these categories.
What are the quality requirements? For example, the weight, appearance, common name. According to the law, butter consists of no fat except milk fat. If the manufacturer writes “butter” on the wrap, it means that there should not be any vegetable oil. If to talk about juice – then this product should be manufactured according to the technology, without the addition of other ingredients. A popular example is also cheese and cheese products.
European legislation is keeping under control the use of appropriate definitions – like butter and margarine or butter substitute. And it is still the question of quality. Margarine can also be safe. It just will not be butter anymore. It will not have certain taste, certain amount of calories, flavour, health benefits. Similarly, if on the chocolate is written that its weight is 100 grams, but the scales show 90 grams – this is a matter of quality. It is considered according to the law as a violation on the point of misleading the consumer.
The law “On information for consumers about food products” has a requirement for manufacturers not to attribute any therapeutic or other magical qualities to the product. If the manufacturer produces a product for certain social groups, or for certain purposes, for example, baby food, or nutrition for athletes, containing a special set of trace elements, he has the right to label it on the wrap. However, he is also responsible (according to the law) for the presence of such characteristics in each piece of this product.
Therefore, when the consumer sees the inscription “natural”, “bio”, etc. he must understand what is behind this inscription. Now the law regulates and limits such unwarranted information on healing powers or some other special qualities of the product. Those characteristics of quality that are on the packaging materials should be checked in the process of state control.
If some characteristic cannot be checked and verified, and not specified in the legislation – then it is pure fantasy, misleading buyers. This is one of the most significant violations of the law, which coincides with the release of dangerous products. Products can be safe, but at the same time, the information about quality characteristics can mislead consumers. For example, the product has the inscription “this yogurt cures your dysbiosis”, the consumer believes in the inscription and does not go to the doctor, but simply drinks yogurt instead, and thereby causes harm to his own health.
The state now has mechanisms for verifying that what is written on the label is actually true. There is a concept of the recipe, specific technological processes. During the state inspections both the recipe and the labelling are the subjects of the checking and the conformity to one another according to the legislation is necessarily checked.
As to the size of the font on the package, the availability of information – these issues are foreseen in the new legislation and certainly not this very moment, but with time (the law established a transitional framework from 6 months to 3 years), all manufacturers will come to these basic labelling rules. All the features that are not specific to the product will disappear from the wrapping, the ingredients will be more clearly indicated, the labelling of allergens will correspond the requirements and will be understandable to the consumers. Not only at the stores, but also at the menu of the restaurants.
Ukraine now has what in Europe is called a risk-oriented approach to control the capacities of food business operators. This means that there are manufactures that are riskier and less risky. For example, it is indeed riskier to produce a product with complex technology. It is much more difficult to make yogurt than to transport it from point A to point B because it creates more possibilities to spoil the food while manufacturing. Also, companies with high risk include manufacturing sensitive products. For example, dairy products are more susceptible to contamination than sugar. And of course, the same list (high risk) includes those larger enterprises: manufacturing 20 kilograms of cheese per day – this is a question of 40-50 consumers, manufacturing 20 tons – this is already the question of 50 thousand consumers. The bigger enterprise is, the better it has to be in establishing processes because the price of the mistake is much higher. So the inspectors, of course, are visiting this kind of enterprises more often.
With the law “On information for consumers about food products”, Ukraine has now a real human food rights triad: the law on control, the law on safety and the law on information for consumers. These laws reflect the three main participants in the process of food chain “from farm to fork” – the manufacturer, the consumer, the state control body. Now, when Ukraine has these three basic laws, the system of basic food legislation is so far complete.
Author: Kateryna Potapenko, NGO Ukrainian Centre for European PolicyAuthor : Ukrainian Liaison Office in Brussels