Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Eighteenth Report


Memorandum by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food


  1. The Committee has requested a memorandum on the following point relating to these Regulations, which were made in consequence of the adoption of Regulation (EC) 1139/98:

      "New regulation 50(5) (inserted by regulation 12) allows a transitional period of six months beginning on 19 March 1999 during which the requirements as to the labelling of genetically modified soya and maize will not apply in specified circumstances. The explanatory note states that this provision is made further to Article 12 of Directive 79/112/EEC, which authorises Member States not to require the provision of all or some of the required particulars provided that the consumer still receives sufficient information. Explain how the Regulations implement the condition contained in this proviso."

  2. Regulation 1139/98 is made by reference to Article 4(2) of Directive 79/112/EEC, as amended, ("the Directive"). It adds further particulars to those which must be required to be shown by reference to Article 3 of the Directive - i.e. the name under which food is sold, list of ingredients, quantity of particular ingredients, net quantity of prepackaged food, minimum durability, special storage conditions, name and address of the manufacturer or packager, or of a seller established within the Community, and (where appropriate) particulars of origin, instructions for use and actual alcoholic strength. To these particulars, Regulation 1139/98 adds an indication (where relevant) of production from genetically modified soya or maize. The manner by which particulars are to be required to be shown is set out in Articles 4 to 14 of the Directive.

  3. Article 12 of the Directive specifies that where food is offered for sale to the ultimate consumer or to mass caterers without packaging or is packaged on the spot, Member States are to adopt detailed rules concerning the manner in which the various particulars are to be shown and that they may decide to dispense with all or some of the particulars, provided that the purchaser receives sufficient information.

  4. Given that the term "sufficient information" is not further defined, it has to be interpreted in context, and it is interpreted to mean that the information the purchaser receives, whether as a result of the direct implementation of the Community provisions in question or otherwise, must be sufficient for the purchaser not to be misled as to what (s)he is purchasing. Thus the sixth recital to the Directive specifies the prime consideration for labelling rules as being "the need to inform and protect the consumer"; and the fourteenth specifies that such rules "should prohibit the use of information that would mislead the purchaser .". It is of course open for a Member State, in implementing those provisions, to require more than the bare minimum to achieve that sufficiency.

  5. General provisions to ensure that a purchaser is not misled as to the food (s)he is purchasing are contained in sections 14 and 15 of the Food Safety Act 1990 (c.16). These sections prohibit the sale of food not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser, and the provision of false or misleading information or presentation in connection with a food sale.

  6. The indication of production from genetically modified soya or maize is an extra which can be required, and will be required from 19 September 1999 onwards. However the consumer protection requirements referred to above will be the mechanism for compliance with the proviso to Article 12 of Directive 79/112/EEC in the interim period. It would be an offence for a business benefiting from the transitional period (by virtue of it selling relevant food) to misinform a purchaser about the presence of genetically modified soya or maize in that food.

  7. It should be noted that the Food Labelling Regulations 1996, as amended, provide that businesses selling non prepacked foods or foods prepacked for direct sale to the ultimate consumer (e.g. caterers) are exempt from many of the usual labelling requirements. When consulting on draft Regulations applying the labelling particulars in Regulation 1139/98 to such foods, it was brought to the Ministry's attention that industry had assumed that the exemption would apply equally in respect of such particulars, and businesses selling such foods had therefore less warning of the introduction of the requirements than those businesses manufacturing prepacked foods (e.g. for sale in supermarkets). This assumption affected the catering industry in particular, where menus are prepared many months in advance. A transitional period was introduced to allow businesses selling relevant food time to gather information from their suppliers about the genetically modified content of their products, and reprint menus, thus enabling them to comply with the requirements by 19 September.

30th April 1999

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