The horsemeat scandal led to a huge dent in public confidence in the global supply chain. While this has pushed food provenance to the forefront of debate in this area and prompted an official government review into food standards, it actually builds upon work already underway at the industry level intended to provide consumers with greater clarity around the food and drink products they purchase.
The Food Information Regulations EU 1169/2011 (commonly known as ‘the 1169 regs’) set out a standardised format for how information should be displayed on product packaging. These new rules range from clearly declaring allergen information right down to font size. The regulations come into force in December this year, and we are working with industry to ensure that the thousands of affected businesses get their product packages altered in time for this change. Needless to say, the cost to the industry in terms of time and resource is considerable.
With this in mind, the recent West Yorkshire Trading Standards figures published by The Guardian – in which one-third of products tested were found to be mislabelled – make for alarming reading (‘Third of food products fail authenticity tests, report finds,’ thegrocer.co.uk, 10 February).
The stated intention of the 1169 regs is to enable consumers to make more informed choices, which in turn should lead to greater confidence in the control they feel they have over their own diets. However, these regulations will inevitably fail to drive up confidence among consumers if the only shift in standards they see is an aesthetic change to product labels.
There are three elements that need to be improved in order to properly rebuild trust in the global supply chain:
- The communication of product content for consumers at the point of purchase – this is the intention behind the 1169 regs;
- Increased visibility between trading partners – we are also working with industry to understand the need for improved traceability systems that will enable complete visibility of products and their ingredients throughout the entire supply chain, from farm to fork; and
- Monitoring and enforcement – even the most accurate and standardised labelling in the world, backed up by the most stringent traceability systems, are going to do little for consumer confidence if the supporting enforcement processes fail to deter and stamp out instances of fraud where they occur.
If there is a failure at any of these three points, consumer confidence that they are getting exactly what is communicated on a product label can never be fully achieved.
The industry will be going through a lot of change this year in order to be ready for the new regulations, and that change comes at significant expense and effort on the part of affected businesses.
All stakeholders involved in this area have a clear responsibility to ensure that this work not only restores consumer confidence, but drives it up to new heights.
Gary Lynch is CEO of GS1 UK