Fabian Demicoli

Food Information -Retailers Responsibility

 GRTU has today written to the relevant authorities and to MEP Prof Edward Scicluna as substitute member within the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety regarding concerns that have arisen on the retailers responsibility on food information to consumers.

GRTU has presented them with a paper where we explained that the commerce sector considers the review of the food labelling legislation as an excellent opportunity to clearly define the obligations that derive from it as well as the responsibility of each operator in the food chain. 

GRTU welcomes the Commission's attempt to clarify the responsibilities regarding food information provided to consumers for the different food business operators. We do however believe that the wording originally proposed leaves room for interpretation. We therefore hope that the suggestions outlined below will clarify the responsibilities regarding the different food operators, ensuring that businesses are not held liable for problems outside their sphere of responsibility or outside their control.

Overview of the situation

The responsible person for the food information, both its accuracy and presence, is the operator who places it for the first time on the Community market: EU manufacturer, or importer, or retailer for its own branded products. An imprecise description as regards the operators' responsibility would lead to the discrepancy in applying the Regulation.

It would also mean a confirmation of the current state of play, where due to the lack of precise statements in food legislation, some national authorities tend to hold the retailer liable for the labelling of manufacturer-branded products and the information that accompanies them.

This practice:

Reduces consumer protection: Holding retailers responsible for carrying out checks that should have taken place earlier in the supply chain could lead to a reduction of compliance with the requirements which should serve to protect consumers, as upstream businesses may be less attentive and carry out fewer controls. Yet, it is impossible for staff in stores to know all the relevant legislation.

Increases the administrative burden: Member States may impose on the retailer the responsibility to verify, not only the presence, but also the accuracy of all mandatory statements on the label of manufacturer-branded products or products not imported by the retailers.

This will considerably increase the administrative and economic burden. Retailers will be constrained to make further analyses, the costs of which will be very high, not to mention the fines incurred in case of inaccuracy of a particular and the appeal costs against the real offenders.

Builds barriers to trade: The possibility of a national legislation challenging their responsibility for the compliance with Community requirements applicable to food products made in other EU countries could deterred retailers from selling such products, because they are unable to assess the extent of the risk that they will have to assume, or the size of the penalty that they risk.

GRTU's position

The free movement of safe and wholesome food is an essential aspect of the internal market. The good protection of consumers makes imperative that food products circulating in the EU Market are in conformity with the EU legislation since their first placing on the Community market.

 

 

 

The Regulation should provide a clear and proportionate distribution of obligations that correspond to the role and activities of each operator in the food supply and distribution process. This is the approach adopted in several Community acts. In order to ensure the consistency of EU legislation, the same approach should be taken into account in this proposal. 

Economic operators should be responsible for the compliance with legislation in relation to their respective roles and activities in the supply chain.

Therefore the responsible person for the food information, both its accuracy and presence, is the operator who places it for the first time on the Community market: EU manufacturer, or importer, or retailer for its own branded products.

In order to sort out the difficulty in practice for finding out the operator responsible for first placing on the Community market, his name should always be mentioned on the label.

It is necessary to distinguish clearly between the manufacturer and operators further down the distribution chain. The manufacturer, having detailed knowledge of the design and production process, is best placed to carry out the complete conformity assessment procedure for products. Conformity assessment of the food information and ensuring its correctness should therefore remain the obligation of the manufacturer alone when placing it on the Community market.

Retailers are fully responsible for the labelling particulars of products they import from third countries and sell under their own brands.

Retailers who simply market products without affecting food information will have to react immediately if they have been notified about the non-conformity of the food information with the relevant legislation or when they become aware of it when exercising their respective activities considering the information at their disposal. Then they have to choose the most appropriate action (withdrawal, recall, putting in conformity with this Regulation…) for the given situation.

Furthermore food should also be the subject of controls carried out by national authorities at every prior step of the food chain. Proceeding again to controls of the prior steps does not fall within the capacities / competence of retailers. They are the last business operator in the food chain, simply marketing the foodstuff without altering the information that accompanies it, and should therefore be able to assume it conforms with the EU relevant legislation.

GRTU considers disproportionate to ask the final retailer to assume the responsibility for systematically performing checks that should have taken place earlier in the chain on aspects which are outside the sphere of its own activities.

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