The food labeling and packaging industry holds an interesting position in the Brexit debate. Britain’s exit from the European Union was supported by 52 percent of the voters and the impacts have been far-reaching and swift. Polls conducted indicated that roughly 60 percent of farmers were in support of Brexit. What impacts will Brexit have on digital food labeling as a whole because the current food labeling is a combination of UK legislation, EU Regulation, and case law from both UK and EU courts?
The Food Information Regulations that UK is currently using that are specified by the EU may be adopted through legal measures. The EU contains specific Regulations that handles various categories of food. Ingredients and allergens are matters which are governed under a general framework provided under Regulation 1169/2011; while Regulation 1924/2006 governs the use of health and nutrition claims. These are a few, of the many, essential food labeling legislations that is under EU Regulations. The EU laws also contain some of the UK’s legislations such as Food Safety Act 1990 which protects the consumers against misleading food packaging.
The UK has decided to change, directly in the form of changing Statutory Instruments various Food Labeling Regulations into UK law. Although, there are no Statutory Instruments that change PGI/PDO governed into UK law; the most essential of the Statutory Instruments are the Food Information Regulations 2014/1855 and the Health and Nutrition Claims Regulations 2007/1850. The food labeling regime will not undergo an immediate transformation due to the referendum results, just like many other areas of law. The industry will continue to be governed by the UK law and EU Regulations until the UK completes the exit process from the EU. This may take some time as it will take several months to negotiate the UK’s exit and then the withdrawal process may take up to two years. However, the UK will be required to adhere to most of the existing regulations and rules the food and drink sector and this includes digital food labeling if they want to continue trading with the EU.
The UK Parliament will have the power to modify the Statutory Instruments as they exist but regardless of which approach the UK decides to adopt the changing of the Regulations into Statutory Instruments will have very minimal immediate effects on food labeling. The exit will give Britain an opportunity to rewrite the future of UK’s food industry. Then with the power to modify the Statutory Instruments, the Parliament may revisit the Bill on proposed Sugar in Food and Drinks and make modification on the labeling requirements or consider other anti-obesity measures. The PGI/PDO regime has no Statutory Instruments which makes it an area that is likely to undergo a significant change immediately the UK exits the EU.
European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is one of the most likely possible options that UK will take. There are single markets that are enabled by the agreement between European Union and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The Parliament will however not regain much power of changing the Statutory Instruments if UK decides to become an EFTA state, because the European Economic Area (EEA) joint committee is responsible for reviewing certain EU legislations on certain topics and it incorporated Regulation 1169/2011 which provides a legal framework for digital food labeling and Regulation 1924/2006 on health and nutrition health.
The enforcement will change if the UK becomes an EFTA state as at the moment any government body or company can sue through the EU courts to enforce the EU laws. However, the EFTA states have their own courts and the English Courts will have to refer to the EFTA courts. However the rulings in EFTA courts are only advisory and not legally binding to the states.
The UK packaging industry has very close links to EU but operates independent to some extent. It is evident that although some areas of digital food labeling may undergo tremendous changes there are other areas that will remain unchanged.