Labelling, waste treatment, fortification and saturated fat are on the EU legislative agenda, as parliamentary officer Chris Dabner told the NA conference earlier this month.

EU review of food labelling proposals

The EU is proposing mandatory nutrition labelling on all pre-packed food; an extension of country-of-origin labelling; and improved label clarity.

"This will present many challenges," said parliamentary officer Chris Dabner. "The EU thinks that in order to make labels clearer, you need to make the print bigger. We’ll end up with A4 labels."

On loose food and food pre-packed for direct sale, the EU wants the declaration of allergens and a use-by date provided for certain foods - for example, pâté and cooked meats. "We initially hoped the EU review would result in the Food Labelling Directive being consolidated and simplified," said Dabner. "In reality, it will become a Regulation not a Directive and additional requirements will result in a huge document."

There are also seven UK Food Labelling Regulations (National Provisions) which are not in the EU Food Labelling Directive, said Dabner. These include:

? Regulation 4(3)(b)&(c): exemption from labelling for foods sold for the benefit of charities and food sold at fêtes, bazaars for the benefit of schools, etc

? Regulation 18(1)(e): exemption from labelling for the mandatory fortificants in flour - calcium, iron, niacin, thiamine

? Regulation 23(1)(b): Exemption from labelling for flour confectionery packed in crimp cases or wholly transparent packaging.

The continued existence of these national provisions is also being challenged. The completion date is expected to be around 2009/10.

Fortification of flour or bread with folic acid

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board held a meeting on 17 May, when its 12 members decided whether to recommend, to the Department of Health, whether folic acid should become a mandatory additive. Folic acid reduces the incidence of foetal neural tube defects, Dabner told delegates. He explained the various options which the FSA was weighing up and some of the issues raised.

"Folic acid could be added to any of the following: all flour; all flour except wholemeal; bread-making flour; or to bread. The Republic of Ireland is probably going to fortify bread. Other issues include, whether the presence of folic acid should appear on labelling, in which case should the four other statutory fortifications - calcium, iron, niacin and thiamine - also be labelled?

"Also, as flour is present in thousands of products, often in small amounts, does this mean that there should be a minimum flour content in products before labelling is required?"

Landfill directive and pre-treatment of waste

"In about nine years’ time it is predicted there will be no holes in the ground left for waste," said Dabner. So, as of 30 October, 2007, waste must be pre-treated prior to landfill. Businesses will have to sort and recycle some of their waste, either by pre-treating their own waste or paying a contractor to do it for them. "Ultimately it is in our interest to recycle, because the less landfill space there is, the higher the landfill taxes will become."

consultation on energy intake and saturated fat

The intake of saturated fat and calories for large sections of the population are too high, resulting in obesity and concerns about cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and some cancers.

"The FSA’s main target appears to be major food manufacturers and food retailers but it also wants to engage the catering sector," added Dabner. The FSA is suggesting:

? More front-of-pack labelling

? A healthy balanced diet, with more bread and fewer crisps, biscuits, cakes and soft drinks

? A reduction in portion sizes

? Reformulation to lower levels of saturated fats and/or sugars

? The removal of added trans fatty acids and hydrogenated vegetable oils, which the FSA says often occur in foods such as biscuits, cakes, fast food and pastry

? Focusing reformulation on biscuits, buns, cakes, pastry, fruit pies pizzas and meat. n