12 November 2020
Product Protection – 5 of 20 Insights
As the end of the transition period (31 December 2020) creeps ever closer and the deadline for a trade deal with the EU has slipped by (15 October 2020), it's no surprise that the UK government has released a raft of updated Guidance for a range of industries in order to further aid consumer and business preparedness.
On 14 October 2020, the UK government introduced new guidance on food and drink labelling requirements. This should provide some comfort to manufacturers and producers of food and drink in the UK (and those who export to the EU).
However, the final picture remains subject to legislation passing through parliament and/or subject to an additional agreement with the EU, which at the time of writing have not been finalised.
Here, we provide an overview of what producers and manufacturers in Great Britain (GB) and Northern Ireland (NI) need to know in anticipation of the new rules.
This will be a crucial question for you as a manufacturer or producer, regardless of whether your business operations are based in the UK or the EU. Fortunately, there will be a transition period for goods sold in GB and NI, allowing producers to use an EU, GB, or NI address until 30 September 2022.
However, from 1 October 2022 pre-packaged food must include a UK address for the manufacturer. If the manufacturer is not based in the UK, you must include the UK address of the importer.
There are more stringent rules in place for those exporting to the EU. If you export pre-packaged food to the EU from 1 January 2021 you must have an EU or NI address for the manufacturer, or failing that, the importer, on the packaging or the food label.
With no transition period here, manufacturers and producers must be live to changing rules and urgently updated labels for products placed on the EU market after that date. We recommend you start discussing such changes with your marketing/design teams as soon as possible in readiness of these changes.
Further guidance was updated on 6 November 2020 by the Food Standards Authority (FSA) concerning the health and identification marks that must be applied to food products of animal origin (POAO), such as meat, egg products, fish, cheese, and milk.
From 1 January 2021, POAO produced in GB and exported to the EU and NI markets will require re-labelling with new health and identification marks. The Guidance provides detail on the new requirements, such as the new size and dimension requirements for the health and identification marks.
A 21-month adjustment period has been proposed for goods placed on the market in GB to reduce the impact of the change in requirements for identification marks, taking the deadline for compliance to 30 September 2022.
However, at the time of writing, the legislation enacting this transition has not yet been passed. With this in mind, we caution manufacturers and producers, that you may need to adopt new health and identification marks in a relatively short space of time.
The UK will proceed with its own laws for the production, processing, and labelling of organic food from 1 January 2021. Following the guidance mentioned above, any food products registered as organic in the EU before that date will continue to be accepted as such in the UK. You will be able to continue to use your approved UK organic control body label in GB.
If you are looking to export goods to the EU after 1 January 2021 and wish to continue to use the EU organics label, the situation is a little more uncertain. The route forward depends on whether your UK control body has been authorised to use the EU organics label, or if the UK and EU reach an equivalency deal (ie agreeing to recognise one another's standards).
If the UK does not reach an equivalency deal you cannot export organic food to the EU and label it as organic. You can, however, still export the food using non-organic labelling if it meets all other marketing standards and you remove or cover any organic labelling.
At the time of writing no agreement has been reached between the UK and the EU; the Guidance recommends that you contact your control body for the latest updates.
The Guidance also provides further details as to the status of country of origin labels. If you produce food in NI, you can continue to use 'origin EU' on your packaging labels after 1 January 2021. However, any food produced in GB from 1 January 2021 must not be labelled 'origin EU' on the EU market.
There is a transition period for products labelled as 'origin EU' on the GB market, allowing food products labelled as such to be sold in the GB market until 30 September 2022.
Any food produced in GB from 1 January 2021 must not use the EU emblem unless authorised to do so by the EU. Authorisation has not yet been confirmed or denied and may be the subject of trade talks between the EU and UK (which remain ongoing).
UK government guidance released on 13 October 2020 indicates that the UK will set up its own geographical indication (GI) schemes to protect the geographical names of food, drink and agricultural products.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will manage the scheme, maintain the registers of protected product names and process new applications.
The schemes will be open to producers from the UK and other countries, using the following designations:
All existing UK products registered under the EU's GI schemes by the end of the transition period will automatically be protected. However, after 1 January 2021, any new product applications will need to be made either to the UK scheme to protect the name in the UK, or the EU scheme to protect a new name in NI or the EU.
The new GI logos have been produced and are available to download from 1 January 2021 in respect of the designations listed above. There is a three-year transition period available (until 1 January 2024) for products produced and for sale in GB before 1 January 2021, to allow you time to change any packaging and marketing materials as necessary.
On the other hand, any products produced and registered after 1 January 2021 must use the relevant logos as soon as the product is registered.
If you are producing or selling GI products in NI, it will be mandatory to continue to use the EU logo when selling the product in NI if it is registered under the EU schemes. If you wish, you can also add the new UK GI logos, however only if the product is registered under the UK GI schemes.
We regularly advise UK-based and international businesses in relation to product safety and regulatory issues, product labelling and the management of product liability risks. If you require advice relating to the new food labelling regime and how your business/products may be affected, or any other aspect of your business, please get in touch.
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Wilson v Beko  EWHC 3362 (QB)
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