1. Commission’s Proposals
The Joint Committee has examined the following proposals made by the Commission for Council Directives on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to
(a) Labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs for sale to the ultimate consumer (R/898/76 and R/2384/76); and
(b) Ranges of nominal quantities permitted for certain prepackaged products (R/1945/76).
Proposal R/898/76 (and R/2384/76) is based on Article 100 of the EEC Treaty and is directed towards the approximation of national laws which affect the functioning of the Common Market. Technically, therefore, it is seeking the elimination of barriers to intra-Community trade but in its approach it is also aiming at the protection of the consumer in accordance with the preliminary programme for a consumer protection and information policy which was adopted by the Council on 14th April, 1975.
Proposal R/1945/76 is also founded on Article 100 of the EEC Treaty and is a follow up to two Directives already adopted on prepackaged products, namely, 75/106/EEC dealing with the making-up by volume of certain prepackaged liquids and 76/211/EEC on the making-up by weight or by volume of certain prepackaged products.
2. Bodies Consulted
In regard to both proposals the Joint Committee has consulted the Food, Drink and Tobacco Federation which is a division of the Confederation of Irish Industry. It has also consulted the Consumers’ Association of Ireland Ltd. and the Irish Coeliac Society in regard to the labelling proposal (R/898/76 and R/2384/76).
These bodies went to considerable trouble to give assistance and the Joint Committee is extremely grateful to them.
B. LABELLING, PRESENTATION AND ADVERTISING
3. Contents of Proposal
The draft Directive applies to all foodstuffs intended for sale to the ultimate consumer. It lays down general rules applicable to the presentation of goods and advertising to prevent the deception of the consumer. It specifies the particulars which must appear on the labelling of products and amplifies this requirement by laying down specific rules pertaining to some of these particulars, namely, name under which product is sold, ingredients, net quantity and minimum durability. If the Directive is adopted Member States will be required after 2 years to permit trade in foodstuffs which comply with the provisions of the draft Directive and after 3 years to prohibit that which does not.
4. General views of the Joint Committee
The Joint Committee supports the proposal in principle believing that the adoption of uniform rules throughout the Community should be of considerable benefit to the consumer. It has some comments to make and some reservations to express in regard to certain aspects of the proposal. A number of these arise from points drawn to its attention by the Food, Drink and Tobacco Federation. The Federation has also suggested a considerable number of amendments on matters of detail. The Joint Committee does not propose to deal with these in this report but as they have been brought to the attention of the Department of Industry and Commerce it trusts that they will be carefully considered.
In view of the fact that a separate Directive dealing exclusively with advertising is already in preparation, the Food, Drink and Tobacco Federation has questioned the need for the inclusion of any reference to advertising in the present proposal. Alternatively, the Federation wants the prohibition of misleading advertising confined to forbidding advertising that conflicts with the labelling and presentation requirements.
Having regard to the timescale envisaged for implementing the present proposal, the Joint Committee is not clear why advertising cannot be dealt with in a separate Directive coming into operation at about the same time as the labelling and presentation provisions. It would regard it as a serious matter if any disparity between the two Directives was eventually to involve Irish manufacturers in additional expense.
6. Vertical Directives
As the draft Directive applies to all foodstuffs it is characterised as a “horizontal” provision but it is envisaged that there will follow Community “vertical” provisions applicable only to specified foodstuffs which may provide for additions to or limited derogation from the general labelling requirements. In the absence of those “vertical” provisions Member States may maintain their own additional requirements as regards labelling or seek derogation from the general provisions in the case of specified products.
The Federation has drawn the attention of the Joint Committee to the fact that the cost of implementing the Directive will be very heavy in Ireland compared with Member States with bigger populations because the fewer packages produced the greater the cost per package. It is, therefore, very important that the cost to Irish manufacturers of implementing the general Directive should not be unduly increased by later “vertical” Directives which may, in the case of specified products, provide for more, less or different information. The Federation is of opinion that derogations from the general Directive should be permitted in the case of products for which “vertical” Directives are in course of preparation and the Joint Committee considers that this is a reasonable request.
7. Ultimate Consumer
The draft Directive purports to cover sales to the ultimate consumer and the question arises as to whether these include sales to institutions such as catering establishments, schools, hospitals and prisons. The Federation would like to see such sales excluded but the Joint Committee is advised that they are probably covered. However, the matter is not free from doubt and the Joint Committee considers that the text should make the position clear.
8. Coeliac Disease
Members of the Joint Committee have had an opportunity of discussing with representatives of the Irish Coeliac Society the special problem of persons suffering from coeliac disease.
Coeliacs of whom there may be up to 15,000 in this country must abstain absolutely from any product containing gluten which is found in wheat, barley, oats or rye. Gluten has a serious effect on the health of such persons and exposes them to a risk of developing serious complications including cancer. The list of foodstuffs which may or may not contain gluten is quite extensive and it is imperative that coeliacs should know which products are gluten free and which are not. This can only be achieved in the case of packaged foodstuffs if the labelling indicates whether the product is free of gluten or not. The Society is pressing for incorporation in the proposed Directive of a provision making this compulsory.
The Joint Committee was very impressed by the case made to it by the Society and it is now fully satisfied that coeliacs require special protection. Accordingly, it recommends that the proposed Directive be amended so that manufacturers are required to indicate the presence or absence of gluten in their products and that this be supplemented by domestic legislation to deal with packaged products coming from non-member countries.
The Joint Committee has been informed by the Department of Industry and Commerce that many of the matters dealt with in the proposed Directive are already provided for in existing legislation administered by that Department, the Department of Health, and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The Joint Committee considers that the Directive, if adopted, should be implemented in a single domestic instrument which should also specifically repeal any existing contrary provisions.
B. RANGE OF SIZES
10. Contents of Proposal
In several Member States there are laws aimed at the standardisation of packages in which products may be sold. The object is to prevent price increases being camouflaged by changing the size of the packet and to enable purchasers to make comparisons easily between competing products.
The draft Directive seeks to harmonise those laws by providing that prepackaged products complying with its provisions cannot be prevented by national laws from being sold in any Member State. The products covered by the proposal are set out in the three Annexes to the draft and include the more common foodstuffs, paints, glues, detergents and cosmetics. The draft Directive proposes size-standardisation of the containers in which these products are packaged whether they be tins, glass containers, cardboard boxes or aerosols as a condition precedent for securing the freedom of movement of the products within the Community.
11. Views of the Joint Committee
The Joint Committee welcomes this proposal and considers that it is worthy of support.
Because of the concern expressed by the Food, Drink and Tobacco Federation, the Joint Committee would like to say that it has been advised that the draft Directive does not contain any restrictions on the marketing of goods which do not conform but provides simply that Member States may not refuse, prohibit or restrict the importation and sale of packages which do conform.
(Signed) CHARLES J. HAUGHEY,
Chairman of the Joint Committee.
9th December, 1976.