UK pressure group backs proposed EU labelling amendment

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A UK pressure group against the use of processing aids in bread production is backing a proposed amendment to EU regulation that will require foods frozen, and then defrosted before sale, to be labelled ‘defrosted’.

The proposed revision to the EU Food Information Regulation (FIR), adopted by the EU Council at its first reading last month, will enable greater transparency over the marketing of par baked loaves in particular, claims the Real Bread Campaign.

The amendment, should it be carried, would represent a significant change to existing EU labelling laws (Directive 2000/13/EC) where you only label goods as ‘defrosted’ (chicken, for instance) when it is believed the absence of such a designation could potentially mislead the consumer.

Article 5.3 of the above Directive states: “The name under which the product is sold shall include or be accompanied by particulars as to the physical condition of the foodstuff or the specific treatment which it has undergone (e.g. powdered, freeze-dried, deep-frozen, concentrated, smoked) in all cases where omission of such information could create confusion in the mind of the purchaser.”

The Real Bread Campaign, part of UK advocacy group Sustain, argue that labels such as ‘freshly baked’ or ‘baked in store’ are potentially misleading for consumers when referring to part-baked products packed in an inert atmosphere or frozen off-site and then ‘baked off’ at in-store bakeries.

Chris Young of Sustain remarked that if the ‘defrosted’ labelling became mandatory it could raise awareness with shoppers around the associated energy use and also the ‘fast staling’ of par baked breads.

“Par baked loaves use nearly double the energy in comparison to ‘real bread’ in terms of par-baking, freezing and final baking,” he said.

And Young maintains that the quicker staling is due to the fact that the loaves are subjected to a second baking and therefore a second period of higher moisture loss.

Doubts have been expressed by industry sources as to whether the proposed amendment to the FIR would in fact cover loose goods as well as wrapped food products.

Frederic Vincent, spokesperson for the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, said that the dossier is now undergoing second reading by the European Parliament.

“As discussions are still on-going, it is not possible at this stage to know whether this requirement will remain in the final legislation,” he added.

Sarah Cordey, from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), in response to the Real Bread claims said: “Our retailers comply with European rules. That means that where pre-freezing or defrosting has changed a product or affected its quality consumers are already being given that information. It would be misleading of retailers not to do so.”

She said that shoppers are also routinely provided with information as to whether goods are suitable for home freezing or not.

“Giving customers information about manufacturing processes just for the sake of it,” continued Cordey, “runs the risk of confusing shoppers.”

If a product is indistinguishable from one that has been pre-frozen and should not be handled, eaten, cooked or stored any differently, it is not useful to give shoppers that information, she said.

Cordey added that it is wrong to assume pre-freezing is a bad thing. “It can be used to ensure products reach customers in premium condition and, with some pastry goods, may improve the final product. It is also a useful tool for reducing food waste, which is one of the most important environmental issues of the current time.”

This article was amended from the one published on the 29 March to reflect the comments by the BRC and the European Commission.

Source: Food Navigator