Questions and confusion as
“best before” label debate intensifies
of Article: http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/Packaging/Questions-and-confusion-as-best-before-label-debate-intensifies
By Rory Harrington, 12-Jun-2009
Industry experts and the UK food
safety watchdog have been assessing and clarifying the implications of the
government’s much-discussed announcement to overhaul the food labelling
The declaration made on Tuesday by Environment Minister Hiliary Benn
to phase out some dating systems on labels to cut down on food waste was
slammed by industry bodies and has now been questioned by an industry
expert. The British Retail Consortium strongly dismissed the proposal that
eliminating “best before” dates would reduce waste, insisting instead that
consumer education on the issue was key.
Owen Warnock, partner and food labelling
expert at international law firm Eversheds, has also queried the viability
of the plan saying the UK Government faced real difficulties if it wished
to change the ‘best before’ regime.
“UK labelling law falls under the remit of the European Union’s Food
Labelling Directive 2000/13 and the Government must comply with this
regulation,” he told FoodProductionDaily.com.
He added: “If Defra really intends to tackle this issue they must
take the opportunity to try to influence the review of food labelling law
currently under way in Europe to change the rules. I think what the
Government is trying to do is laudable but it won’t be easy and it cannot
Warnock explained that the actual “best before” dates are specified
by food manufacturers who often “play it safe” in setting the deadlines on
safety grounds and to ensure their products are consumed at the optimum
time in terms of taste, colour and texture.
"Best before" compromise?
He said: “A more likely solution is that the UK’s Food Standards
Agency (FSA) would seek to work with food producers to encourage them to be
braver about their ‘best before’ dates and not be as cautious. But I don’t
think that manufacturers will be prepared to take any risks.
“I am sure there will be some amendment to the guidance. Perhaps business
won’t do too much and the Government will be seen to have done what it
can,” he concluded.
The FSA has also moved to clarify Benn’s comments that: “When you
buy something from the supermarket it should be easy to know how long you
should keep it for and how you should store it,” which may have triggered
what it said was an incorrect notion that “best before” dates were to
The agency said there were no plans to scrap “best before” dates but
confirmed it would work with the Waste and Resources Action Programme
(WRAP) and food companies to discuss “sell by” and “display by’ dates which
are set by industry and not covered by European law. However, an FSA
official told FoodProductionDaily.com that it was too early to speculate on
any potential findings from the group.