Labelling Northern Irish food as Irish may be ‘misleading to consumers’

Labelling food produced in Northern Ireland as ‘Irish’ may be misleading to consumers, according to the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA).

It maintains that this term, ‘Irish’, is also used to describe another Member State of the EU – Ireland.

However, the body has also said that whether or not the use of the term ‘Irish’ in food labelling is misleading, can only be determined by a court of law.

As the Central Competent Authority, the FSA continues to advise District Councils (who enforce the Regulations in Northern Ireland) on a case-by-case basis taking into account all labelling information on the product, including illustrative material such as maps, flags, emblems etc.

Ultimately, the FSA has clarified that, it is the food manufacturers’ responsibility not to mislead consumers with the labelling information that they provide.

Country of origin labelling (COOL) is compulsory in certain circumstances and any additional voluntary labelling claims must not mislead, be ambiguous or confuse consumers, according to EU law.

European food labelling legislation Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 on Food Information to Consumers introduced in December 2014 sets out requirements for ‘voluntary labelling’- including country of origin – stating that any additional voluntary claims must not mislead, be ambiguous or confuse consumers.

Further European food labelling legislation introduced in April 2015 (Regulation (EU) No. 1337/2013) for fresh, chilled and frozen unprocessed meat of swine, sheep, goat and poultry stated that any additional voluntary information must not contradict or detract from the mandatory country of origin information.

Such an example of labelling could apply to nomad cattle, cattle born and reared in the Republic but finished in the North, which continues to be an issue when it comes to labelling.

Currently, EU regulations stipulate that such nomadic Irish beef cannot be labelled with a single country of origin, as cattle reared in Ireland and finished in the North not permitted to be labelled as Irish produce.

Industry commentators have said that this nomad cattle phenomenon is being exploited by processors and retailers in abusing market dominance in the food chain.

As a possible solution to this problem, Fianna Fail has proposed an ‘Island of Ireland’  label be put forward as a distinct regional geographical area, covering both sides of the border.