Brexit: Food and drink labelling changes for Northern Ireland

18 November 2020

Author: Richard Gray
Practice Area: Corporate - M&A
Sector: Brexit, Food and Agriculture

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The UK Government recently published guidance confirming the requirements for labelling and packaging of food and drink in readiness for the end of the Brexit transition period. Providing some much needed clarity for Food Business Operators (“FBO”), the guidance notes cover a range of matters for Northern Ireland producers and retailers, some of which are considered below.

Address on the label

From 1 January 2021, the Government confirmed that all packaging exported to the EU must be labelled with an address from the EU or NI. Likewise, pre-packaged food or caseins sold in NI must include a NI or EU FBO address. Where an FBO doesn’t have operations in Europe or NI, the address of an EU or NI importer will suffice.

Goods circulating within NI will continue to follow EU rules, and therefore will need to carry the label UK (NI) or United Kingdom (Northern Ireland) to be compliant with and, indeed, to avoid problems when shipping into the EU. With no grace period offered for products within NI, it is imperative that producers and retailers are ready with the correct labelling for goods placed on the market from 11pm on 31 December 2020.

EU health and identification marks

From 1 January 2021, new health and identification marks must be used for food products of animal origin (“POAO”) produced and placed on the market in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or exported outside of the UK. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) provides detailed guidance on this, specifying the dimensions and fonts that are required.

POAO that have been placed on the market in NI, GB and EU before the end of the transition period can reach the end-user on these markets without the need for re-labelling. However, POAO that have moved into the EU and NI markets from GB after the transition period will require re-labelling.

The UK Government recognises that businesses will need time to adapt to such changes, and thus is working with the Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs (“DAERA”) and district councils in Northern Ireland on an enforcement approach of new labelling requirements on the Northern Ireland market that takes these challenges into account.

Country of origin

Country of origin labels are also referred to within the guidance. Where EU law does not require an EU member state to be indicated, food from and sold in NI can continue to use ‘origin EU’ or ‘origin UK’. However, food produced in GB must not be labelled as ‘origin EU’. There is a transition period for such products placed on the GB market until 30 September 2022, but for products placed on the EU market, this must be implemented immediately from the 1 January 2021.

Geographical indication logos

With the UK setting up its own Geographical Indication (“GI”) scheme to protect the geographical names of food, drink and agricultural products, producers will need to apply either to the relevant UK scheme to protect a new product name in GB, or the relevant EU scheme to protect a new product name in NI and the EU.

However, for NI producers and retailers, the regulations are different. If a product is on the NI market and is registered under the EU GI scheme, it must continue using the EU logo. Nonetheless, they will still have the option to use the new UK GI logos if the product is registered under the UK GI schemes.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, the Government guidance has provided some much-needed clarity to FBOs, and that much at least has been welcomed by the food and drink industry, but time is short to implement these labelling changes. More broadly, the industry has been pleading with Government and the EU Commission to consider measures allowing for a period of adjustment. In the meantime, a lot of uncertainty remains regarding the outworkings of the NI Protocol.

If you have any queries the Corporate team at Carson McDowell would be happy to help.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

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