France allows labelling flexibility as food brands find sunflower oil substitutes

5 May 2022

French authorities have temporarily allowed food manufacturers to use alternatives to sunflower oil without changing their products labelling, following shortages caused by the war in Ukraine.

Manufacturers in France can change their product labels for up to six months if they have swapped sunflower oil for a substitute ingredient, following shortages caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a leading sunflower oil exporter. Brands have been forced to find alternatives such as rapeseed oil, palm oil and soybean oil following blocked shipments.

France allows labelling flexibility as food brands find sunflower oil substitutes

“The war in Ukraine is affecting food industry supply for the production of certain foodstuffs,” said the Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF, in French). “The need to quickly switch to other ingredient(s), in a timeframe that is incompatible with the printing of new packaging, is in some cases preventing companies from fully complying with all labelling requirements food, and in particular, those concerning the list of ingredients. Faced with this situation, some flexibility is allowed in implementing labelling requirements.

“The objective is to ensure the availability of foodstuffs on the market while guaranteeing safety and preserving consumer information,” it added.

Manufacturers must submit a request for a temporary waiver to the DGCCRF. If accepted, they can change their formulation for a maximum period of six months from the date of the request, which will be reviewed after three months.

Ingredient changes must not mislead or put consumers at risk

Before granting the request, the French authority determines that the difference between the actual product composition and its labelling does not pose a risk to the consumer and does not remove essential product information regarding quality.

If substituting for an allergenic ingredient, for instance, brands are required provide information on their labelling in a visible and legible way.

“Cases of allergen addition to date only concern soy (via the introduction of soy lecithin) and peanuts (via the introduction of peanut oil). However, the addition of another allergen cannot be excluded in the future,” said the DGCCRF, adding that fully refined soybean oil is not considered to be capable of causing allergies or intolerances.

Similarly, a brand whose product is organic, non-GM or marketed as palm oil-free must clearly and explicitly inform consumers about the addition of a non-organic or GM ingredient, or the inclusion of palm oil.

Hundreds of cross-category products affected

The DGCCRF has published a list of manufacturers and retailers that have already changed their products’ formulation, showing the extent to which many different food categories are being impacted by the sunflower oil shortages.

The list, which features hundreds of products, includes Netto tiramisu, Belin lentil chips, Turini tomato bolognaise sauce, Monoprix chocolate, Maison Briau stuffed squid, and Leclerc meat tortellini.

Finding functional substitutes to sunflower oil is being furthered hampered by Indonesia’s recent ban on palm oil exports. The country, which is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, recently announced the protectionist measure in a bid to ensure domestic supplies of the basic foodstuff, which is commonly used as a cooking oil in Indonesia.

The list published by DGCCRF shows that, to date, many French manufacturers are swapping sunflower oil for rapeseed oil (colza), informing consumers via inkjet printing on labels.

Calls for consistent & harmonised approach to labelling flexibility

The French branch of non-profit watchdog Foodwatch, which recently launched a petition demanding that consumers be informed of any changes, praised the transparency of this initiative but said that more could be done. It would like to see information on supermarket shelves in addition to on product labelling and via the DGCCRF website.

“The need for flexibility to avoid production disruptions is understandable, and we understand that there may be occasional deviations from the ingredient lists,” it said. “But it does not prevent manufacturers from communicating clearly on these changes: [there should be] no derogations on our right to information!”

Pan-European consumer rights organisation BEUC has flagged concerns about the variations in measures being adopted in different EU countries.

“While this situation may warrant temporary flexibility in the enforcement of food labelling rules, we wish to ensure that contingency measures on food labelling are harmonised, proportionate, and remain in place for no longer than necessary,” wrote senior BEUC food policy officer Camille Perrin in an open letter addressed to Sabine Pelsser, head of food information and composition at the European Commission’s DG SANTE. “Yet, feedback from our members across Europe suggests that national responses to industry calls for food labelling derogations have been inconsistent so far – with concrete implications for food composition transparency, consumer information and, potentially, health.”

Italy, for instance, proposed that manufacturers may use the generic term ‘vegetable oils and fats’ in the list of ingredients followed by a list of the botanical origins potentially present in the food based on availability of supplies, BEUC noted.

Perrin called on Pelsser to ensure a more consistent and harmonised approach to food labelling flexibility in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

Food industry trade association FoodDrinkEurope said that processors and retailers or wholesalers need labelling flexibility as they respond to the rapidly changing availability of ingredients.

“This must not come at the expense of food safety or consumer access to the right information, and wherever possible, favour EU-produced alternatives,” it said.

Related categories

Related tags

Blogs Market News

Related news

‘Taste-adjusting’ chopsticks use electricity to give sensation of enhanced salt

‘Taste-adjusting’ chopsticks use electricity to give sensation of enhanced salt

2 May 2022

Japanese food company Kirin Holdings and researchers have created chopsticks that use an electrical current to give the perception of added saltiness in food by approximately 1.5 times its actual salt content. They are now working to roll out the techn...

Read more 
The Grain Drain: Ukraine war disrupts US grain and oilseed market

The Grain Drain: Ukraine war disrupts US grain and oilseed market

29 Apr 2022

“The war in Ukraine has seemingly changed everything,” says RaboResearch in a report that explores the grain and oilseed outlook in the US over the next ten years and the expected impact on fertilisers, production, exports and pricing.

Read more 
Food prices hit all time high as cost of cereal and vegetable oils spike

Food prices hit all time high as cost of cereal and vegetable oils spike

28 Apr 2022

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Food Price Index rocketed to an all-time high in March, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spurs supply shortages and drives-up cereal and vegetable oil prices.

Read more 
Country-specific snack boxes deliver regional flavours direct to consumers

Country-specific snack boxes deliver regional flavours direct to consumers

26 Apr 2022

Country-specific snack boxes with regional flavours are captivating food and drink consumers by taking adventurous eaters around the globe with monthly subscription boxes.

Read more 
How widespread are pesticide residues on fresh fruit & vegetables?

How widespread are pesticide residues on fresh fruit & vegetables?

22 Apr 2022

Following the release of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual “Dirty Dozen” list of pesticides in produce for 2022, The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) responds with their own research on the safety of everyday consumer ...

Read more 
EFSA publishes nutrient profiling advice for front-of-pack labelling

EFSA publishes nutrient profiling advice for front-of-pack labelling

20 Apr 2022

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published its scientific advice intended to inform how nutrition information is presented on the front of food packaging, including potential restrictions on health claims.

Read more 
EU’s new THC limits for hemp-based products will ‘level the playing field’ for food producers

EU’s new THC limits for hemp-based products will ‘level the playing field’ for food producers

19 Apr 2022

The EU’s introduction of maximum permitted THC levels in hemp-based food products means a “level playing field” which should drive new product innovation and marketplace development, Asa Waldstein, principal of the Supplementary Advisory Group told Ing...

Read more 
Social media-savvy Gen Z consumers drive brand licensing uptake

Social media-savvy Gen Z consumers drive brand licensing uptake

12 Apr 2022

Food manufacturers are embracing brand licensing as a way to connect with Gen Z and Millennial consumers. “Generating ‘buzz-worthy’ PR and billions of brand impressions has never been more crucial,” says one expert.

Read more 
Brand licensing deals rise post-pandemic as consumers seek familiar and healthier products

Brand licensing deals rise post-pandemic as consumers seek familiar and healthier products

8 Apr 2022

Longer-term brand licensing deals between food companies have become more popular in recent times – a trend set to continue and flourish, partly thanks to the pandemic, licensing experts told Ingredients Network.

Read more 
‘Dangerously high’ levels of fat, salt and sugar in 70% of UK’s ‘meal deal’ snacks

‘Dangerously high’ levels of fat, salt and sugar in 70% of UK’s ‘meal deal’ snacks

5 Apr 2022

Around 70% of the snacks included in UK ‘meal deals’ are dangerously high in fat, salt and sugar, according to new research by Action on Salt.

Read more