European Food Law: The GFL (Guest Post)

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A guest post by Elio Palumbieri, of Studio Legale Palumbieri

Hi! My name is Elio Enrico Palumbieri, I am an Italian trainee lawyer specializing in food law and this post, hosted by Tresquire Legal Services, is the first one of a series about European food law.  Being the first, we are going to cover general principles of European food law.

European food law began in the late 1960s with the purpose of creating an internal market for food products. To do so the EU tried to harmonize the different national standards using vertical directives (regulating specific areas of the food law) before using horizontal directives (defining the principles of food law).

However, it was not enough. During the 1990s some food scares, including the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis, made clear the need for fundamental reforms. The European Commission (which is responsible for proposing legislation, upholding the EU treaties and implementing decisions) reacted in January 2000 with the “White Paper on Food Safety” which contained the Commissions’ vision and proposal of development for European food law. The main intent of the White Paper was to encourage a change of purpose, transitioning from development of the internal market to food safety.

Only two years after the publication of the White Paper, the European Parliament and the Council of 28 January 2002 passed Regulation 178/2002.  This regulation provides the general principles of European food law, and is often referred to as the GFL (General Food Law).

Article 2 of the Regulation 178/2002 provides, for the first time, the definition of “food”:

any substance or product, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, intended to be, or reasonably expected to be ingested by humans

It includes drink, chewing gum and any substance, including water, intentionally incorporated into food during its manufacture, preparation or treatment

after the point of compliance as defined in Article 6 of Directive 98/83/EC and without prejudice to the requirements of Directives 80/778/EEC and 98/83/EC”.

This definition does not include:

(a) feed;

(b) live animals unless they are prepared for placing on the market for human consumption;

(c) plants prior to harvesting;

(d) medicinal products within the meaning of Council Directives 65/65/EEC (1) and 92/73/EEC (2);

(e) cosmetics within the meaning of Council Directive 76/ 768/EEC (3);

(f) tobacco and tobacco products within the meaning of Council Directive 89/622/EEC (4);

(g) narcotic or psychotropic substances within the meaning of the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, and the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971;

(h) residues and contaminants.

As we can see, the GFL does not distinguish between food and food ingredients and does not include animal feed.

The objectives of the regulation 178/2002 are expressed at the article 5:

Food law shall pursue one or more of the general objectives of a high level of protection of human life and health and the protection of consumers' interests, including fair practices in food trade, taking account of, where appropriate, the protection of animal health and welfare, plant health and the environment.

Food law shall aim to achieve the free movement in the Community of food and feed manufactured or marketed according to the general principles and requirements in this Chapter.

Where international standards exist or their completion is imminent, they shall be taken into consideration in the development or adaptation of food law, except where such standards or relevant parts would be an ineffective or inappropriate means for the fulfillment of the legitimate objectives of food law or where there is a scientific justification, or where they would result in a different level of protection from the one determined as appropriate in the Community”.

In this first post I tried to focus on general aspects of the European Food Law, and in future posts I will discuss more specific aspects of European Food Law. For further information do not hesitate to contact me.

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