Ecommerce in Europe falls within the scope of Food Information Regulation (FIR). Despite that, the common rules have been largely disregarded for six years. Why, how can it be? Brief analysis and comments to follow.
Regulation EU No. 1169/11, c.d. Food Information Regulation, requires all the mandatory information provided on the label (1) to be always offered to the consumer. Even in the case of distance selling, just like ecommerce. In these cases, the news must be made available before the fateful ‘click’ for the purchase order. (2)
The majority of online retailers in Italy, however, insist on not applying the above provisions. We enrolled in the most well-known websites for online sales of food products. In order to assess their level of ‘compliance’, and to draft an illegality ranking. From outlawed sites to those closest to compliance with the food information to consumers provisions.
Food Ecommerce, the illegality ranking
– Amazon. The information module is based on two entries, ‘Description’ and ‘Features and details’. The latter sometimes refers to ‘Features’ and ‘Product Details’. However, these are rarely (somehow) compiled as required. Therefore, the essential news is missing. (3)
– Auchan – Simply. The site www.auchan.it is nothing more than a flyer in web format. No information beyond the name and price per unit of sale, except sometimes the amount. Spesasimply.it adds ‘Complementary Info’ and ‘Ingredients’ (which often lack allergens information). Sometimes, a nutrition declaration appears.
– Conad. The site www.conadacasa.it allows the online purchase and delivery only in some limited districts. However, information on foodstuffs is not available, regardless of product name and price, per sales unit and kg. Just an image of the front label is available, but its definition is very low, therefore useless.
The most discerning ones
– Esselunga. The portal www.esselungaacasa.it presents a basic table of product information. ‘Characteristics’ (sales denomination and ‘satisfied or reimbursed’ guarantee), ‘Ingredients’ (with allergens highlighted in bold), and ‘Usage Advice ‘(‘retention details’). The precautionary indication on the possible presence of allergenic ingredients is also of no use, as it refers indiscriminately to the entire list of substances provided for by Reg. EU 1169/11. (4)
– Carrefour. The French group, on https://myshop.carrefour.it, introduces each product with an articulated group of news. ‘Ingredients / Allergens’, ‘Nutritional Information’, ‘Usage Advice and Warnings’, ‘Sales Name’, ‘Other Information’. Unsatisfactory information on the presence of allergenic ingredients, often referring to non-permitted categories, such as ‘nuts’.
– Coop Alleanza 3.0. The EasyCoop website https://www.easycoop.com/ offers detailed information on all food products sold throughout its website. ‘Details’, ‘Ingredients’, ‘Allergens’, ‘Nutritional values’, ‘Preservation’, ‘More information’. The news on allergens are sometimes inaccurate. (5)
No penalty for those who ignore consumers
How is it possible that some of the leading retailers infringe the most basic rules? The technical tools are not lacking. GS1-Italy (Global Standard Italy, formerly known as Indicod-ECR) has developed the Immagino system for years, in order to catalogue all foods and drinks with the legal information. But in Italy at least, despite many talks of ‘corporate social responsibility’, (6) respect for the law is neglected until their violation is punished. Furthermore, Regulation EU No. 1169/11 is still free of sanctions.
Consumers are paying the price, as usual. Allergy sufferers and celiacs in particular, for whom the ecommerce service is in fact unavailable due to latent or inadequate information. (7) But their associations do not seem to notice it, and the writer unfortunately seems to be the only one to report this serious breach of the Italian government.
(1) Beside those news that distinguish the individual sales unit, such as the ‘Best before’ or ’Use by’ date and the batch code
(2) According to Reg. EU 1169/11, the information is available before the conclusion of the purchase and appears on the support of distance selling or is provided by any other appropriate means clearly identified by the food business operator (Article 14)
(3) One feels to be taken as a fool when reading the inevitable ‘Important Information – Warnings’. Where it is read that ‘The producers can change the composition of their products, therefore, the packaging of the product may contain information different from those shown on their site.’
“Please always read the label, warnings and instructions provided on the product before using or consuming it”. But which label to read and where?
(4) Esselunga’s website reports that ‘All delicatessen products may contain, as an ingredient or in traces (because they are processed in the same establishment), the following substances and their derived products:
cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelled, kamut or their hybridized strains), shellfish, fish, clams, peanuts, soybeans, lupines, eggs, milk (including lactose), nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, common walnuts, cashew nuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, pistachios, Queensland nuts), celery, mustard, sesame seeds, sulphur dioxide and sulphites in concentrations higher than 10 mg / kg (expressed as SO2) ‘.
And… where is the self-control?
(5) A couple of examples from the EasyCoop website. ‘Bibanesi farro e quinoa’, allergens ‘cereals’ (?), ‘Crackers Coop with extra virgin olive oil and rosemary’, allergens ‘cereals containing gluten’.
(6) CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility
(7) Paradoxically in Italy the discrimination of all forms of disability is amplified rather than reduced by the web. Exemplary in this sense is Trenitalia, which does not allow the disabled to buy tickets online and therefore to avail of different discount offers (!)