Free from, the ABC’s

Free from, the ABC’s

The ‘free from’ claims on food labels keep gaining consensus among European consumers. Who are increasingly choosing ‘GMO-free’ and ‘palm oil free. Hereby the ABC’s on ‘free from’ labelling.

‘Free from’ labelling, the ABC’s

Regulation EU No. 1169/11 clearly defines the conditions of use of voluntary indications relating to food products. (1)

Information about the absence of certain ingredients or substances – i.e. ‘free from’ or ‘No…’ – on food labels have always been considered acceptable. (2) As long as a few simple rules are respected:

A – Nutrition & Health Claims. Whenever the info is related to nutritional properties (e.g. ‘No Fats’, ‘No Sugar’) or health benefits (i.e. ‘easier to digest as it doesn’t contain ingredient X’), (3) their conformity to specific criteria must be verified. Both the composition and nutritional properties of the food and the communication pattern must be checked. (4)

– Gluten & lactose. Specific criteria must be applied when the communication is subject to specific requirements (e.g. ‘low gluten’ or ‘no lactose’). (5)

C – Fair information practices. Excluding the option of being subject to specific rules, the principles introduced 39 years ago in the general legislation on food labelling and advertising have to be applied. Under the Food Information Regulation:  (6) 

– all messages must be truthful and, where appropriate, based on relevant scientific data. Which means that the operator responsible for the information (7) must be capable of demonstrating its soundness through objective elements, (8)

– voluntary information, as well as compulsory, must be expressed in a clear way, understandable to the average consumer, without any ambiguity. It is not allowed to refer to categories of ingredients which are not provided in the applicable legislation, (9)

– food characteristics that are common to all similar foods in the same category cannot be emphasized. As it often happens in the case of ‘gluten-free’, which by paradox is nowadays displayed even on sweetened tea infusions (!). Pure deception for the consumers, to be sanctioned. 

Dario Dongo


(1) V. reg. UE 1169/2011, art. 36

(2) Already under preceding directories1979/112/CEE e 2000/13/CE, based on consolidated national and European jurisprudence, which found confirmation on the pronunciation of authorities designated to control correctness of commercial practices (Dir. 2005/29)CE)

(3) Please definitions of nutritional indications and indication health related as per reg.  CE 1924/06, art, 2

(4) Cfr. reg. CE 1924/06, reg. UE 432/12 andfollowing 

(5) In the first example the UE828/12 and sub sequent modifications. All declarations about absence of lactose come with data on the presence and/or galactose quantities, as specified by Department of Health, by letter 4.4.16

(6) See reg. UE 1169/11, articles 7 and 36

(7) the operator responsible for the information is the holder of the brand with which the product is commercialized. See See reg. UE 1169/11, article 8

(8) Objectiveness is required also when referring to organoleptic qualities or in cases relating appreciation on the part of consumers (to be demonstrated through Panel Tests and surveys)

(9) E.g. chemical additives, category not provided for in reg. CE 1333/08 

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