'Tuna', 'fish' allergen? The lawyer Dario Dongo responds

Dear Dario,

a supplier of canned fish to our supermarket chain insists on the need to specify the 'fish' allergen in the ingredient list of canned tuna.

The European Commission, DG Sante, would have in fact hypothesized a rigorous interpretation of the Food Information Regulation (EU) No 1169/11, article 21.

I therefore ask to know your point of view on the subject.

Many thanks, Stefano


The lawyer Dario Dongo, Ph.D. in European food law, answers

Dear Stefano,

First of all, it is worth remembering that the Commission's opinions regarding the interpretation of EU law have no legal value. The only official interpreter of the common rules is in fact the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Having said this, the following is noted.

1) Reg. (EU) No 1169/11

Reg. (EU) No 1169/11 – in the part relating to 'labeling of certain substances or products that cause allergies or intolerances' – requires that they be reported (and marked, with graphic evidence, compared to the other ingredients in the list), with the 'name of the substance or product referred to in Annex II'.

The same rule, moreover, explains that 'in cases where the name of the food clearly refers to the substance or product in question, the indications' above 'they are not required' (EU Reg. 1169/11, article 21).

That means that it is not necessary to recall the names themselves when the nature and/or presence of the allergen is already evident to the average consumer. As already shared in the SCOFACH context. (1)

2) Tuna = fish

Consumers allergic to fish I am perfectly capable of identifying tuna as a fish species. Specifying that tuna is a fish is therefore completely useless and redundant with respect to the objective defined in the 'Food Information Regulation'.

The case would be different of a 'neglected' fish, or one unknown to most. (2) In this case – as in that of cheeses with less common names – referring to the generic name of the allergen may be necessary to prevent any risk of confusion.

3) Provisional conclusions

The information it must always be clear, simple, unambiguous. So that the consumer can clearly understand the nature, composition and characteristics of the food product (EU Reg. 1169/11, articles 7 and 36).

The average consumer is a reasonably informed and discerning person. The interpreters of the rules in question should also be like this, remembering that too many words make the ones that count less visible.

Cordially

Dario

Footnotes

(1) Anchovies, do you need to specify 'fish'? The lawyer Dario Dongo answers. DO (Food and Agriculture Requirements). 11.7.21

(2) Dario Dongo, Andrea Adelmo Della Penna. Neglected fish, #poorimagood. ISS study, SAFEFOODTOMORROW research project. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).



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