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Food Law in the European Union

European regulations cover all stages of the production and distribution chain, adopting the 'from farm to fork' approach.
The front European Commission building
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Food is governed by a complexity of laws and regulations which set out the government’s requirements to be met by food chain operators to ensure the food is safe and of adequate quality.

Food Law in the European Union covers all stages of the production and distribution chain, adopting the farm-to-fork approach. It covers food control, food safety and relevant aspects of food trade. Minimum quality requirements are included to ensure food produced is unadulterated and not subjected to any fraudulent practices intended to deceive the consumer.

It is important to note, that this includes the entire chain, beginning with provisions for animal feed, on-farm controls and early processing through to final distribution and use by the consumers.

Food law aims at ensuring the health and welfare of humans, animals, plants and the environment and establishes the rights of the consumers to safe, authentic and accurate information. Many of the EU regulations are mandatory for member states and they must be incorporated into national legislation.

EU General Food Law

Regulation 178/2002 lays down the general principles for food and feed law and sets out an overarching and coherent framework for the development of food and feed legislation at both a European Union and national level.

This ‘food law’ defines a food and feed business as any business carrying out any operation of production, manufacture, processing, storage, transport or distribution of feed or feed. It sets out food safety requirements, traceability and responsibilities of food and feed business operators. Key articles in this regulation include:

  • Article 11: Food which is imported into the EU for placing on the market shall comply with the requirements of food law recognised by the EU, or if there is a specific agreement between the EU and the exporting country, then the imported foods must follow agreed requirements.

  • Article 12: Food which is exported or re-exported from the EU must comply with the requirements of food law, unless the authorities of the importing country have requested otherwise, or it complies with the laws, regulations and other legal and administrative procedures of the importing country.

  • Article 14: Food shall not be placed on the market if it is unsafe, i.e. injurious to health or unfit for human consumption. The article describes what factors need to be considered when establishing the safety of the food.

  • Article 16: Labelling, advertising and presentation, including the setting in which the food is displayed, of food shall not mislead consumers.

  • Article 18: Food business operators to keep records of the food, food substances, food-producing animals supplied to their business, and businesses to which their products have been supplied. This information must be made available to competent authorities on demand.

  • Article 19: Food business operators must withdraw food which is not compliant with food safety requirements and has left their control. Food business operators must recall the food if it has reached the consumer. Food businesses must notify competent authorities if they have placed a food on the market that is injurious to health. There are also similar provisions for animal feed

The General Food Law also sets up an independent agency responsible for scientific advice and support, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Moreover, it creates the main procedures and tools for the management of emergencies and crises as well as the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).

There are four key elements of EU Food law:

(1) the objectives of EU food law to protect consumers’ interests;
(2) the principles of risk analysis and precaution;
(3) obligations on businesses regarding the products they place on the market, the processes they apply and their communication towards consumers;
(4) public powers of law enforcement and incident management.

The Principles of Risk Analysis and Precaution

There are two core principles of EU regulation. It should be:
  1. Science and evidence based
  2. Risk based approach
Risks are established by rigorous science and evidence based risk assessments which combine hazards with exposure, commonly carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
These risks are governed by heavy legal requirements and must go through rigorous assessments for pre-market approval, which are especially needed in the case of additives, sweeteners, GMO-related food, novel and functional foods, supplements or enzymes and packaging.
However, the precautionary principle has been used to restrict and prohibit new products or initiatives when there is no hard scientific evidence. According to the European Commission, the precautionary principle is described as:
A phenomenon, product or process that may have a dangerous effect, identified by a scientific and objective evaluation, if this evaluation does not allow the risk to be determined with sufficient certainty

Key Regulations

In addition to the General Food Law, there are a number of key regulations in the European Union to help ensure the integrity of our food chain. These are outlined in the table below.

Key Regulations EC Number
Food Hygiene Controls (EC) No 852/2004, (EC) No 853/2004, (EC) No 854/2004
Official Feed and Food Control Regulations (EC) No 882/2004
Microbiological Criteria for Foodstuffs (EC) No 2073/2005
EC Regulation on Contaminants in Food Council Regulation 315/93/EEC
Maximum levels for certain contaminants in food Commission Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006

These regulations are important because they set out the minimum acceptable standards for food and allow monitoring and enforcement against this standard.

What we would like you to do

Please have a look at the work carried out by The European Food Safety Authority here.

Please share your thoughts with your fellow learners in the comment section below:

  • Do you think legislation and the work carried out by the EFSA is important?
  • Can you think of any examples of how the precautionary principle has been used in your region?

If you are uncertain or want to know more, we encourage you to search the web for scientifically sound information to share and discuss with your fellow learners here

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