News
30 November 2022
EU
Food Allergy
- Food Safety

As a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) registered stakeholder since 2017, EFA was invited to lead a discussion on the digitalisation of food information at the EFSA Stakeholder Forum meeting, which took place in a hybrid format from Parma, Italy, on 9-10 November. The Forum is the official channel for civil society organisations like EFA to bring forward to the agency the issues affecting people with food allergy.

The session brought together actors from various food-related sectors including consumers, food manufacturers, producers, farmers and others.

Food labelling prioritisation and accessibility

In his presentation, EFA Policy Advisor Panagiotis Chaslaridis addressed digitalisation as a prevalent trend already in food labelling. While safety and health-related labelling is mandatory in the EU, digitalisation will affect how consumers access this information. The future regulation of online labelling is currently being undertaken only by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, with a view to developing a guidance on some of its aspects.

EFA referred to two aspects where a common understanding is possible across stakeholders: prioritisation of health and safety, and the need to ensure accessibility.

For food allergy patients, the digitalisation of food information is primarily a safety issue, and therefore any discussion on digitalisation in food information must prioritise the protection of health. This goes against current debates that focus on economy-driven aspects such as brand, packaging etc.

Moreover, accurate, timely and accessible labelling is vital for the health of allergic consumers. While EFA acknowledges that digitalisation can improve access to food information, digital tools cannot replace physical labelling: especially mandatory information such as health-related labelling must always be on the package. If digital means do not work, or do not work correctly, or are not accessible and user-friendly, then it is mostly the vulnerable population that is left behind or at risk.

Discussion and next steps

EFSA is well-placed to offer an assessment of the current trend, especially with regards to risk communications and to help stakeholders identify risks, gaps and opportunities. Moreover, synergies among stakeholders are extremely useful, especially when they consist of different actors across the food system.

The discussion that followed reflected a broad agreement among stakeholders that, by principle, mandatory information related to health and safety must remain on the label, while complementary information that can be displayed via digital means. This will, among others, help consumers not become overwhelmed by the amount of information on food packages.

Furthermore, standardisation across the value chain emerged as a key aspect. This refers to labelling itself, as there is a need to define what information is mandatory and what is complementary; but also to technology, which must lead to user-friendly solutions for the benefit of consumers.

Finally, participants discussed the need to involve consumers in relevant decisions, including through strategies that improve education and access.