Our recent The Future of Food seminar discussed key legal and regulatory challenges facing the food and drink sector in the next few years. Among the featured topics were expert discussions on sustainability, the future of packaging and labelling, and a long-term assessment of the future of EU food regulation. We summarise some of the key takeaways from the session.
Planning & Environment partner, Jay Sattin highlighted Ireland’s ambitious Climate Action Plan target to develop a climate-neutral food system by 2050. A core part of the strategy to achieve this end goal is increased sustainability in the food and beverage sector. Jay outlined the Extended Producer Responsibility (ERP) schemes for general packaging and for the food / drink sector, as well as the imminent Deposit Return scheme for bottles and cans.
Corporate Governance partner, Emer Shelly, emphasised that ESG is becoming a priority for company boards as stakeholders continue to increase their focus on ESG credentials. Emer also discussed how the new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, which arises from the European Green Deal’s climate change action objectives, introduces a detailed regime of mandatory annual ESG reporting. While the CSRD applies mainly to large companies and listed SMEs, it will nonetheless likely have spill-over effects on all businesses. This is due to the value chain reporting requirements, and changing expectations amongst stakeholders.
Cara Cooke, a partner in our Corporate team, identified the proposed Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive as another source of sustainability obligations. Once made law, the Directive will require large companies to monitor their supply chain to identify and mitigate adverse human rights and environmental impacts arising from their operations.
The future of packaging and labelling
Gerard Kelly, Partner & Head of Intellectual Property, gave an overview of trends in IP protection – from audiovisual trademarks, to design right enforcement and passing off actions. Lookalike packaging remains a difficult issue, as there is “no tort of copying”, and IP lawyers await a decision on the “unfair advantage” claim by Thatchers Cider in the UK High Court.
Intellectual Property partner, Hazel McDwyer discussed how the proposed EU Green Claims Directive will introduce obligations to substantiate any eco or environmental claims by reference to the product’s full life cycle, and to have those claims independently certified. Hazel outlined greenwashing cases where advertisements with green claims for foods have been banned as the court held that the claims were overstated. The regulation of labelling of plant-based alternatives was also on the agenda, with France leading the cause in Europe by seeking to prohibit the use of meat-related terms, eg steak, for plant-based foods.
EU food regulation – what’s on the horizon?
Raymond O’Rourke, barrister and EU food law expert, in a Q&A session with Product Regulation partner, James Gallagher provided some high-level insights into the future of food regulation at EU level over the next five years.
Raymond noted that developments over the next 12 months are likely to relate to food information (separate proposals on front-of-pack nutrition labelling and date-marking rules), food contact materials and a proposal for a legislative framework for sustainable food systems.
In the next three to five years, Raymond noted that we should expect a renewed focus on the regulation of plant-based (vegan, vegetarian) food and ultra-processed food. Beyond that, the growth in personalised nutrition – resulting from the increasing convergence of health science, food production and technology – will likely be a big trend.
Our specialist lawyers have experience in advising food producers and suppliers across the spectrum of EU food obligations and would be happy to assist companies facing these challenges. Contact a member of our Food, Agriculture & Beverage team for more information and expert advice.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.