The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has published a report entitled “Calories on menus in Ireland – Report on a National Consultation June 2012”.
This report comes at a time when the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland (FSANI) is running a pilot scheme encouraging food businesses to display calorie information in places such as restaurants, cafes and takeaways.
There are a number of caterers operating both north and south of the border and a harmonised approach to providing calorie information is essential. This is recognised in the FSAI’s report where it says that such an approach will result in cost benefits to industry and will facilitate a better understanding for consumers.
The FSAI report makes six key recommendations including the implementation of a calorie menu labelling scheme in Irish food service businesses and the introduction of calorie menu labelling on a voluntary basis. This will be evaluated after a suitable period of time when the FSAI will consider whether a mandatory scheme is required.
The report also notes that the FSAI and the FSANI should continue their collaboration with a view to introducing a harmonised calorie menu labelling scheme across the whole island of Ireland.
The FSAI has also published technical guidance for food businesses as well as a guide about what calorie information consumers can expect to see on menus.
Putting the number of calories in a foodstuff on a menu will provide consumers with useful information from which they can make informed choices about what they eat. Nevertheless the impact on food businesses, particularly in the SME sector, in terms of additional time and cost could be very significant. The FSAI report envisages there will be “initial support” for Irish food businesses to help them provide calorie information on menus.
The introduction of this scheme comes at a time when food businesses are still trying to come to terms with the impact of the EU Regulation on the provision of food information to consumers. The industry and the regulatory authorities will need to carefully plan and prepare for the changes to minimise the burden of compliance on businesses already facing difficulties in the tough economic climate.