Informed consent is a requirement for every contract’s conclusion, including the contract that a person enters into with the seller of the food product by purchasing the said product. Food labels play an important role in the purchase and sale of any food product. Food labels provide information that helps the consumer to make an informed decision about their purchase. The information provided on the food label includes directions of use and storage to ensure the consumer’s safe and healthy well-being. The consumer can decide on his purchase according to his dietary requirements, which further adds to the consumer’s satisfaction.
The United Arab Emirates, through its Ministerial Decision no. 26 of 1984 of the implementing regulation to the federal law no. 4 of 1979 concerning quashing adulteration and fraud in commercial transactions (hereinafter referred to as ‘the implementing law’) has provided us with the regulations regarding the food labeling on the food packaging. The implementing law defines labels as any statement, clarification, mark, or descriptive article, whether pictorial, written, printed, affixed, or engraved on the package of a product or connected to it. These labels are sometimes also referred to as ‘Illustrative Information.’ The term ‘package’ for the present regulation means any form or shape by which the food product is packaged to be sold as an independent unit, whether containing whole or in parts. This definition of ‘package’ also includes wraps and envelopes. The term ‘packaged’ used here refers to anything packaged in advance to be sold by the retail in packages.
The regulations provided by the implementing law with regards to the information to be included and how it is to be included are enlisted below:
1. The first and the most important rule regarding the labeling is that it should display only the true information and should in no way mislead the consumers into thinking the product to be some other product or misinform them about the attribute and characteristics of the said product or even the origin and source of the product. Such practices of misleading are considered fraud and are penalized by law.
2. The information included on the label must be clear and conspicuous so that the consumer may easily avail of it.
3. The information hidden through some painted, written, or printed material is not considered to be provided.
4. The information should be written in color so different from the color of the background on which it is printed that the consumer may read it with ease.
5. The print of the information should be with a material that cannot be easily removed.
6. The food product’s name must be written in alphabetical letters of a reasonable size compared to other information specified on the label.
7. If an external wrap covers the package, this wrap must bear all the necessary information, and it must not cover the label of the package or preclude from reading its information with ease.
8. If the food products contain any animal derivatives such as gelatin, fat, meat, enzymes, etc., a clear mention of the sane should be included on the label with details regarding the name and type of animals from which such substances are extracted.
9. The products containing alcohol are to indicate in that regard.
10. If the food product is to be used for specific conditions, the same should be mentioned on the label. E.g., sugar produced for diabetic patients should have the same mentioned on the label.
11. Products containing nutrients such as vitamins and minerals must have detailed information regarding the kinds and quantities of the nutrients available per unit of the product. Also, if such products are to be used for special purposes, their suitability is provided.
12. Food products processed through ionizing radiation must have the same mentioned on the label.
13. A general name describing the product must be mentioned on the label. The name must be such that it tells the consumer what the product actually is, and it should not mislead the consumers into believing the product to be something else.
14. It is required to write on the label a listing of ingredients of the food product arranged in descending order under the proportion of each except for the following instances:
a) If the food product is dried and provided to be prepared by adding water, it is allowed to arrange the ingredients in descending order according to its proportion in the food product prepared after adding water under the title of “ingredients after preparation.”
b) If the composition of the food product is known and that the non – advertising of its ingredients will not contribute to misleading the consumer, the information specified on the label of the package shall enable the consumer to understand the nature of the food product.
c) If any of the approved standard specifications has otherwise been specified.
15. Where components of the food product may consist of several different sub-components, such sub-components are mentioned. This rule’s exception lies where the component is a food product that its approved standard specification does not require a listing of the whole components with its sub-components.
16. Water should also be added as one of the components, especially where it provides a better understanding of the product’s composition.
17. Preservatives, bleaching, coloring, or any other authorized additive substances present in the food product must be mentioned.
18. Instructions about storage, transportation, and directions of use must be included on the label.
19. Net contents of the ingredients or components must be listed with its quantities in metric units according to its form as follows:
a) In the case of liquid food products, the volume must be provided.
b) In the case of solid food products, the weight must be provided, except for products sold by the number for which the number is mentioned.
c) In the case of sticky and semi-solid food products, either the weight or volume may be provided.
d) In instances where the food product is inserted in a liquid that is to be discarded before usage, information of the net contents must specify the package’s net weight and the net weight of the strained product.
20. Net contents in a metric unit for foods shall be provided according to the following:
a) In frozen food products, the net weight or volume must be decided at the freezing point.
b) In refrigerated food products, the net weight or volume must be specified at the degree of temperature 4ƒ.
c) In the case of preserved food products, the net weight or volume shall be specified at a degree of temperature 20ƒ.
21. Information regarding the source and origin of the product must be specifically and clearly provided.
22. The production, manufacture, packaging, and Expiration date of the product is mentioned.
23. The labeling may be in several languages. Still, one of the languages has to be Arabic, and the information provided in other languages has to conform to the information provided in Arabic.
Production and sale of products that do not conform to the above labeling regulations may be penalized with a term of imprisonment or fine or both of the penalties. In import products, products without such labeling or the labeling in confirmation with the above guidelines are not allowed entry in the United Arab Emirates.
Both producers and consumers must keep the above in mind. Consumers have the right to take legal action against the producers if food labels do not meet the above requirements. It is advisable to consult a lawyer to file the appropriate action before the Consumer Protection Department at the Ministry of Economic.