21 September 2023

Dutch Food Regulations: product safety, process and food presentation

Category: Food and commodities practice

Food law is not only an essential area of law, but also topical, as demonstrated by the recall of Offermans products last October in the Netherlands. The contaminated meat caused a great deal of controversy. When an entrepreneur wants to market a foodstuff or food supplement, he or she is faced with a complex system of regulatory compliance, i.e. food law: permissions, approvals, permits and sometimes even exemptions, in which the first step is to determine whether a ‘foodstuff’ is involved. Advice from a food law lawyer can therefor be quite helpful.

General Foodstuffs Ordinance and Commodities Act

The basis of food law is the General Food Regulation (ALV)). This body of rules for food safety and food quality is the same for all countries in the European Union. The ALV sets out the principles that a ‘food company’ must comply with, and paves the way for a large number of additional regulations and (in the Netherlands) Commodities Act decrees that lay down specific rules for the organisation of your business. The Commodities Act specifies the requirements that foodstuffs and other products must meet. Also check out: Food products in the Netherlands – the Dutch food rules.

The core of food law: product, process and presentation nutrition

The regulation of food and food supplements is based on three pillars: Product, Process and Presentation.

The Product is the core of the business process. The content must be in order. This concerns the composition of the foodstuff, the use of food improvement agents (such as additives, enzymes and flavourings and colourings), food safety, novel foods, food for special target groups (babies, top athletes, people with diabetes) and the composition of food supplements. Detailed regulations determine what may and may not be contained in a product (or in what quantities) and how the product may subsequently be sold.

The Process is often where the most complex questions about food rules arise. Any food business operating at any stage of food production, processing or distribution must shape its process in accordance with HACCP principles, comply with the requirement of traceability and pay particular regard to food contact materials. Compliance is essential. In addition to classifying the process on the basis of the HACCP principles, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Good Hygiene Practices (GHPs) can be derived from hygiene codes.

The Presentation of the product is a subject with many specific questions. It is strictly defined at the European level as what information should and should not be displayed on a food label and then how that information should be presented. The labelling of food products is crucial. In addition, a question that often arises is whether certain ‘claims’ about a food product are acceptable. Can a product be called ‘organic’? What is the strictly regulated ‘medical claim’ (as opposed to the ‘health claim’)? Does CBD in a product have a beneficial effect? Can a Belgian flag be used on ‘Belgian Chocolate’ produced in the Netherlands? Enforcement looks strictly at claims and does not shy away from imposing hefty fines.

Enforcement of food legislation by supervisor NVWA

These consequences can be very diverse, ranging from a simple warning letter to criminal prosecution and/or administrative fines. More in that in our blog on enforcement by Dutch regulatory authority. In some cases, when it is necessary for consumer safety, the products may have to be removed from the shelves, a ‘recall’, as was the case with Offermans. Even a (temporary) closure of the company is possible. The Blenheim lawyers can assist you with all these enforcement issues. More often than not it can be argued that enforcement is not proportionate, that another form of enforcement should have been chosen and/or that the government can be held liable for lawful or unlawful actions. In doing so, the authorities must follow their enforcement policy, policies which are closely monitored by Blenheim’s administrative lawyers, with relevant changes being communicated to our clients. Please also read our blog on Novel Food in the Netherlands.

Liability for damage caused by food

Finally, tort law is also an integral part of Dutch food law. Damage or injury that has occurred can result in compensation. It may be another food company or retailer that you want to hold liable for damages suffered. A company in the food sector can also suffer damage if, for example, a raw material or ingredient that is delivered does not meet the legal requirements. Other mistakes made by a supplier can also cause major damage. Better be safe then sorry. We’re happy to asist you with that.

Advice from a Dutch food law lawyer

A lawyer at Blenheim can assist you in difficult food issues and new products. We offer tailor-made and practical solutions from a specialized team, and the possibility of an integrated approach.

Please contact attorney Mark van Weeren for a question or to discuss what we can do for you.