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European union policies on food information and consumers : the case of labelling in Malta

European Union

Jan 01, 2021

Every consumer has the right for the provision of adequate information on food products. Food labelling has successfully adopted this right with regard to providing consumers with information on pre-packaged food. In the European Union (EU), regulations have been established to support consumers in attaining comprehensive information about the content of foodstuffs. Such legislation is necessary to assist consumers in making informed choices when purchasing a product, possibly leading to a healthier food alternative. As a small market economy, Malta suffers from inherent vulnerabilities particularly due to its limited market size. The countrys demand for food imports is continuously on the rise especially when considering Maltas growing population. Importers tend to rely on food products, and thus labelling coming from the main European markets, such as the Italian market, which helps meet the demands and keep costs low. The EUs regulation 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers aims to standardize the legislation on food labelling within all EU Member States, while preventing and penalising misleading information. However, language requirements are within the competence of the Member States, who must determine the suitable language or languages required for a countrys food product labels. Given that Malta is a bilingual country, one would assume that the languages present on labelling would be its two official languages. However, this is not the case, as through Legal Notice 201 of 1997, food labels may be presented in Maltese, or in English, or in Italian. Any other languages may also be used as long as one of Maltas official languages or Italian is present on the label. This particularly raises a question as to the influences this provision might have on the transmission of food information to the Maltese consumer. This study aims to answer this concern. For this reason, a qualitative method was applied throughout. An in-depth analysis of secondary data collected in the literature review was carried out to address the first research question. On the other hand, the second research question was addressed through the primary data collection method of elite interviews. A thematic analysis of the results obtained from this study show that several factors influence the transmission of food information to consumers. Some of these include: effective policy, government and stakeholder involvement, behavioural attitudes, demographics as well as the information provided on the labelling itself. Considering Maltas dependence on food importation mainly from Italy, it can be concluded that the Maltese legislation prioritizes profitability for food importers over the provision of comprehensible information for consumers.

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