Mutual Recognition Principle – The Reality of the EU’s ‘One-Market’

With 27 Member States and millions of potential consumers, the European Union (EU) offers ample opportunity for food manufacturers and retailers. Trade in this region is governed by the Mutual Recognition Principle; in this blog, Ashbury’s EU and German food regulatory consultants delve into the detail of mutual recognition and its impact on the labelling compliance of food in these markets.  

Puzzle Pieces of the EU
Mutual Recognition can make product compliance feel like a puzzle.

What role does Mutual Recognition play? 

There is a common misconception that each EU Member State follows the same legal framework. Many food business operators selling in this region assume that if a product is legally compliant for France, it will be legally compliant for Germany for example. While there are harmonised regulations which all Member States should adhere to, each country also has its own framework of food labelling regulations described as ‘national’ legislation that will impact any food labelling requirements 

Enter Mutual Recognition – this plays the role of facilitating the free movement of goods between Member States. It means no Member can prohibit the sale of goods that are legally sold in another EU Member State if they comply with EU harmonised law (where it exists), even when they do not comply with the national legislation specific to each country. 

Take vitamins for example; EU harmonised law defines the specific forms of vitamins that are permitted for use in food supplements across the EU but there is no harmonisation regarding the levels of vitamins that can be used. Instead, each country sets its own maximum and minimum limits calculated based on the needs of consumers in their population.  

So, while Germany may have different maximum and minimum levels to France, under the Mutual Recognition (Regulation (EU) 2019/515), both Member States should allow the sale of the others food supplements in their respective markets. 

For local manufacturers selling domestically, (food supplements manufactured in France, for sale in France) they must comply with the relevant national-level regulations as well as EU harmonised law. 

What exceptions are there to the Mutual Recognition Principle? 

There are some exemptions to the rule, these  include: 

  1. Protection of public health, for example, the fortification of foodstuff 
  1. Protection of the environment such as recycling schemes like national Deposit Return Schemes.  

Referring to our supplements example, some ingredients might be considered medicinal above a certain concentration in Germany or specific warning statements are required – in these cases Germany could prohibit the sale of the food supplement in their territory with the justification that it is for the protection of health. This is the reason why we would generally advise doing a formulation check for food supplements to ensure compliance with the target market.  

Any reference to these exceptions in court must be justified with evidence. 

What does this mean for UK manufacturers selling into the EU? 

Given the UK has left the EU, this means any UK business manufacturing products in the UK for sale in the EU will need to reassess their food labelling compliance.  

The product and its packaging must comply with the legislation in the EU or EEA country in which the product is first placed on the market and with any harmonised regulations where they exist which means regulatory adaptation and translation is essential.  The product may subsequently circulate within the EU and will be able to be imported directly into other EU/EEA countries under the mutual recognition rules. 

The key point for UK businesses is that they cannot automatically sell products on the UK market into the EU under the mutual recognition principle unless they did so prior to 1 January 2021 and that any notifying body used e.g. a UK organic food control body, has been recognised post-Brexit by the EU.  Products newly introduced to the EU market will have to meet the regulations of the country they are first sold into. 

Join us in part two of Mutual Recognition – where we look at which specific organisations have been set up to help in the EU, and how valuable they are to exporters. For support in understanding which regulations apply to your products for sale in the EU, please do get in touch.

Useful links: 

Food and drink businesses: working with the EU – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) 

Placing manufactured goods on the EU market – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) 

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