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France to allow exceptions to food labeling rules amid war in Ukraine

PARIS — France will temporarily allow food companies to tweak recipes of products containing sunflower oil and adapt their food labels later.

French officials Tuesday announced that Paris will allow derogations to food labeling obligations for two months, except for essential information. After that, companies will have to adapt their labels, including with stickers.

The announcement comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused shortages of sunflower oil, and companies that want to replace it with other products such as rapeseed oil or palm oil are struggling to adapt their food labels in time.

While recipe tweaks due to sunflower oil shortages will be needed “very soon … changing packaging takes relatively long,” a French economy ministry official said on Tuesday, presenting the derogation scheme with representatives of industry and consumer groups.

“Hundreds or thousands of products could be impacted by those [recipe] reformulations,” a French economy ministry official told reporters, mentioning not only oil bottles, but also margarine, cakes and fried products.

Derogation will however be possible for nonessential information on the labels only and therefore won’t apply for instance to changes with an impact on allergens or which would contradict terms such as “palm oil-free” on the labels. Those essential changes will have to be immediately displayed, for example by adding stickers.

An official from France’s Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) explained that noncompliant products could be withdrawn from the market and companies risk a criminal procedure for misleading commercial practices.

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