There is a broad array of EU legislation pertaining to the marking, labeling, and packaging of products in the European Union. The first step in investigating the marking, labeling, and packaging legislation that might apply to a product entering the European Union is to draw a distinction between what is mandatory and what is voluntary. Decisions related to mandatory marking, labeling, or packaging requirements may sometimes be left up to individual Member States. Furthermore, voluntary marks and labels are used as marketing tools in some Member States but not in others.
It is also important to distinguish between marks and labels. A mark is a symbol and/or pictogram that appears on a product or its respective packaging. These range in scope from signs of danger to indications of methods of proper recycling and disposal. The intention of such marks is to provide market surveillance authorities, importers, distributors, and end users with information concerning safety, health, energy efficiency and environmental issues relating to a product. Labels, on the other hand, appear in the form of written text or numerical statements, which may be required but are not necessarily universally recognizable. Labels typically indicate more specific information about a product, such as measurements or an indication of materials that may be found in the product (such as in textiles or batteries).
Manufacturers should be mindful that, in addition to the EU’s mandatory and voluntary schemes, national voluntary labeling schemes might still apply. These schemes may be highly appreciated by consumers, and thus, become unavoidable for marketing purposes. An overview of EU mandatory and voluntary labeling and marking requirements are outlined in the European Union Country Commercial Guide.
In Ireland, with only minor exceptions, there are no general requirements for marking imported goods with the country of origin. One notable exception is that the Irish authorities require that the name and the EU address of the manufacturer, distributor, or packer also appear on the label. Certain food products must show particulars of place of origin, where its absence might mislead the consumer. Requirements for specific products should be obtained from the Irish importer. U.S. suppliers should also note that:
- The import, export, or transit of non-Irish goods with markings that would lead one to believe that the goods are of Irish manufacture or origin is prohibited.
- False or misleading trademarks, product descriptions, and other deceptive indications are also prohibited. Goods may not be imported with marks suggestive of Irish origin unless they bear an indication of their true origin.
- There are no regulations for the marking of shipping packages. Proper shipping practice dictates that packages should bear the consignee’s mark and be numbered unless the shipment is such that the content of the packages can be readily identified without numbers.
- Packaged foods must carry labels that conform to Irish labeling requirements. The information shown on the label is designed to provide the consumer with adequate details about the products including details on ingredients, net weight, “best before” date, “use by” date, and general usage instructions.
- In relation to “best before” and “use by” dates, U.S. exporters should note that in Ireland dates are written in the following sequence: date, month, and year. For example: November 30, 2021 can be written as 30 Nov 21, 30-11-21, or 30/11/21.
- Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2018 contains a range of provisions, including minimum unit pricing of alcohol products; health labelling of alcohol products; regulation of advertising and sponsorship; structural separation of alcohol products in mixed trading outlets; and the regulation of the sale and supply of alcohol in certain circumstances. The measures, which diverge from EU-wide requirements, have the potential to generate additional administrative costs and detrimentally impact the ability of U.S. exporters to reallocate product in the European market. In particular, the requirement that alcohol labels contain cancer warnings, health warnings and pregnancy warning will impact all alcohol exports to Ireland.
Manufacturers are advised to take note that all labels require metric units although dual labeling remains acceptable. The use of language on labels has been the subject of a Commission Communication, which encourages multilingual information, while preserving the freedom of Member States to require the use of language of the country of consumption.