From consumers requiring increasingly detailed information to constantly changing regulations, it is difficult to know what information should appear on a product and how it should be displayed. Here are the key labeling requirements in Switzerland.
Mr. Laufen is a baker from Muotathal (SZ). In response to requests from tourists wishing to buy souvenirs, he decides to create a selection of small taster sets. They are made up of a wooden board engraved with the name of the village, two pepper sausages and a small wrapped portion of cheese. They are adorned with a flag and the words “Swiss made”, as the products were supplied from companies in the canton.
After assembling the sets, Mr. Laufen naturally wishes to put a price sticker on his product. To make sure he knows what to do, he makes some inquiries. And, very soon, he finds himself caught up in an administrative vortex.
The cheese, in common with all prepackaged food, must contain information on the best-before date. Information on its nutritional value can also appear on the label. This requirement is governed by the order issued by the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA) on the labeling and advertising of foodstuffs (OEDAl), which is currently being reviewed. The manufacturer is responsible for such matters; however, to make sure, Mr. Laufen contacts the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO).
Whereas the wooden board is covered by the order relating to declarations on wood and wooden products, Mr. Laufen discovers that he needs to inform consumers of the source along with its commercial and scientific name, and the geographical area from which it originated. Information that he needs to request from the craftsman who produced the object.
The total weight, size and quantities of the assembly produced by the baker must be stated on the set label. The sausage comes with two metal clips, which somewhat complicates the process: namely, do they need to be included when calculating the weight of the object? These details are governed by the Federal Institute of Metrology and the order relating to declarations of quantities for bulk sales and prepackaging (ODqua).
The total price of the set is subject to compliance with the Price Indication Order (PIO). Whether it is mentioned on the final label or on a small display that the merchant has placed on his or her window, it must meet certain criteria.
Finally, the merchant discovers that the words "Swiss made" and the use of the flag are regulated. As explained by the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (IPI), the use of the Swiss cross or the Swiss flag in connection with products or their packaging is prohibited, even for Swiss products. In fact, this breaches the Federal Act on the Protection of the Swiss Coat of Arms and Other Public Signs (LPAP). However, the use of the Swiss cross is permitted for decorative purposes, in connection with services, and on advertising media, provided that it is not misleading regarding the origin of the products or services. In addition, the designation "Swiss made" is an indication of source under the Federal Act on the Protection of Trade Marks and Indications of Source (Trade Mark Protection Act, TmPA) and can only be applied to a product if the essential manufacturing process takes place in Switzerland and the percentage of the work performed in Switzerland to produce the item represents at least 50% of the cost price. The current conditions are vague and difficult to implement. The Federal Parliament changed the rules in June 2013 and the new regulations took effect on January 1, 2017.
Overall, Mr. Laufen will have to deal with the main Swiss regulations pertaining to labeling. The specific features of the latter are detailed below.
1. Swiss labeling standards are specific to the Confederation; however, they are largely compatible with European and global developments in this area. This is due to globalization, the importance of reducing export and import barriers for Swiss companies, and the need for consumers to have understandable benchmarks, as well as providing a safety guarantee.
The energy efficiency requirements for many electrical appliances are adapted to the current state of the art and the new requirements laid down by the EU. In 2017, a new Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals developed by the United Nations was introduced in Switzerland.
2. It is still important to point out that, with regard to the words ‘Swiss origin’, the rules stipulated by customs law differ partially from those set out in the law on indications of source. Goods designated as Swiss under customs law shall not necessarily be subject to the new law on indications of source; exporting companies should heed this difference.
3. A certain number of private and semi-public labels are managed by independent bodies. The Federal Consumer Affairs Bureau has produced a list of all labels currently used in Switzerland. This document establishes a difference between verification and conformity labels, ecological and environmental labels, corporate labels, quality labels, regional labels and origin labels.
4. The rules applicable to the labeling of products and goods depend, as we have seen, on various regulations and are the responsibility of specific federal offices. The five themed articles above on the left provide useful information and links to the websites of the offices concerned.