Food labeling: a change in approach

The new food law adopted by Parliament in June 2014 brought about the revision of 27 ordinances (date of entry into effect: May 1, 2017). From that date onwards, any new food will be authorized in principle, whereas previously, authorization before marketing was required. Labeling will also see some changes. 

On average, a Swiss supermarket has 30,000 different food items on its shelves. New products and foods regularly make their appearance there.

Today, you either have to define a new product in an ordinance to market it or receive authorization from the Swiss Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (OSAV). Any product which is not explicitly mentioned in the legislation is banned. This approach will be changing with the entry into force of the new law. In the future, bans will be recorded (as opposed to approvals) in the legislation. In other words, any product not banned by law will be marketable, as long as this product is safe.

This change and all the other content of the new food law of June 2014 (date of entry into force: May 1, 2017) are aimed at aligning with European Union (EU) legislation. The level of consumer protection introduced by European legislation is not just one of the highest in the world—the EU is also the main export market for Swiss products. 

The limits of the authorization in principle

The main food definitions already established by food legislation remain in force. In order to be marketed as “butter”, “honey”, “milk”, “chocolate” or “olive oil” for example, a product must comply with the specifications already defined.

Another exception: importing “novel foods” into Switzerland, that is to say, foods not well-known to consumers because they are not part of Western tradition (for example, a juice made with rare Asian plants). Applications for authorization must be filed in order to sell these products. The aim of this authorization is to protect consumers against potential allergy or toxicology risks. 

Providing more detail about food origins

Unlike the European Union, Switzerland continues to require a certain number of details about food origins. These are restrictions which the legislator has developed in some cases.

For processed products, such as cornflakes or energy bars, it will now be possible to mention only a geographical area (“EU”, “Oceania”) rather than the country of production.

Producers must indicate the origin of an ingredient when it constitutes nearly 50% of the mixture (milk for yogurt for example) or 20% for meat (such as beef in lasagna). And lastly, if an ingredient confers added value on a product, it is the producer’s responsibility to indicate the origin (for example, the origin of hazelnuts in a chocolate bar).

This approach also applies to meat and fish. After entry into force (the exact date is yet to be defined), the birthplace of the animal, the place where it has lived for the majority of its life, and the place where it has been fattened will also have to be specified, along with the place of slaughter or catch. 

Facilitated self-inspection

For small production undertakings with fewer than nine employees, self-inspection and traceability have been simplified. Fewer documents will need to be submitted. However, if companies come into contact with fresh food - such as fish in a sushi plant - these simplifications will not apply given the risks.


Last modification 20.02.2020

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