Are manufacturers feeling the pressure of label legislation?

02nd July 2014 - Fine Cut

The recent saga surrounding the introduction of the European Union's latest food labelling standards at the end of the year has highlighted just how complex it can be to initiate industry-wide changes to what makes a product's packaging compliant with the law.

At times, getting it right can be an expensive and lengthy process, but not as pricey as getting it wrong and subsequently being caught out by those enforcing such legislation. There's little wonder the British Retail Consortium recently warned regulators of its concerns that its members were struggling to meet the December deadline.

However, the food industry isn't the only sector to experience such a challenge. While consumer protection should always be the key focus when it comes to labelling, are we already in the territory of asking manufacturers to do too much to comply? At what point does looking after the customer's interests descend into unnecessary nannying?

Along with the threat of fines and other sanctions from regulators, there can often also be the risk of lawsuits originating from those who feel they have been wronged as a result of a poorly-worded or inaccurate label.

The US in particular perhaps has a reputation for the latter course of action occurring and the annual Wacky Warning Label contest - organised by Bob Jones, the author of 'Remove Child Before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever' - highlights the extent some firms will go to in order to ensure they will not fall foul of the rules.

Now in its 17th year, this alone proves the practice of going over the top when it comes to inappropriate packaging is hardly anything new. However, this also suggests that the situation that encourages firms to make such mistakes in the first place isn't moving forward, either.

Previous winners of the dubious honour include 'Harmful if swallowed' on a brass fishing hook, and the inspiration for Mr Jones' book title - 'Remove child before folding' - which was found on a baby's pram.

This year, there are still plenty of contenders for the crown. Among them are 'Do not drink', which appears on a printer ink toner cartridge and a sticker on American football helmets that reads 'No helmet system can protect you from serious brain and/or neck injuries including paralysis or death. To avoid these risks, do not engage in the sport of football'.

For Mr Jones, the contest highlights a serious problem with the current system.

"In the era of excessive litigation in America, product makers must constantly guard against being sued for not warning about even the most obvious things - like a recent label I saw which said 'Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover'," he said in a statement.

With this in mind, the question needs to be asked whether it is legislation manufacturers are feeling the pressure of or the trend in society to look for someone to blame? The latter could certainly be the reason why these 'wacky labels' exist, with companies seemingly looking to exonerate themselves from any mishap, regardless of how obvious the advice they offer may appear to be to the reasonable person.

Is this something that is likely to change in the future? Or will similar messages continue to form a part of our culture? It's probable the latter will be the more accurate scenario, but only time will tell.

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