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New code to protect image of Belgian chocolate

By Laura Crowley , 14-Aug-2008

The Belgian Royal Association of the Chocolate, Praline, Biscuits and Sugar Confectionery Industry (CHOPRABISCO) has developed a ‘Belgian Chocolate Code’ that provides guidelines for labelling chocolate as coming from Belgium.

The code will be introduced on September 1st and is aimed at protecting the reputation of Belgian chocolate manufacturers and their products, which are widely considered to be of high quality. It is also intended to prevent consumers being misled into buying Belgian chocolates that are not completely Belgian.

Above all, it is being introduced to ensure ‘Belgian chocolate’ does not become a generic term.

The code relates to the European directive 2000/13, which says labelling cannot be misleading and refers to origin and quality, for example.

“There is no specific law for chocolate labelling, and so we have put up this chocolate code to be more explicit.” Guy Gallet, secretary general for CHOPRABISCO, told ConfectioneryNews.com.

“It is quite common that chocolate products are mislabelled in this way, but we are proactive in preventing it.”

Belgium’s code was inspired by a similar one introduced by a Swiss chocolate association in the 1970s.

The code

‘Belgian Chocolate’ is defined as a mixture of ingredients that are refined and moulded in Belgium. This means the grinding of the beans does not necessarily have to take place in Belgium.

However, the code draws on differences between end products and finished product, saying that, for pralines for example, the product should be made entirely in Belgium to be called Belgian chocolate.

If only some of the chocolate was made in Belgium, the code recommends the use of the phrase ‘Made with Belgian chocolate’, so consumers are not led into believing it is 100 per cent Belgian.

It is also intended to crack down on companies labelling their products with phrases such as ‘Belgian style’ and ‘Belgian recipe’.

CHOPRABISCO hopes Belgian chocolate manufacturers will work with their customers to check the code is followed throughout Europe, as well as further afield.

The code has received support from the economic representatives of the Belgian Embassies and three regional export promotion agencies.

No legal weight

The code is a code of practice and, as such, is not compulsory.

Owen Warnock, partner and food law expert at international law firm Eversheds, said the code carries no legal weight.

He said: “Codes such as this are not that common in the food industry because of concerns that they are anti-competitive and stifle innovation, but many companies will have signed up to it and have agreed to abide by the code.

Legal action would only be brought by the relevant people in the different counties. For example, in Germany, it is rival companies who would make such a claim against misleading labelling, while in the UK, it would be the Trading Standards.

Warnock said: “Companies wanting to avoid problems should abide by the code. However, some aspects of the code are debatable.”

These requirements are not described in the directive 2000/13, he added, and could well be debated on.

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