New Bulgarian Food Act to guarantee quality of foodstuffs and implement EU food regulations

Bulgaria

A new Bulgarian  Food Act came into force on 21 July 2020, which guarantees for consumers the quality of foodstuffs during all stages of production. The new Food Act also harmonises national legislation with applicable EU food regulations, including the introduction of nеw meanings for certain industry terms (e.g. food business operators, production sites, etc.).

The regulations contained in the new Food Act include requirements for:

  • the terms and conditions for ensuring food hygiene and safety, food packaging, labelling and presentation, including food advertising;
  • all stages of production, processing and food distribution;
  • production sites for the wholesale and retail of materials that will be in contact with food;
  • transportation of food;
  • distance selling;
  • ·natural mineral water, spring water and table water;
  • foods designated for enfants and children, and foodstuffs for special medical purposes containing added vitamins, minerals and other substances;
  • genetically modified foods;
  • terms and conditions for exporting foods;
  • authorities in charge of food manufacturing and trade control;
  • establishing a National Foods Council as a permanent consultative body to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, that will assist in conducting the state food policies;
  • industry organisations of food manufacturers, processors and distributors, their functions and role in the development of state policies and food regulation and self-regulation;
  • other requirements concerning food.

Business operators, as defined by the new Food Act, are natural or legal persons who produce, process and distribute food. These food business operators are responsible for ensuring compliance with the applicable legal requirements at all stages of food production, processing and distribution, including conditions at production sites. A “site” is considered any location where there is entrepreneurial activity for profit or non-profit purposes related to the production, processing and distribution of food, and includes the land, buildings, transportation vehicles and other assets involved in these activities.

All activity for the production, processing and distribution of food is subject to mandatory registration and approval of the production site by the regional directorate of the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency (BFSA). The production of mineral water, spring water and table water require registration with Regional Health Inspectorates.

The websites of the BFSA and the Ministry of Health will include public registers of business operators and production sites. Registration certificates issued under the repealed Food Act will be valid until the expiry of each certificate. Also, some previously unregulated activities now require registration under the new Food Act (e.g. registration for food distance selling).

Food distance selling involves distance communication that is defined as any means by which the supplier and consumer conclude a contract without their simultaneous physical presence. Business operators must apply for registration at least 14 days before starting food distance selling.

Distance selling is prohibited for food designed for enfants and children under the age of three years and food for special medical purposes. According to the Food Act, distance-selling business operators must bring their activity in compliance with the requirements and register their activity within three months after the new Food Act goes into force.

The Food Act provides for the establishment of the National Food Council, which will function as a permanent advisory body to assist the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Foresty. The National Council will be made up of the Ministers of Health, the Economy, Environment and Water, Labour and Social Policy, Education and Science, and the Director of the BFSA, the Director of Risk Assesment Centre on Food Chains, the Chief Health State Inspector, the Chairperson of the National Association of Municipalities in Republic of Bulgaria, representatives of various universities, representatives of consumer protection associations and representatives of industry organisations of food producers and processors, drinks producers, mineral and bottled water producers, and food and beverage retailers for specialised stores and restaurants.

Other industry organisations will be able to take part at the National Council in an advisory capacity.

The National Council will have an important role in forming national food policies and regulations, and will approve industry standards and good practices.

The new Food Act introduces regulations for the advertising of genetically modified and unhealthy foods. The participation of children will be strictly prohibited in commercial communications, advertising or promoting genetically modified foods and foods that contain ingredients that children are legally restricted from consuming or foods that contain nutrients and substances with nutritional or physiological effect that do not meet the requirements of healthy nutrition in accordance with existing regulations.

Business operators will be liable for all advertising. (Importantly, there are still no legal requirements for healthy nutrition).

Business operators will be able to consult on the legislative process through the National Council and their industry organisations. 

Violation of advertising prohibitions can lead to fines of between BGN 2,000 and BGN 3,000.

The level of sanctions imposed for other violations of the food related regulations is increased.

According to the new Food Act, vehicles transporting animal-based foods and foods that contain flour or confectionery products must be registered under a special regime. Once registered, these products will be certified with a sticker.

Food business operators will need to register food supplements and foods designed for intensive muscle training before distributing these products in the Bulgarian market. Applications for registration must be submitted to the BFSA, which may require the results from expert reports or other scientific research, proving that the supplements are consistent with the composition, characteristics and purpose of the product. Food supplements and foods designed for intensive muscle training will be listed in a register available on BFSA’s website.

In regard to foods for enfants and children, foods for special medical purposes and foods that contain added vitamins, minerals and other substances, food business operators must apply for registration with the Ministry of Health before these products can enter the Bulgarian market.

Newly introduced regulations concern the labelling of products as being a “product from Bulgaria” and a “product produced in Bulgaria”. The labelling of a “product from Bulgaria” only applies to primary products that can be obtained in the territory of Bugaria. The label a “product from Bulgaria” can only be placed on a product if the primary ingredient is obtained in Bulgaria and all stages of the manufacturing process were completed in Bulgaria.

A “primaty ingredient” is defined as an ingredient that represents more than 50% of the food or is an ingredient the consumer usually associates with the name of the food.

The label “product from Bulgaria” can be combined with a geographical map or another symbol associated with Bulgaria.

For more information on the new Food Act and food-industry regulations in Bulgaria, contact your regular CMS advisor or local CMS experts: Nevena Radlova and Anna Tanova. The article is co-authored by Teodora Peycheva, Student at CMS Sofia.