It is a year since the new Bulgarian Foodstuff Act1 (the Law) entered into force. The law was passed during the pandemic in 2020 with many changes to the original draft, made in parliament without the consensus of the necessary control bodies. Therefore its application produced some tension at the beginning. The control bodies turned out to be surprised by the extra amendments and because of this – were insufficiently prepared for some newly assigned tasks which they were required to perform in a short time frame with many or most people working from home office, adding an extra layer of complexity.
The Law has several cornerstone innovations, and the problems stemming from them have almost been resolved during the past one year.
Regulation of the online and distance food sales
The boom in food e-commerce during the quarantine period led to such commerce being properly reflected in the Law. The Law provides that distance and online sales of food can only be carried out by food business operators registered for such activities. The legislator introduced a register which may facilitate the BFSA's2 control over e-commerce, food fraud and pirated products.
In order to create and develop the register, the legislator obliges all online food retailers, including online food supply platforms (online markets), to register their Bulgarian contact details .
Online marketplaces are obliged to establish a single point of contact (through the Safety Gate portal), allowing for direct communication with market surveillance authorities in relation to product safety issues.
The register of food business operators performing distance sale of food is public. It is available on the web page of the BFSA.
It is interesting to note that food business operators registered for distance sale of food are prohibited from performing online and distance sales of food for infants and young children and food for special medical purposes.
Registration procedure for food supplements and food for athletes
The Law brought back to life so-called "food for athletes". The legally stipulated definition reads that the foods intended to meet the specific nutritional needs of the body during intense muscular activity used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions are "foods intended for use during intense muscular exertion" (in short, food for athletes).
As of June 2020, food business operators are obliged to register each food supplement or food for athletes with the BFSA before releasing it on the Bulgarian market. The application is based on a template approved and published on the BFSA website.
The application must indicate the date of placing the relevant food product on the market in Bulgaria, the place of manufacture of the product and whether it will be the subject of distance sale or not. Further, if the product is not produced in Bulgaria, the original label/product specification has to be added to the application along with the Bulgarian language label.
BFSA is entitled to request the business operator to submit research or data that establishes compliance with the requirements for the composition, the characteristics and the purpose of the products, as well as other necessary information. Further, the BFSA may request specialised institutions in the country (i.e. the Bulgarian Center for Risk Assessment, the National Center for Public Health and Analysis, the Bulgarian Anti-Doping Center, etc.) to provide an opinion on the compliance of the product applied for registration.
Notification procedure for infant formulas, follow-on formulas and foods containing added vitamins and minerals
Food business operators will be required to notify the Ministry of Health before placing infant formulas, follow-on formulas and foods containing added vitamins and minerals on the Bulgarian market. This practically means that the Ministry of Health, as well as the BFSA (which is structurally subordinated to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry) have control over these types of foods. This type of control is reminiscent of the situation before the establishment of the BFSA and the unification of the official food control.
The procedure starts with a notification application to the Ministry of Health which in fact only collects the data to notify or request an opinion from the BFSA. That is why for the time being this procedure is difficult from a communication perspective. In the last year, the Ministry of Health has explicitly set its priorities on the fight against the spread of Covid-19 and therefore has been concentrating its efforts in this direction. It is still difficult to predict whether the role of the Ministry of Health can be described as effective in relation to this notification regime. Anyway, based on the experience of the last year, we may easily conclude that the legislator may need to rethink some of the administrative procedures imposed by the Law, starting with the notification procedure.
Greening the Food and Agri Sector
This is a new and exciting topic, although it is too early to talk about a certain targeted legislative approach. However, the Bulgarian legislator adopted some amendments to the legislation concerning the management of packaging waste, and revived the requirement for the packaging to be printed with the code of the material from which it is made.
All attempts by the legislator to strengthen control over the distance sale of food have the goal of achieving a high degree of consumer confidence in this retail channel. It is no secret that in Bulgaria online food platforms and deliveries are the preferred method for the sale of food by small independent organic farms.
Therefore, the legislative steps taken can generally be described as the beginning of a policy for sustainable greening of the local food industry.
1 As published in the State Gazette on 9 June 2020.
2 Bulgarian Food Safety Agency