A tricky legal translation problem: food packaging

I’ve written before about a court case which concluded that UK retailer Tesco mis-translated the phrase chocolate powder into Czech. Translation and food packaging – Language Miscellany

The judgement of the EU Court of Justice was produced in French. When I wrote before on this case, the official English translation wasn’t yet available.  The English version is now available. It shows how the EU translators dealt with a tricky translation problem.

Background

The EU Cocoa and Chocolate Products Directive requires retailers to use specified terms in labelling some cocoa and chocolate products. For one category of these products, the English version of the Directive specifies 2 terms (powdered chocolate, chocolate in powder) but versions in some other languages specify only one term. For example, the official Czech version uses only čokoláda v prašku (‘chocolate in powder’).

On products it sold in the Czech Republic, the UK-based supermarket Tesco used the term čokoládový prašek (‘chocolate powder’). Tesco had created its Czech wording by translating the official German term Schokoladenpulver (the only term permitted by the Directive’s German version) and one of two terms permitted by the Polish version (proszek czekoladowy). The Polish version also permits czekolada w proszku.

The European Court of Justice ruled that the term Tesco used on its Czech labels is not acceptable. When EU legislation requires particular terms to be used, those terms must be the ones specified in the version of the legislation in a language easily understandable in the member state where the product is sold—in this case, Czech. The terms must not be just a free translation from other official language versions of the legislation.

The text of the Court’s Judgement is available at https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/TXT/?uri=CELEX:62019CJ0881

What was the translation problem?

The translation problem arises because the Directive permit only one term in some language versions (including Czech, French and German) but permit two alternative terms in other languages (including English and Polish).

Paragraph 35 of the Court’s judgement says, in the orginal French: un produit qui consiste en un mélange de cacao en poudre et de sucres contenant au moins 32 % de cacao en poudre doit être désigné, aux fins de l’application de ladite directive, comme du «chocolat en poudre». Paragraph 36 says something similar.

That wording says those products must be labelled as chocolat en poudre. That statement reflects accurately the Directive’s French version. Similarly, the Czech translation of that wording uses the official term čokoláda v prášku, reflecting accurately the Directive’s Czech version.

I was curious to see how the official EU translators would render those two paragraphs in English:

  • if they translated chocolat en poudre just by chocolate in powder, the statement would not accurately reflect the Directive’s English version, which also permits the alternative term chocolate powder.
  • if they translated chocolat en poudre by chocolate powder, chocolate in powder, the English version would appear to add an alternative not available in the French version.

In fact, the EU translators opted for the first option in the Polish translation. It says:

Po drugie, z części A pkt 2 lit. c) załącznika I do dyrektywy 2000/36 w związku z art. 3 pkt 1 oraz motywem 7 tej dyrektywy wynika, że do celów stosowania owej dyrektywy produkt, który składa się z mieszanki proszku kakaowego i cukrów, zawierający nie mniej niż 32% proszku kakaowego, powinien być oznaczany jako „czekolada w proszku”.
(emphasis added)

So, the Polish translation of paragraph 35 appears:

  • to require the term czekolada w proszku; and
  • to prohibit the other term permitted by the Directive’s Polish version (proszek czekoladowy).

How did the EU translators solve the problem?

The English translation has now appeared. The translators have opted for a third way. Here is what paragraph 35 says:

Secondly, it is clear from point 2(c) of part A of Annex I to Directive 2000/36, in conjunction with Article 3(1) and recital 7 of that directive, that a product that consists of a mixture of cocoa powder and sugars, containing at least 32% cocoa powder, must be designated, for the purposes of the application of that directive, as ‘čokoláda v prášku’ (‘powdered chocolate’ or ‘chocolate in powder’ in English).
(emphasis added)

The translators’ ingenious solution:

  • uses the official Czech term to translate the French term used in the Directive’s French version; and
  • adds an English translation (using both terms specified in the Directive’s English version), also specifying explicitly that the translation applies ‘in English’.

Advantages of the translator’s solution

That version avoids the disadvantages of the 2 options I mentioned above. It does not create the appearance of:

  • prohibiting one of the two alternative terms permitted by the Directive’s English version (chocolate powder).
  • introducing a new option to use in French a term corresponding more closely to English chocolate powder, as an alternative to the only term permitted: chocolat en poudre (‘chocolate powder’).

Disadvantages of the translator’s solution

Nevertheless, the translators’ solution isn’t perfect:

  • it uses a Czech term in a general statement applying throughout the EU. That might appear to privilege the Czech version over all other versions in other official languages of the EU.
  • it doesn’t make clear the intended meaning of the phrase ‘in English’. I think the intended meaning is that the phrase to be used in English is chocolate powder or powder in chocolate.

Perhaps the following would have been clearer:

Secondly, it is clear from point 2(c) of part A of Annex I to Directive 2000/36, in conjunction with Article 3(1) and recital 7 of that directive, that a product that consists of a mixture of cocoa powder and sugars, containing at least 32% cocoa powder, must in French be designated, for the purposes of the application of that directive, as ‘chocolat en poudre’ (in English as ‘powdered chocolate’ or ‘chocolate in powder’ in English).
(underlining shows my additions and strikethrough shows my deletion)

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