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All In Favour Of Clearer Food Labelling, Say Yes

by 5m Editor
17 March 2010, at 12:00am

EU - The European Parliament Environment and Consumer Protection Committee has voted in favour of requiring country of origin to be labelled on meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables and other single-ingredient products.

A committee report, drafted by Renate Sommer was approved with 52 votes in favour, 2 against and 5 abstentions.

The draft legislation aims to modernise, simplify and clarify food labelling within the European Union. It would make minor changes to existing rules on information that is compulsory on all labels, such as name, list of ingredients, "best before" or "use by" date, specific conditions of use, and add a requirement to list key nutritional information.

Mandatory nutrition information

MEPs agreed that key nutritional information, such as energy content, and amounts of fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar and salt, must be mandatory for all foodstuffs across the EU. But to this list they added proteins, fibre and natural and artificial transfats, the inclusion of which, under the Commission proposal, would have been voluntary.

All mandatory nutrition information should be given on the front of the pack. But since energy content is the most important item for consumers, MEPs added specific rules to guarantee its visibility.

No mandatory "traffic light" labels, but Member States may still adopt or keep national rules

MEPs agreed that the regulation should lay down only general rules on how information should be displayed, but not prescribe any specific system. This would enable Member States to adopt or retain national labelling rules. Amendments to prevent them from promoting additional national schemes, provided these do not undermine the EU rules, were rejected.

Clear labelling of "imitated food", to avoid misleading consumers

MEPs strengthened the rules to ensure that consumers are not misled by the presentation of food packaging. They also insisted that foods should not be labelled in a way that could create the impression that they are a different food. Where an ingredient has been replaced, this should be clearly stated on the label.

Mandatory country of origin labelling

MEPs want the country of origin to be stated for meat, poultry, daily products, fresh fruit and vegetables and other single-ingredient products as well as for meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed food.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) in the UK has lobbyed for clear country of origin labelling for some time.

NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond said: “This is a significant victory and I would like to thank UK MEP’s from all parties for their invaluable support. However, much more work needs to be done before the full vote later this year. There is still a long way to go and I’m sure the change to labelling rules will be challenged strongly by others in the EU. It is clear the current guidelines aren’t working so it’s essential that we try and keep country of origin labelling high on the agenda.

“Labelling needs to provide accurate, clear and relevant information so consumers can make an informed choice. People buying meat and dairy products want to know where the animal was reared so they know exactly what they are getting. Consumers also want consistency in labelling across all sectors and deserve not to be misled. We believe there is no reason why mandatory country of origin labeling should not be extended to the remaining sectors as well as to the main ingredients of semi-processed foods.”

Legibility

The committee recommended replacing the Commission's proposed requirement that all information be given in a minimum font size of 3 mm with a stipulation that information be given in such a way as to ensure clear legibility. It asked the Commission to draw up guidelines to ensuring the legibility of consumer information on food.

Nano materials must be labelled

MEPs demand that products containing nano-materials, be clearly labelled as such, using the epithet "nano" in the ingredient list.

No nutritional declaration for alcoholic beverages

MEPs voted to exclude alcoholic beveragres from the mandatory nutritional declaration requirement (Article 29).

Content of the nutrition declaration

MEPs agree with the Commission that information on the energy and nutrients should be given in relation to 100g or per 100 ml and possibly also per portion. They also favour making comparisons with the reference intake for energy and certain nutrients, but want to make clear that these reference intakes are, for example, the "average daily requirement of a middle-aged woman and that the personal daily requirement of the consumer may differ".

Nutrient profiles deleted

MEPs voted to delete the nutrient profiles, foreseen in the regulation on nutrition and health claims made on foods.

Entry into force

To give the industry enough time to adapt to the new rules, the legislation would enter into force 20 days after its publication in the EU Official Journal, but the rules on nutrition labelling would take effect from 3 years thereafter. For food business operators with fewer than 100 employees and an annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total under €5 million they would take effect 5 years thereafter.

Next steps

Parliament's first reading in plenary session is planned for the end of May. The Council will then have to adopt its position, before the proposal is again debated in the Environment Committee.

5m Editor