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EU food labels should be easier to understand, give more information - MEPs

Author: Clive Leviev-Sawyer Date: Wed, Mar 17 2010 2250 Views
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Food labels should give information on energy content and nutritional value, but they must not mislead, and must be made easier to understand, so as to enable consumers to make informed choices, members of the European Parliament's environment committee said on March 16 2010.

However, the committee voted against imposing EU-wide use of a "traffic light" system to show important nutrient amounts.

The committee report, drafted by German centre-right MEP Renate Sommer, was approved with 52 votes in favour, two against and five abstentions, after MEPs had voted on almost 800 amendments. The committee had debated the issue for 18 months.

The draft legislation aims to modernise, simplify and clarify food labelling within the European Union, according to a European Parliament media statement.

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. The committee added that showing the country of origin should also be mandatory in some cases.

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 European 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.

Amendments by several MEPs from the S&D, GUE, Greens and ALDE groups to make "traffic light" pack-front colour coding  mandatory, were rejected by the committee.

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 EU 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.

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.

Members of the committee 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 committee recommended replacing the European 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.

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

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

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".

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

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 three years thereafter. For food business operators with fewer than 100 employees and an annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total of less than five million euro they would take effect five years thereafter.

The European 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 by the environment committee.

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