MEPs Put the Brakes on Traffic-Light Labeling
The European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) has apparently issued a legislative report that recommends several changes to EU food labeling laws, but stops short of proposing a uniform “traffic light” system. After considering more than 800 amendments to draft legislation, ENVI approved “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, [and] specific conditions of use.” The committee agreed that all EU foodstuffs should list “key nutritional information” pertaining to energy and fat content, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar, salt, protein, fiber, and natural and artificial trans fats. It also favored country-of-origin labeling for “meat, poultry, dairy products, fresh fruit, vegetables, and other single-ingredient products as well as for meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed food.” Other provisions backed by ENVI would require (i) “imitated food” to be clearly labeled as such; (ii) all products containing nanomaterials to include “the epithet ‘nano’ in the ingredient list’”; (iii) food labels to use a legible, minimum font at least 3mm in height; and (iv) energy and nutrient information to be given “in relation to 100g or per 100ml and possibly also per portion.”
Notably, ENVI voted against mandatory “traffic light” labels like the ones used in the United Kingdom. According to some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), the schemes were more likely to mislead consumers and did not ensure a well-rounded diet. “There was insufficient scientific evidence that it was necessary or useful. It could also have led to confusion for consumers and presented a big problem for industry,” stated German MEP Renate Sommer (EPP – North RhineWestphalia), who drafted the ENVI report. “The more you label, the less people read. The U.S. has more and more food labeling but obesity rates keep rising. We should learn from their mistakes,” she was quoted as saying.
The European Parliament is reportedly slated to discuss the recommendations in May, after which time the European Council will adopt its position and again submit the proposal to ENVI. If passed, the rules would take effect 20 days after publication in the EU Official Journal, with a three-year compliance deadline for nutrition labeling changes. Food business operators with fewer than 100 employees and an annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total under €5 million would have five years to comply. See European Parliament Press Release and The Parliament, March 16, 2010; FoodProductDesign.com, March 17, 2010; Newsweek and Just-Food, March 18, 2010.