Labelling proposal could harm single market, warns industry

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

Food industry groups are concerned that the European Commission's
proposal on food labelling, which leaves the way open for national
voluntary schemes to co-exist alongside EU requirements, will
damage the single market.

The proposal, published yesterday, is the culmination of two years' debate on the revision of the General Food Labelling Directive and the Nutrition Directive. The idea was originally welcomed as a chance to make legislation more efficient across the bloc and to focus on what consumers really need to know - while still giving the food industry a measure of flexibility. The final proposal does require products to show energy, fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates, with specific reference to sugars and salt content of the product, expressed in terms of per 100ml/100g or per portion - as well as reference intakes. However it leaves the way open for national schemes to be used as well. This means that there may be big variations between member states. "We fear this approach will substantially weaken the single market and consequently the competitiveness of the food and drink industry,"​ said the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of Europe (CIAA). While the industry association said it understands the European Commission does not feel it is equipped with sufficient data to back one of the various schemes currently being propounded, it also fears that the national schemes "will lead to consumer confusion rather than consumer information".​ EuroCommerce, which represents retail, wholesale and international trade interests at an EU level, also saw a threat to the single market in the text allowing member states to adopt national legislation on origin labelling. "The development of difference rules risks creating potential barriers to the free movement of goods, thus hampering the EU claimed ambition of competitiveness,"​ it said. As for the CIAA, it believes that the current requirement on mandatory indication of origin is appropriate and should not be changed. If such information is provided voluntarily, it recommends that it should relate only to the last place of processing. "Adding the country of origin or place of provenance of ingredient(s) is unimaginable,"​ it said. Timing is everything ​ The issue of how best to present nutritional information to consumers has been hotly debated in the last few years, with several schemes standing out as possible solutions. For instance the UK's Food Standards Agency is widely promoting its traffic light labelling scheme, based on a nutrient profiling model. This highly visual approach presents a red light on foods high in a nutrient we should be trying to cut down on (like salt, sugar or saturated fat); amber as a not high-or-low, OK choice; and green foods that are low in a nutrient we should try to cut down on. The CIAA, on the other hand, developed a voluntary guidance daily amounts scheme for its members, which presents information on calories, sugars, far, saturates and salt on the front of packs. More than 50 manufacturers are now using this scheme on their packs. In a recent interview with FoodNavigator.com, Sabine Nafziger, director of consumer information, diet and health issues at CIAA said that the timing of the new labelling proposal is unfortunate, since changes in consumer choices in the light of GDA presentation are currently being assessed. She believes that it is too early to change the scheme, which should be allowed to run for two to three years. Nafziger pointed out that the notion of changing the labelling requirements was included in a 2000 white paper - and has not been considered an urgent priority for much of the intervening period. A survey conducted by UK supermarket Tesco found that, of 500 adults questioned, 75 per cent had heard of the term Guidance Daily Amount in March 2007 (compared to 73 per cent in October and November 2006), and 80 per cent had heard or read about the scheme (compared to 70 per cent).

Related topics Processing & Packaging

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