EU lawmakers demand stricter food-labeling rules

June 18, 2010

According to Reuters, European Union lawmakers voted on June 16 to strengthen controversial draft rules on food labeling that aim to fight rising levels of obesity in Europe. The European Parliament backed a proposed requirement for companies to label the energy, sugar, salt, and fat content of their foodstuffs on the front of packages, and added protein, unsaturated fats, and fiber to this list. Voting in Strasbourg, France, the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) also added a requirement for country-of-origin labels on meat, dairy, and fruit and vegetables, as well as meat and fish products used in processed.

After much industry lobbying, MEPs rejected mandatory “traffic light” labels on certain convenience foods and soft drinks, with red, amber, or green color codes showing the relative amounts of salt, sugar, and fat they contain. Consumer groups accused MEPs of ignoring the needs of consumers and caving into food industry pressure.

The Corporate Europe Observatory campaign group said the food and drink industry had spent over 1 billion Euros ($1.23 billion) opposing the traffic light system, which consumer organizations argue is easier to understand.

EU countries should not be allowed to adopt national labeling requirements that go beyond the EU regulations, MEPs said, which would prevent them from implementing their own traffic light systems, for example.

The traffic light label was developed by Britain’s Food Standards Agency and is used by some UK retailers such as J Sainsbury and Marks and Spencer, though others including Tesco have resisted the scheme.

“The question of whether the British will have to abolish their system hasn’t been clarified,” the German center-right MEP who led the parliament’s debate on labeling, Renate Sommer, said after the vote.

The labeling rules were proposed in 2008 and are unlikely to be finalized this year or next, with EU governments not due to adopt their first-reading position until February 2011 and a second reading almost inevitable, Sommer said.

When the rules are finally agreed, companies should have at least three years to implement the nutritional labeling requirements, the parliament agreed.

Reuters article