EU urged not to overlook blind people in new food labelling rules

The most used way to provide product information to blind people include audio, Braille or tactile labels, but also scanners that enable reading labels or permanent place for products on the shelves. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

Laura Ferrara, an Italian MEP from the anti-system Five Star Movement, urged the European Commission to improve access to food information for blind and visually impaired people when it reviews the bloc’s food labelling rules in the coming months.

The Italian lawmaker said she will write a letter to Commissioner for equality, Helena Dalli, to make the inclusion of blind and visually impaired people one of the priorities of her mandate.

The European Commission is expected to publish a proposal for an EU-wide labelling system as part of the EU’s new food policy, the Farm-to-Fork Strategy (F2F).

The new strategy, expected in March, aims among other things to provide consumers with better information on nutritional and environmental aspects of the food products they buy.

But the political debate at the moment is entirely focused on the proposal for a nutritional labelling system, or Nutri-score, said Ferrara, who wants to raise other issues in the debate.

The battle between pro Nutri-score MEPs and Italy keeps raging on

A group of MEPs on Wednesday (15 January) spoke out against a fake news campaign by Italian politicians and stakeholders about the nutrition label known as Nutri-score, calling for it to be compulsory for all food manufacturers in the EU.

“We want to defend all consumers by proposing the use of Braille language and modern technologies capable of implementing an audio-narrating label for food products,” she said.

Ferrara is in touch with the Italian Union of Blind and Visually Impaired peopled and the Research Centre for Olive, Fruit and Citrus Growing (CREA), which are testing the use of Braille on certain foodstuffs to make nutritional information accessible to blind consumers.

“These people have the right, like everyone else, to choose what they consume consciously, and the European Union must guarantee this right,” Ferrara said, adding that the project currently being tested in Italy may also involve other member states.

There are over 30 million blind and partially sighted people in Europe, while an average of 1 in 30 European citizens experiences sight loss, according to the association Europe Blind Union (EBU).

Devices that could allow visually impaired people to access information on food labels have been studied since the early 1990s. The most used nowadays include audio, Braille or tactile labels, but there are other alternatives like permanent places for products on shopping shelves and new scanners that enable automatic reading of labels.

The EU’s 2011 regulation on the provision of food information to consumers improved the level of protection for consumers, but failed to remove barriers in accessing such information for those with visual disabilities.

In 2010, Swedish leftist MEP Eva-Britt Svensson filed a similar parliamentary question, calling on the Commission to ensure that food labelling also includes information in Braille, as was done in previous years with the introduction of tactile reading system on medicines.

In its reply, the Commission said the question did not come up in the public consultations carried out in preparation for the review of the 2011 regulation.

The only provision contained in the current legislation regards minimum font size for mandatory food information with a view to increasing legibility of food labels and improving the situation for short-sighted or elderly consumers, it said.

In the past, the Commission has also supported research on the use of barcodes in combination with assistive devices to make product information available for visually impaired users.

Cancer fight 'hype' and labelling war loom amid risk of over-ambition

From the commitment to fighting (and possibly defeating) cancer to the food labelling minefield, the bar will be set pretty high when it comes to health and food safety in 2020. Will the EU be able to live up all its over-ambitious promises?

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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