Ministers give nod to industry food labelling scheme

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A deal struck between EU member states on new food labelling rules saw political support for a voluntary GDA labelling scheme currently applied by the food industry across Europe.

The 27 EU ministers in charge of consumer affairs reached a political agreement on Monday (6 December) on how food information should be displayed to consumers.

As suggested by the European Parliament, the ministers omitted references to national labelling schemes.

However, this does not mean that the UK traffic light system – which indicates values of fats, sugar and salts in foods – would become illegal.

Indeed, "additional forms of expression and presentation" will still be allowed in addition to EU-level requirements, provided that they are not misleading and are supported by evidence that consumers actually understand them.

Food business operators can also use their own schemes provided that they meet EU requirements.

EU countries could thus recommend that food companies use one or more additional forms of labelling. But they would need to inform the European Commission about these.

Ministers also suggest that "in the light of the experience gained" and within five years after the entry into force of the new rules, the Commission should present a report on the use of these additional forms of presentation, their effect on the internal market and on the advisability of further harmonisation of such ways of displaying information.

The Council, which represents the 27 EU member states, further suggests that "the Commission may accompany this report with proposals to modify the relevant Union provisions".

Contrary to the European Parliament and Commission proposals, ministers rejected the idea of making front-of-pack labelling of some nutrients mandatory.

Status quo for GDA scheme

As it currently stands, both the European Parliament's first reading of the dossier last summer and the Council's deal this week basically mean retaining the status quo for those companies that have recently rolled out a voluntary Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) labelling scheme across Europe.

The GDA scheme was designed by EU food and drinks lobby CIAA. GDAs estimate the average daily energy requirements for men and women aged between 19-50 of normal weight and fitness. There are currently no GDAs for children.

Major multinationals including Cadbury's, Coca Cola, Danone, Ferrero, Kellogg's, Kraft and Unilever have committed to using the GDA scheme.

German European People's Party (EPP) MEP Renate Sommer, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the dossier, welcomed the deletion of national schemes from the regulation, but regretted that EU ministers had failed to support mandatory front-of-pack labelling of any nutrient or overall energy content.

She said "the decision by the Council was rushed" and that "the result is a flawed draft that neglects various important details," predicting difficult negotiations at second reading.

The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) welcomed "the fact that the merits of the EU-wide GDA scheme have now been reconfirmed" by both the European Parliament and the Council.

However, the lobby remains concerned about "the possibility for member states to introduce national 'voluntary' initiatives in terms of 'forms of expression/presentation', as it would still allow for the proliferation of schemes across the EU which would create barriers to trade and fragment the single market".

Food manufacturers are also worried about the potential extension of mandatory country of origin labelling (COOL) to specific food categories and products "beyond the mandatory requirements already under existing EU legislation" and would prefer to see the existing scope of EU law maintained.

Food packaging and labels, such country of origin, can be used by marketers to encourage potential buyers to purchase products.

In 2008, the European Commission proposed new legislation on providing food information to consumers.

The proposal combines two existing directives into one regulation – a 2000 directive (2000/13/EC) relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs and a 1990 directive (90/496/EEC) on nutrition labelling for foodstuffs.

The aim is to make food labels clearer and more relevant to consumers and set specific requirements for displaying information on processed foods on the front of packaging.

  • 6 Dec. 2010: EU Council of Ministers reached political agreement on dossier. A Council common position is due to be formulated within 7-8 weeks.
  • 2011: Second reading in European Parliament.
  • European Consumers' Organisation (Beuc):Food

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