The use of ‘traffic lights’ to identify products that are high, medium or low in salt, sugar and fat is one of the schemes under discussion for unified EU food labelling. Industry, however, opposes the proposal.
“What is of particular concern currently is that we have different labelling schemes. We need a unified system. However, we do not want to go to a single labelling scheme that would be completely unhelpful for consumers,” she said. “Several retailers and manufacturers are using [the traffic light scheme] in the UK and when you actually look at independent research, it is overwhelmingly judged as the most useful for consumers.”
The European Consumers’ Organisation (BEUC) has, during recent months, chaired a multi-stakeholder discussion group, comparing the different ‘simplified’ labelling systems currently in use in the EU. The group, composed of national authorities, food manufacturers and retailers and academics discussed, based on real consumer research, what would be best understood by consumers and what would really help them to choose between products.
“The proliferation of many different simplified labelling schemes is a cause of unnecessary confusion,” state the conclusions, in which the stakeholder group agreed on the basic principles of what the unified scheme should look like. “The use of colour coding of levels of nutrients as an interpretative element to help consumers make sense of the numerical information seems to be a promising way forward,” state the conclusions.
The issue of alternative presentation of nutrition labelling information, including “signposting” scheme was highlighted as one of the issues concerning the review of the nutrition labelling legislation in the Commission’s consultative document ‘Labelling: competitiveness, consumer information and better regulation for the EU’ (February 2006).
According to a Commission official, “the Commission is currently considering the responses to the consultation and the available information on various front of pack nutrition labelling systems, including different national schemes, that are being used on the labelling of products, but the Commission has not taken any positions or finalised any proposals on the subject.”