Food label 'clarification' from MEP only adds to confusion

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food information regulation, European union

Food label 'clarification' from MEP only adds to confusion
The controversy surrounding new EU legislation governing the sale of foodstuffs ‘by number’ has descended into farce as a ‘clarification’ issued by the MEP steering it through the European Parliament has raised more questions than it answers.

Press reports​ that the EU Food Information Regulation will stop firms selling products such as eggs by number (and force companies to sell them by weight instead), are simply wrong, MEP Renate Sommer (pictured) has insisted.

In a statement intended to clarify matters, she said: “There will be no changes to selling foods by number. Selling eggs by the dozen, for example, will not be banned. Labels will still be able to indicate the number of food items in a pack, whether of eggs, bread rolls or fish fingers. Reports that claim the new rules will not allow both the weight and the quantity to be displayed are also wrong.”

A spokesman for Sommer told that even if nothing changed between now and when the Regulation had its second reading in the Parliament, firms would still be allowed to label products by number. "I've just checked this with Renate, there is no problem with selling by number."

However, legal experts at the UK Food and drink Federation (FDF) and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that as the legislation currently stood (ie. the version voted on by MEPs on June 16), this was simply not the case.

Amendment must be reinstated

FDF director of food safety and science Barbara Gallani said that MEPs had voted against an amendment calling for the retention of national provisions on ‘labelling by number’ allowed under the current EU food labelling Directive.

This meant that when the new Food Information Regulation came into force, such national provisions would cease to apply unless the proposed amendment to retain them were re-instated before the Regulation had its second reading, she said.

“This issue was raised by the Council ​[of Ministers] at a very late stage before the vote in the Parliament on June 16, and not many MEPs I think really understood the implications as it was one of hundreds of amendments.”

She added: “This needs to be re-proposed via the Council through the Belgian presidency, which appears to understand its implications, so that it is included in the next version ​[of the legislation].”

BRC food policy director Andrew Opie said he was "surprised​" by Sommer’s statement: "It is my understanding that theversion of the legislation voted on in the first reading will need to be changed if labelling by number is to stay."

He added: “But there is still time to change this and get the amendment re-introduced via the Council. We just need to make sure that this is right as we are not the only Member State that has provisions to sell things by numbers.”

Why it matters

If labelling by number were banned, firms would have to label products by weight, meaning, for example, that each box of eggs would have to be weighed individually, said Opie, something that has been variously described as "potty", "bonkers" ​and "mad".

Related topics: Legal

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