MEPs debate 'crazy' food labelling proposals

By Graham Holter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Eu food information Food labeling regulations Packaging European union

MEPs debate 'crazy' food labelling proposals
One expert has branded the proposed new EU food information legislation “crazy” ahead of a second vote on the issue by Parliament's Environment, Health and Food Safety Committee (ENVI) tomorrow.

The proposals up for discussion ahead of the vote include a series of suggestions, including the identification of own-label suppliers on packaging, and highlighting the date on which food was frozen.

Many aspects of the EU Food Information Regulation directive are expected to be abandoned, but the scope of the proposals has created nervousness among producers and retailers alike.

Will damage confidentiality

Phil Dalton of legal labelling and regulatory services consultancy Legal Impackt said the call for manufacturers of own-label products to be identified on the labels of the food they produce for clients is unlikely to garner support.

“It’s a last-minute proposal put forward by a committee,”​ he said. “I don’t think any of the larger food retailers would think it was appropriate to reveal on packaging who their suppliers were.

“I think it would be pretty much the same for suppliers. Their relationships with individual retailers they would want to keep confidential. They wouldn’t want one retailer to know they were working for another retailer, although sometimes this is common knowledge.”

Food & Drink Federation director of communications Terry Jones said: “There are more important pieces of information required on pack and this isn’t something consumers have said that they require. Therefore we have opposed this amendment.”

Missed opportunity

Dalton said: “Frankly, the whole thing is crazy. It was originally intended to be a consolidation of existing rules and regulations and a simplification. It’s become a wish list based on opinions, not what is best for consumers.”

He said that MEPs were guilty of a “missed opportunity to make nutrition labelling more customer focused”​.

“They could, for example, require nutrition information to be given on the basis of the amount consumed and as prepared for consumption. Instead the current provision, which allows nutrition per 100g as sold to be the only nutrition information on pack, has been repeated in the new proposal.

“This information is useless to a consumer as it tells them nothing useful about the food as they are consuming it, which is what affects health and diet.”

Contentious proposals

Other contentious areas up for debate (and potential compromise) include precise requirements for country of origin labelling (COOL), mandatory labelling of trans fats, where the nutrition label should be located and issues of legibility, and the possibility of a portion size indicator.

One proposal involves including the energy value of the food in a minimum of 3mm font size in the bottom right-hand corner of the front of food packaging, surrounded by a border.

Dalton is also critical of a proposal to include allergen warnings, given that the possibility of cross-contamination cannot be excluded. He said this will give producers an excuse to rely on 'may contain'​ warnings, rather than “ensure they have controls in place to reduce or eliminate cross contamination”.

He added: “It has been proposed that date of freezing should be included on frozen foods in addition to the best before date. There is no indication of why this would benefit a consumer.”

If the ENVI fails to agree proposals at the second reading then the Council of the European Union and Parliament will begin a closed-door process known as 'concilium', which will effect a compromise solution that could potentially lack clarity on detailed issues.

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