MEPs voted down the European Commission’s proposed amendment to allow food manufacturers to use the ‘X% less’ and ‘no added salt’ claims on their products.
Barbara Gallani, the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDE’s), director of food safety and science, described the vote as “a blow for consumers and industry alike”.
She said: “‘X% less’ and ‘no added salt’ claims would have supported the food industry’s drive to gradually reformulate products, even where technically challenging, by making consumers readily aware of health improvements in their favourite products.”
The European Parliament has failed to acknowledge the enormous efforts and investments that the food and drink manufacturing industry has been putting into product reformulation, she said.
Complete lack of understanding
“The Parliament has also shown a complete lack of understanding of the technical and consumer acceptance challenges that make changing recipes to reduce energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt so difficult.”
Gallani suggested the vote indicated MEPs have underestimated both consumers’ ability to read food labels and desire to make informed decisions about the foods that make up their diet.
European industry body the FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) expressed “dismay”, at the negative vote. FDE president Jesús Serafín Pérez said it meant that consumers “… will not be informed of important reformulations to foods so that they can make an informed food choice thus driving positive changes in dietary habits.”
Also, he said it was “…a ‘bitter pill’ to food operators who have strived to voluntarily reformulate their products in line with consumer taste and public health expectations over the years.”
FDE had argued that the introduction of a ‘Now contains X% less’ claim would have offered food manufacturers the opportunity to communicate incremental nutrition changes made to foods to the consumer by comparing old and new recipes.
Confused or mislead consumers
But Matthias Groote, chair of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, said the labelling changes could have “confused or misled consumers”.
Groote said: "I am pleased that the European Parliament has defended the interests of health-conscious consumers, who need to be able to make clear comparisons when shopping for food.”
According to a statement from the European Parliament: “The proposal would have allowed, for example, a ‘15% less sugar’ claim, which would be based on a previous formulation of the same product. MEPs say this would be hard to compare - or could misleadingly appear healthier - than a ‘reduced sugar’ label, which must contain 30% less than other similar products, under existing EU legislation on health and nutrition claims.”