Consumer group hits out at EU labelling plans

Posted by Josette Dunn on 19th March 2010

Consumer lobbyists in Europe have criticised EU politicians for not helping shoppers choose healthier food after Brussels said that it would not push for the mandatory use of traffic-light labels.

Food labels

Earlier this week, MEPs sitting on the European Parliament’s Environment Committee decided against making the use of traffic lights mandatory but left the door open for their use by recommending that EU member states could adopt national rules.

In the UK, the country’s Food Standards Agency has recommended the use of “flexible” front-of-pack labelling scheme that would include text, traffic lights and Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs).

However, consumer advocates at the BEUC, a Europe-wide consumer body, hit out at the MEPs’ recommendation.

“Research from across Europe has told us that consumers find colour coding the easiest and simplest way to make informed and healthy choices. When we clearly have an obesity epidemic spreading across Europe, and when consumers clearly want to make healthier choices about their diet, we really should give them the tools that work best and which they want,” said BEUC director general Monique Goyens.

The committee, meanwhile, also called for labels to include information the country of origin of meat, poultry, dairy products, fresh fruit and vegetables and other single-ingredient products – as well as for meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed food.

However, UK retailers questioned the need for mandatory country-of-origin labelling. A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said the source of ingredients used in processed food can change from “day to day”. He also insisted shoppers in the country could already easily buy UK-produced food should they wish.

“Where customers want to buy British produce, they have no problem whatsoever finding it,” the spokesman said.

The European Parliament as a whole will discuss the labelling issue at the end of May. The European Council will then have to adopt its position, before the proposal is again debated in the Environment Committee.

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