EU shines a spotlight on labelling

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 22nd June 2010

The issue of nutrition labelling reared its head last week after the EU’s politicians voted for the food on sale in the region to carry guideline daily amounts and not traffic lights.

It’s a debate that has rumbled on for years and that generates fierce argument on both sides. There are those, predominantly consumer groups but also companies like UK retailer Sainsbury’s, who believe traffic lights make it easier for shoppers to choose healthier food.

However, there are those – largely in the food industry – who favour GDAs, arguing that traffic-light labels are too simplistic and demonise certain foods with a red light.

Supporters of traffic lights attacked politicians in the European Parliament for voting in favour of GDAs. UK consumer group The Children’s Food Campaign labelled the vote “another setback in the fight against childhood obesity” and claimed the food industry had spent EUR 1 billion (A$1.4 billion) lobbying politicians to vote against traffic lights.

The food industry, however, was broadly pleased with the vote, praising MEPs for their “measured approach” on labelling regulation and for the backing they gave to GDAs.

Nevertheless, for all the significance of last Wednesday’s vote (which also included decisions on, for instance, labelling on country of origin), we will have to wait a while before we get a definitive decision on nutrition labelling. This remains draft legislation and will go before member states before a likely return to the European Parliament for a second reading.

This process looks set to take a year and, as such, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), which in March put forward plans for a flexible system that could involve traffic lights was coy about what the vote could mean for its own plans for the UK.

However, with MEPs currently opposing the use of traffic lights being allowed to run in parallel at a national level, the FSA’s plans have been called into question.

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