Consumer watchdog hits out at “complex” food labels

Posted by Josette Dunn on 22nd November 2010

The head of Europe’s leading consumer watchdog has said mandatory EU labelling information has become so complex and detailed even she cannot understand it.Speaking at the CIAA Congress in Brussels last Thursday (18 November), Monique Goyens, director-general of the European Consumers Organisation (BEUC), said: “Being able to read what’s on a packet is becoming more difficult as more and more information is included and the letters get smaller.”

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Goyens admitted she did not understand mandatory pictographs on packages and she was supposed to be an expert. “In other words, the information has got to be processable by the consumer. The information has got to be useful, understandable and legible,” she said.

EU health Commissioner John Dalli, who was also speaking at the event, accepted there was a problem regarding information overload. “There is a dilemma: whether to give just simplified information on a package or long and more precise data not understandable to the public.”

Dalli claimed the European Commission continued to be pressed by the European Parliament for new packaging information. “We have to be careful,” he said.

The CIAA Congress also heard from Unilever CEO Paul Polman, who noted that manufacturers could play a key role in ensuring ingredients were healthy, regardless of labelling issues.

Polman focused on his Unilever’s ambitious ‘Sustainable Living Plan’, unveiled earlier this week, which he said would improve the nutrition levels in the company’s products throughout the new decade.

Polman said the company had embarked on a “nutrition mission” for the two billion consumers eating a Unilever product every day, with excess salt, sugar and fat content under consideration.

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