EU MEPs back new food labelling laws

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 7th July 2011

supermarket shoppingMEPs yesterday voted in favour of new laws on how food is labelled throughout the EU, a move they claimed will benefit both consumers and the food industry.The new regulations will see some changes to the way information on nutrition, country-of-origin and ingredients are displayed on food labels.

The vote comes three weeks after the European Parliament and the European Council of Ministers agreed on a final draft of the new labelling laws.

German MEP Renate Sommer led the Parliament’s discussions over the new laws with the Council. Before today’s vote, Sommer said: “Despite political and ideological differences in the European Parliament, despite national ideological convictions, we have come up with a good compromise.

“The new rules are supposed to provide more and better information to consumers so they can make informed choices when buying. But it is more than that: the food industry should benefit too. There should be more legal certainty, less bureaucracy and better legislation in general … this is very important for SMEs … more than 80% of the European food sector is SMEs.”

Under the new rules, labels will have to carry information on nutrients including fat, sugars, protein and salt “together and in the same field of vision”, the European Parliament said.

The nutrient information, which also includes the energy content, saturated fat and carbohydrates in a food, has to be expressed per 100g or 100ml. In addition, the information can be displayed per portion.

The MEPs also voted to extend rules on how manufacturers display country-of-origin information. Labels on certain foods, including beef, honey and olive oil, already have to show the information but the European Parliament today extended that to fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry.

The country-of-origin rules could be further widened to other foods, including those that contain meat as an ingredient or milk. However, the European Parliament said the European Commission would have to assess the impact of an extension of the measure, including the costs to industry.

The European Parliament said that the new laws would ensure that consumers are not misled by the “appearance, description or pictorial presentation of food packaging”.

It added that consumers will find it easy to spot “imitation foods” – pointing to “cheese-like” foods made with vegetable products.

“Where an ingredient that would normally be expected has been replaced, this will have to be clearly stated on the front of the pack in a prominent font size and next to the brand name,” the European Parliament said.

The Council is expected to ratify the new laws at the start of October, a spokesperson for the European Parliament said. The regulations will then come into force at the end of the month, she explained.

Food manufacturers then have three years to adapt to the new rules, although they will have an extra two years to meet the regulations on nutritional labelling.

The process started in 2008 when the European Commission put forward its proposals for new rules on food labelling in the EU.
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