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New EU Food Labelling Rules Gain MEP Approval

By admin - Posted on 27 July 2011

Release date: 
Wed, 2011-07-27

Parliament approved the new food labelling rules by 606 votes to 46, with 26 abstentions. Once the legislation is published in the EU Official Journal, food companies will have three years to adapt to most of the rules, but five years for the rules on nutrition values.

7/7/2011 --- Food shoppers will be able to make better informed, healthier choices as the result of new EU food labelling rules approved by MEPs on Wednesday. Labels will have to spell out a food's energy content as well as fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugar, protein and salt levels, in a way that makes them easy for consumers to read.

MEP Renate Sommer (EPP, DE), who led Parliament's team in successful negotiations with the Council, said in the debate ahead of the vote:

"Despite political and ideological differences in the EP, 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 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 percent of the European food sector is SMEs."

Under the new rules, the energy content and amounts of fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt must all be stated in a legible tabular form on the packaging, together and in the same field of vision. All this information has to be expressed per 100g or per 100ml. It may also, in addition, be expressed per portion,

Currently all ingredients - including allergenic substances - must be indicated on the labels of pre-packed foods. In future it will be easier for consumers to see if a product contains allergenic substances, as they will have to be highlighted in the ingredient list. Shoppers will thus be able to see information on allergens at a glance.

The new rules also state that information on allergens must be given for non-packaged foods, for example on food sold in restaurants or canteens. Member States may themselves decide how the information is to be made available to consumers.

Under existing EU rules, the origin of certain foods - such as beef, honey, olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables - already has to be shown on the label. This also applies where the failure to do so would mislead the consumer. This rule will now be extended to fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goat and poultry, at Parliament's request. The Commission will have to introduce implementing rules for this purpose within two years of the regulation's entry into force.

Country of origin labelling could in future be extended to other categories of food (such as meat when used as an ingredient, milk or unprocessed foods) but the Commission must first do impact assessments to weigh up the feasibility and potential costs of doing this.

The new rules will also ensure that consumers are not misled by the appearance, description or pictorial presentation of food packaging.

In addition, it will be easy to spot "imitation foods" - foods that look similar to other foods but are made of different ingredients, such as "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.

Meat consisting of combined meat parts must be labelled "formed meat". The same will apply to "formed fish". Parliament approved the new food labelling rules by 606 votes to 46, with 26 abstentions.
Once the legislation is published in the EU Official Journal, food companies will have three years to adapt to most of the rules, but five years for the rules on nutrition values.

Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli, made the following statement: "I welcome today's important decision. It completes an effort which started more than three years ago to help consumers make more informed decisions when they buy food. The Parliament's vote constitutes a significant step in our efforts to further boost consumer empowerment and, contribute to the fight against the rising levels of obesity and chronic diseases in the EU."

Dalli called the agreement good news for consumers.
It will empower them by introducing inter alia :

  • minimum font size for mandatory information to improve legibility for consumers
  • mandatory nutrition information to help consumers identify foods that meet their personal preferences or dietary requirements.
  • Mandatory information on allergens on pre-packed foods, non-pre-packed foods and foods sold in restaurants to enable consumers to better protect their health
  • compulsory country-of-origin labelling for meat from pig, sheep, goat and poultry. The framing of voluntary origin indications will help prevent the risk of misleading consumers and will ensure a level playing field for food businesses.

He stressed however that the outcome of the decision was the result of compromise. “I, therefore, regret to note that in some key areas the regulation does not go as far as we would have liked it to. For instance, the initial proposal of the commission for nutrition labelling on the front of packages has not been endorsed. The framework for the voluntary inclusion of nutrition information on the front of pack is, nevertheless, a step in the right direction.”

“I also regret to see that alcoholic beverages have been at this stage exempted from the ingredient and nutrition labelling requirements. I will however strive to ensure that we strike the right balance when we re-examine the issue in the near future", he concluded.

Recognising the difficulties EU decision makers faced in reaching a compromise on the food information proposal, FoodDrinkEurope welcomed the deal struck between the EU institutions in second reading after nearly three years of long, often difficult discussions.
Nevertheless, FoodDrinkEurope regrets that certain issues of importance to Europe’s food manufacturers were not given due consideration in the final outcome or that several issues will be decided upon only when the implementing rules are established. Given the number of specific issues that will be dealt with under this procedure, it is difficult to know today what the final outcome will bring in terms of clear and comprehensive information for the consumer or indeed how these measures will impact on the competitiveness of Europe’s food and drink industry, the group stressed.

Speaking after the vote, Jesús Serafín Pérez, President of FoodDrinkEurope commented: “Europe’s food and drink manufacturers commend the EU Institutions for reaching an agreement on the food information to consumers’ proposal despite many hurdles along the way. Manufacturers have long called for a more pragmatic approach to ensure that food information is both clear and meaningful for the consumer and, at the same time, that the final outcome presents a workable piece of legislation for food manufacturers -large and small- thereby helping to promote the competitiveness of Europe’s number one manufacturing industry."

FoodDrinkEurope now calls on the EU institutions to ensure that the Regulation is implemented in line with the proposal’s original aim, that is, to harmonise and simplify existing legislation and to improve consumer understanding. Proper implementation of the new Regulation bearing in mind these objectives, including consultation with stakeholders, is crucial to ensure that the final result presents a good result for consumers and manufacturers alike. FoodDrinkEurope looks forward to cooperating with EU decision makers in this process as the implementing acts of the Regulation are passed in the years to come.


Codaction newsletter July 2011