The UK’s traffic light nutrition labelling system is unfair on Italian foods and could harm EU trade in traditional goods, according to the Italian delegation at the EU Council of Ministers.
The UK’s department of health introduced a voluntary traffic light labelling system in June, to be combined with front-of-pack guideline daily amounts (GDAs), which are dominant on food packaging throughout Europe. All major UK retailers signed up, as well as a handful of food companies.
Italy, supported by the Slovak, Luxembourg, Spanish, Cyprus, Portuguese, Slovenian, French, Romanian and Greek delegations, has brought the issue to the Council, saying it is concerned that the hybrid system could affect the free movement of goods in the EU and harm traditional Italian food products, like mozzarella cheese and Parma ham.
In particular, the Italian delegation pointed out that the Mediterranean diet was widely recognised as one of the healthiest in the world – but the traffic light scheme does not take into account portion sizes, assigning colour codes based on nutrient values per 100 g.
“The thresholds set by the Guidance for the colour coding of nutritional amounts constitute an element of incompatibility of the UK Recommendation with the requirements that foresee that an additional form of representation must be “objective and non-discriminatory”,” the Italian delegation said. “This could lead to consumer confusion and wrong choices, creating a false sense of security for the unlimited consumption of “green” foods.”
It also said that while some manufacturers would be free to reformulate their products to improve their nutritional composition and thereby qualify for amber or green labels, it was not possible to change the formulation of EU protected foods.
“Many foods benefiting from EU Quality schemes (PDO, PGI, TSG), such as cheese, ham, honey, jam and fruit compote, etc… would all get a “red” label,” it said.
Italian industry trade organisations Federalimentare, Clitravi and ISB in Europe also said in June that classifying foods into green, amber and red categories was overly simplistic and did not take into account how different foods were combined in a total diet context. And European trade body FoodDrinkEurope has said that monochrome GDAs work well across Europe and are well-understood by consumers.