The UK’s adoption of a voluntary hybrid labelling scheme that combines guideline daily amounts (GDAs) and traffic light colour coding could lead to a proliferation of national schemes and fragment the EU internal market, claims FoodDrinkEurope.
The European trade body said that monochrome GDAs work well across Europe and are well-understood by consumers. All major UK retailers and a handful of major manufacturers have signed up to the voluntary scheme, introduced by the UK’s Department of Health on Wednesday. UK retailers and some UK food manufacturers have been using traffic lights on their labelling for several years, although GDAs are dominant throughout Europe.
But FoodDrinkEurope said that any voluntary national scheme should be discussed and agreed at an EU level.
“FoodDrinkEurope expresses concern that this approach by an individual Member State may bring about a proliferation of different national voluntary schemes across Europe, which could fragment the EU Internal Market and cause confusion for consumers,” it said in an emailed statement.
“The Regulation on food information to consumers may theoretically allow for such a national scheme; however, we firmly believe that this is regrettable as the existence of different national schemes runs counter to the EU’s objective of the creation of one single European market.”
‘Listening to consumers’
Meanwhile, the European Consumer Organisation, BEUC, has called for European food manufacturers to follow the UK’s lead and add traffic light colour coding to front-of-pack nutrition labels.
Director general of BEUC Monique Goyens said: “In times when obesity has become a major problem in Europe, there is no reason why only shoppers living in the UK should benefit from such an easy tool. We hope to see more retailers across Europe follow this lead.
“By committing themselves to the traffic light scheme, these popular food manufacturers are finally listening to consumers and are set to respect their right to quick and clear information. This is ground-breaking. Now these food giants should swiftly expand this practice to other EU markets too.”
‘Cost-benefit equation’ for international marketing
The UK’s trade association, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), suggested that the UK’s scheme could prove difficult for manufacturers looking to market products across the EU.
“Each company has many factors to consider and weigh – in order to make the appropriate balance for their business between the global, European and UK contexts and in the cost/ benefit equation,” it said.
“…Now that the UK governments' recommended scheme has been published our members will be considering these factors and the costs involved (particularly for our SME members) as they move towards a decision on whether and when to adopt the scheme.”
Manufacturers that have pledged their support include Bernard Matthews, Britvic, Mars UK, McCain Foods, Nestlé UK, and Premier Foods. They are joined by all the major UK retailers — including Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, the Co-operative and Waitrose. Other manufacturers, such as Cadbury (Kraft), Coca-Cola and United Biscuits, have not yet signed up.