Retailers welcome labelling delay

Related tags Food Nutrient profiles European parliament Nutrition

British food retailers have welcomed the delay to proposed European
food labelling rules which would have "reduced the ability of
retailers to offer customers healthier eating options". But the
legislation has just been delayed, not scrapped, and the fight for
a more rational approach to labelling will continue, write Chris
Jones and Dominique Patton.

The health claims regulation, proposed by the European Commission last year, has been dropped from the parliament's agenda after MEPs failed to reach consensus on how much, if any, influence should be given to nutrient profiles, and how claims should be worded.

Known as article 4, the Commission had proposed that all nutrition and health claims be subject to the nutritional profile of the food, suggesting that if the total amount of fat, saturates, sugar or salt it contained was above recommended levels, the claim would not be permitted - in other words, many products which are currently marketed as low fat, low sugar or 'good for you' would not be permitted to make these claims in the future, a 'demonisation' of many food products which will restrict rather than enhance consumer choice, according to critics.

Along with other proposals preventing claims for weight loss, children's foods and psychological benefits, the legislation had seen considerable resistance from the food industry - including retailers who feared that their own label innovation programmes would be severely restricted by the regulations.

The European authorities wanted to create a standard register of acceptable claims and definitions, identical in several languages, but this would force manufacturers to omit explanatory material, leaving consumers in the dark, argues the industry. Putting the onus on the industry to prove all claims could also cripple small producers.

Such was the level of disagreement with the original proposal that more than 600 amendments were tabled, a number 'rarely' seen, according to parliamentary officials.

The decision by MEPs to wait until the next parliamentary session to re-open the debate - delaying it until at least September, after the European Parliament elections - was welcomed by the food retail industry, which hopes that the additional time will be used wisely to put together a workable piece of legislation in the interests of both consumer and industry alike.

Richard Ali, director of food policy at the British Retail Consortium, which represents the interest of UK retailers, welcomed the delay. "We can only hope that the extra time will be used to rethink, redraft and produce proposals which actually deliver something useful for customers instead of stifling choice and innovation.

"MEPs should be applauded for showing the common sense to realise that outlawing healthier option labelling would have removed the signposts our customers want to see on their food."

Ali continued: "Rational arguments have won the day for the moment in a debate more often characterised by the food rationing approach. MEPs seem to realise that evidence and not prejudice is the only way forward for everyone who wants to see healthier eating and healthier lifestyles."

But the likelihood of the European regulators finding a more acceptable proposal second time around is still slim, with the new European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) - which will play the major role in assessing the nutritional profiles of foodstuffs - already overstretched and underfunded.

Moreover, there is still considerable support for the Commission's proposal among many MEPs - even if the practical aspects of how it is to be implemented are still far from clear. One Danish MEP, Torben Lund, said that it was vital that consumers were given the right information to allow them to make an educated choice about what to eat.

"Currently many brands and slogans confuse and misinform consumers. I believe that only healthy food must be allowed to be labelled giving a healthy signal. Therefore nutrient profiles must be a part of the regulation."

Related topics Market Trends

Follow us


View more