Germans develop new scheme for nutrition labelling

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

The German government has contributed to the labelling debate by
producing new guidelines for increased nutritional information on
food packaging, which focus on calorie content as the best way to
inform the consumer.

The labelling initiative was announced last week by Horst Seehofer, the federal minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection. It is part of the Education and Information about Nutrition, Movement and Health plan, which aims to combat obesity and improve consumer information and choice. The guidelines advise the '1 plus 4' approach, which prioritises calorie content. The total calorie amount in one portion of the product and how that translates into the percentage of Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) appears on the front of the packet. The four refers to fat, salt, sugar and saturated fat, and these can appear on the front or the back, depending on the packaging. The best approach to labelling nutritional information has caused lively debate amongst regulators, industry and retailers. The two main schools of thoughts are the GDAs on one side, and the traffic light scheme on the other. This was developed by the UK's Food Standards Agency and represents good and bad foods by colour codes. The German scheme remains in line with the labelling recommendations made last year by the CIAA (The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industry in Europe), which stress the importance of a clear indication of calorie content. The CIAA is also the architect of the GDA approach. Bernard Kühlne, Director General of Food and Safety and Veterniary Affairs in Germany, told "We do not want to say there are good products and bad products. We think showing the calorie intake is the best way to inform consumers. When we launched the product at the food fair inCologne, people were surprised to see that a glass of lemonade provided a quarter of the daily need for sugar." ​The German government wants to avoid marking food as good or bad, like countries such as the UK. The traffic light scheme, and the nutrient profiling system that underpins it, has attracted criticism for being simplistic and unscientific. However, its supporters maintain it is consumer-friendly because it is so visual. Kühlne said that, although the German scheme is voluntary, it was launched with the full support of organisations in the food industry. "The food industry agrees with the scheme because it eases its two fears,"​ he said. "The industry does not want a traffic light system, and likes the principle that compliance is voluntary instead of compulsory." ​With this support, the government hopes that, by 2010, 75 per cent of food products will be labelled in this way. The European Commission is currently reviewing labelling requirements in order to simplify the rules and bring in more guidance and consistency to the various EU countries that are currently following very different schemes. According to Steve Chandler, secretary general for the European Snacks Association, the DG Sanco is expected to publish the communication on labelling "as an early Christmas present"​. Although the contents of the proposal are still unknown, it has been revealed that it will not be a step-back from what the industry is already doing voluntarily. Chandler said: "We fully support the new guidelines. Apart from the cost of changing packaging and the need to educate consumers about Guidance Daily Amounts, there are only positives from this move. We see it as an advantage as the reality about how much fat, salt or saturates in a pack is much lower than how it is perceived. ​He argued that providing information per portion rather than per 100g is a more beneficial. Germany is Europe's second largest savoury snacks market, second only to the UK, with a retail value of over €1.6bn. ​Obesity effects 12.9 per cent of the German population, half that of the UK, where 24.2 per cent of people are obese. In 2006, 30 per cent of European children were estimated to be overweight, indicating a worsening of poor diets and low physical activity levels, which increase the possibility of suffering from chronic health conditions.

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