German industry seeks clarity over food labelling

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

The German government is keeping industry guessing about its
preferred scheme for nutrition labelling, performing about turns
between favouring a traffic light scheme or guidance daily amounts

An article in German newspaper Der Spiegel​ this week highlights a swing in the opinion of food, agriculture and consumer affairs minister Horst Seehofer, who initially appeared to be in favour of the industry-preferred GDA scheme. He is reported to have previously called traffic light schemes "brainwashing of the people".​ Other critics of the approach propounded by the UK's Food Standards Agency have questioned the scientific basis of the nutrient profiling model that underpins traffic lights. In March, however, it emerged that Seehofer's ministry (BMELV) had developed a scheme that makes heavy use of red, orange and green colours. It has launched a survey to see how such a scheme would be accepted by consumers. The results of this are not yet in, however, and executives were not able to give an indication for when the survey results will be in and whether these will be made public. Matthias Horst, managing director of food industry organisation BLL (German Federation for Food Law and Food Science), which supports the GDA scheme, has expressed frustration at the lack of clarity about the BMELV position. A spokesperson for German consumer protection group Foodwatch told that it would "definitely"​ prefer a traffic light scheme such as that that preferred by the UK Food Standards Agency. This, he said, should be a legal requirement, not voluntary. The group has been lobbying at a European level for this approach to have a place in the final labelling directive, which is being debated between the Parliament and Council of Ministers this year. The proposed directive, published in January, comes down more heavily in favour of the food industry's preferred scheme for guidance daily amounts (GDAs), but also allows for national schemes to be used along side it. Foodwatch is also, therefore, lobbying the BMELV on in case this two-pronged approach remains in the final directive. The CIAA (Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU) has expressed its concern at the dual approach proposal, since it says this could weaken the single market and affect the competitiveness of the food and drink sector in Europe. Since its introduction in 2006 the GDA scheme has now been embraced by more than 50 food and beverage manufacturers, including several multinationals. In the UK, meanwhile, industry opinion remains divided, and some players such as supermarket Asda have sought to find a middle ground. Asda has plumped for colour coded GDA that are draw the eye visually but also give in-depth information on nutrient values, à la GDA. As part of its 9-figure anti-obesity programme announced in January the UK Department of Health has come out in favour of one scheme for the UK market.

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