The amendments to the proposed new regulation on food information by German MEP Renate Sommer were published in November 2008. Amongst the 140 amendments she tabled was the deletion of national nutrition labelling schemes used in Member States alongside an EU-wide scheme.
This was widely interpreted by industry and other stakeholders as meaning she saw no place for any other nutrition labelling schemes besides the EU one – including those developed by manufacturers, trade associations or retailers.
However at a debate hosted by the UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) in Brussels on Tuesday Sommer said she has nothing against the addition of alternative schemes, if manufacturers or retailers want to do it.
She does not see a place for systems developed and mandated by Member States governments, on the other hand, which would be “absolutely not in accordance with the view on the internal market, and would be a massive distortion of competition”.
Even if they are billed as voluntary, she believes national government schemes would become mandatory de facto.
Retaining existing and familiar schemes chosen by manufacturers or retailers could help reduce consumer confusion, especially during a transition period. It could also allow for product-appropriate schemes to be used – for instance, labelling designed to showcase lower fat dairy products.
The UK government has signalled that it would like to have a nation-wide nutrition labelling system. In that country, the Food Standards Agency traffic light labelling scheme, based on nutrient profiling, has considerable support.
Melanie Leech, director generation of the FDF, said: “There is no place for a nationally mandated scheme for industry. It is just a nonsense”.
Allowing the use of manufacturer schemes is also in keeping with the view of the Choices International programme, a science based system that aims to both help consumers identify healthier foods, and give benchmarks for food manufacturers reformulating their products.
The Choices International Foundation reports that its criteria have been incentives for food firms to reduce salt, sugar and saturated fat by between 10 and 50 per cent, and dietary fibre content in bread, sandwiches and hot meals by between 40 and 260 per cent.
“Securing a place for this type of voluntary scheme should therefore be on top of the European agenda.”
The first discussion on all the amendments to the proposal put forward by stakeholders, numbering 600 in total, will take place on Monday at theCommitteeonEnvironment, Public Health and Food Safety.
A vote is expected to take place towards the end of March, and the first reading is currently foreseen for May.