Agri MEPs on board with some industry labelling concerns

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: European parliament

A vote on the proposed food information legislation by the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (Agri) this week found sense in abolishing the 3mm rule and national schemes, but has stirred new industry concerns on country of origin labelling.

The European Commission published its proposal for new legislation on food information for consumers in early 2008, kicking off a flurry of reactions and lobbying activities.

Amendments drawn up rapporteur Giovanna Corda were voted on by the AGRI committee this week.

Although Envi (Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) and not Agri is the lead committee on this legislation, the outcome of some elements of the vote are being welcomed by the food industry as being in line with its view.

3mm labelling

The Commission proposed that the mandatory information on food labels should be no smaller than 3mm in size. That provision has been the subject of criticism, since it may end up making package sizes larger and therefore contradicts efforts to reduce packaging waste.

Melanie Leech, director general of the UK’s Food and Drink Federation, told at an event in Brussels last week that: “The proposal for a 3mm font size would actually would actually mean we’d have to put bigger letters on our packs that you would read in a national newspaper in the UK… For us the key is around legibility.”

The Agri MEPs voted to abolish the 3mm rule, inserting more vague wording instead – that the wording should be in “clearly legible form”.

National schemes

There has also been considerable concern about the Commission proposal to allow national labelling schemes alongside a EU-wide scheme, as this could harm the free market.

The Agri MEPs voted to reject the entire paragraph on national schemes – an outcome that has been welcomed by the CIAA, the umbrella association representing the food and drink industries of the EU.

Katie Carson, European Parliament relations manager, said: “CIAA has always maintained that national schemes will impinge on the internal market with no added value for the consumer. Industry welcomes the fact that MEPs… have welcomed recognised this.”

Country of origin

However Carson was less positive about the outcome of the votes on the contentious matter of country of origin labelling.

The Agri MEPs voted for country of origin to be provided for raw Agricultural produce as far as possible. More generally, it called for country of origin labelling for non-processed food.

Noting that origin provision is currently permitted on a voluntary basis, Carson said: “Any move to enforce mandatory origin provisions would cause severe difficulties for manufacturers who buy ingredients from multiple sources, according to factors such as availability, seasonal variations and price.“It would be impossible to change the label each time the origin of a single component of a composite product is sourced from a different country. This would bring no added value to consumers who look for a consistent end product which meets their expectations.”

ENVI vote

A spokesperson for the Agri committee stressed to that the Envi committee is not bound to accept the view of the Agri MEPs, so the vote outcome cannot be taken as a firm indication of the parliament’s final view.

The Envi committee is scheduled to vote on the amendments of its rapporteur, Renate Sommer, on 21 March.

Related topics: Labelling, Policy

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