MEPs plump for GDAs over traffic lights

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union European parliament

The much-anticipated EU parliament vote on amendments to the proposed food information regulation came down on the side of the industry’s own GDAs – to the chagrin of health groups believe traffic lights are more accessible.

Ever since the proposal for the new regulation was published in January 2008 there has been hot debate in Brussels and across member states about the best mandatory system for displaying nutritional information. Although a host of formats already exist across the bloc, two have dominated discussions: the food industry-developed Guidance Daily Amount (GDA) scheme, and the colour-coded traffic-light scheme.

Yesterday MEPs voted on an amendments proposal tabled by Environment committee rapporteur Renate Sommer and adopted by the committee. After a lively debate, they have signalled strongly that they would like to see the GDA scheme as the sole front-of-pack scheme.

The outcome has been welcomed by the food industry umbrella association, the CIAA. It called it an “endorsement”​ by MEPs, and “a positive step in the right direction, not only for consumers (many of whom have become increasingly familiar with the scheme and who understand and use it to make informed food choices) but also for manufacturers who have implemented GDAs over the last few years”.

MEPs also voted against a hybrid scheme that applied colours to GDAs, and which some studies have indicated are well understood by consumers.

Goliath beats David – but the war is not lost…

The vote outcome has been met with dismay by health campaigners, who believe that traffic lights are the right away to show consumers a food’s nutritional value at-a-glance.

Peter Hollins, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “The European Parliament should be ashamed of putting the interests of the food lobby ahead of the health of the people they represent.

“Thousands of people across the UK have taken action to ask their MEPs to back traffic lights because they want help to make healthy choices. But the food industry has spent millions of pounds lobbying to block this improvement in food labelling. David has been no match for the industry’s Goliath.”

The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation have also declared their pro-traffic light stance.

ESC spokesperson Simon Capewell, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Liverpool, said criticisms that there has been insufficient research to measure the effectiveness of traffic lights are “nonsense”.

“Extensive solid evidence exists showing that more people understand the simple traffic light system than other, more complicated schemes.”

Hollins pointed out the battle for MEP’s minds may be lost for now, but the war is far from over.

“The European Council and Commission still have the opportunity to give this critical scheme the green light and we will continue to fight for the health of ordinary people above the profits of the food industry,” ​he said.

A statement from the Parliament late yesterday said that agreement between Parliament and Council is unlikely at the first reading stage, meaning a second reading will be necessary. Even once the regulation is agreed and implemented, large food firms will have three years to comply and smaller firms five years.

Other votes

MEPs also cast votes on some other contentious points to the proposed regulations. The said:

  • GDA values should be given per 100g or 100ml
  • Energy, fat, saturates, sugar and salt GDAs should be on the front-of-pack, but protein, fibres and transfats should be elsewhere on the pack.
  • New country of origin requirements should apply to meat, poultry and dairy foods – and also where these foods are used as ingredients.
  • Nutrient profiling should be reinstated
  • Exemptions should be made for unpackaged and microenterprise-produced hardcraft foods, and alcoholic beverages.

An article on the nutritional profiling outcome is available from our sister site NutraIngredients here​.

An article on the COOL outcome is available from our sister site FoodProductionDaily here.

Related topics Policy Labelling Food labelling

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