After the first reading of the Food Information Regulation (FIR) in the EP in June, MEPs rejected proposals to include mandatory traffic light labelling on processed foods and instead opted for a GDA-based (Guideline Daily Amount) system.
They also voted against proposals to allow individual Member States to retain national labelling schemes such as the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) traffic lights system.
The proposal is now being debated by the Council of Ministers, with a common Member State position likely to be agreed by December, ahead of a further vote in the Parliament early next year.
Retention of national systems
Willmott (pictured) recently convened a meeting with consumer group Which? and other bodies such as the British Medical Association (BMA) and Cancer Research UK, to discuss continued lobbying of Member States in the Council of Ministers.
The aim is to ensure that, at the very least, national schemes such as the UK’s traffic light’s system are allowed to be kept in tandem with GDA data as part of the regulation.
Chris Pole, Willmott’s assistant in Brussels, said that the MEP – along with associated NGOs and consumer groups backing colour-coding – was “quite confident” member states would support the retention of national systems for colour-coded labelling.
He also explained the rationale behind a joint lobbying movement to publicise the issue:“The article to retain national colour-coding schemes was deleted by the Parliament, and we are aiming right now to get it reinstated alongside GDA information.
“It would be a great shame if we lost traffic light labelling, because food companies and retailers in the UK have invested heavily in the scheme, given its FSA backing.”
Consumer group concerns
Which? chief policy advisor Sue Davies said that all the evidence supported the effectiveness of traffic light labelling: “We still hope that manufacturers will see sense and go with what the evidence shows works best.”
Food campaigner for Which? Miranda Watson added: “We need labelling that works in the best interests of consumers. We’re not obsessed with one label, but FSA research shows that colour-coding is liked and understood, where it details fat, sugar, salt content.”
But Barbara Gallani, director of food safety and science for food and beverage trade body the Food & Drink Federation (FDF), said that GDA labels alone were clearer:
“The FDF have always supported the use of Guideline Daily Amounts as a way of improving the food literacy of consumers. GDAs provide objective information for consumers, boosting their food literacy in a way that is both accurate and does not demonise products that can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.
"The FDF does not support the use of traffic lights in combination with GDA labels as such an approach would be unnecessarily complex.”
Willmott said in her blog that the health and consumer groups had agreed to launch a ‘citizen’s initiative’, whereby campaigners would gather a million signatures in support of colour-coded labelling.
Pole said that under the terms of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, this would mean that the Commission would be forced to give a “full and considered response” to concerns raised and potentially propose new legislation.
However, he admitted that this would be a “medium-term” expedient, given that the details of this draft contingency within the treaty still needed to be ironed out.
Willmott told the Parliament’s public health committee in March that big food manufacturers were trying to “stop people knowing the facts about what they eat” by lobbying for colour-coding to be scrapped.
She added: "We know that people want this kind of information and health professionals are clear that it would help in the battle against obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So why are manufacturers so afraid of telling people what's in their food?”