The Council of Ministers adopted its common position yesterday without debate. The debate at which the agreement was reached took place in December, and attracted dismayed remarks from the Parliament’s Environment committee rapporteur Renate Sommer (article on reactions here).
The CIAA (Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the EU) has said it welcomes the common position as it brings the Council and Parliament “one step closer to an agreement”.
However it is putting store by the European Parliament to reach a “balanced agreement which provides consumers with clear labelling, enabling them to make more informed food and drink choices based on their individual needs”.
In a statement released to coincide with the Council adoption the CIAA issued a statement reiterating the main points on which it is lobbying hard on behalf of industry.
COOL extension not cool
The particular stickling points for the CIAA include the extension of mandatory country of origin labelling (COOL) to pork, lamb and poultry – and possibly to milk and other major ingredient too within three years of entry into force – rather than requiring it only in cases where no COOL labelling might mislead the consumer.
The Council’s preference would be unworkable for industry, the CIAA says, as food companies may need to switch the supply of their ingredients regularly to account for price fluctuations or stock availability. Having to change their labelling so frequently would be very hard to manage and expensive.
“Should the existing legislation on mandatory origin labelling be extended, this should, at a minimum, be preceded by an impact assessment including a stakeholder consultation in order to assess the need, feasibility and practicality of such an extension.”
What size legibility?
The industry group has also criticised the Council’s approach to legibility of mandatory information on food labels, as it has focused on minimum font size. This approach is seen as too simplistic, as there are other design features that affect legibility, such as the font type, the contrast between the font and background, line and character pitch.
“Should the institutions call for a minimum font size, we would urge that this should be no more than 1 mm; otherwise it could negatively impact on spacing (among other things), thus, in turn, compromising legibility.”
The CIAA has responded positively to the indication that both the Council and the Parliament are favourable to its guidance daily amount (GDA) labelling scheme for providing nutritional information on a per portion basis.
GDAs were developed by the industry but they do have their critics, including those who fear that lack of numeracy skills will be a barrier to understanding for some people, and that simply labelling energy, fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar does not give an indication of the positive nutrients per portion, such as vitamins and fibre.
The Council has said that, as a general principle, energy (calories) and sugar, salt, fat, saturates would have to be given expressed per 100g or per 100ml – but ministers left a wind open for food businesses to use “additional forms of expression or presentation” – take to mean per portion - as long as consumers would not be misled.
There remains ongoing debate, too, about whether member states should be allowed to carry on using their national schemes in parallel with a common GDA-type scheme. National schemes that have garnered consumer awareness include the Swedish keyhole design.
According to the CIAA, allowing for national additional schemes “would create barriers to trade, fragmenting the Single Market”.
The food information legislation will now move back to the European Parliament for second reading.