The rapporteur, Spanish MEP Andrés Perelló, pushed for the changes, voted on this week by the Committee for Environment, arguing that current rules give an unfair advantage to foreign firms.
Giving an example, Perelló said: “US juice sold in Europe as only 'orange juice' can include tangerine (or mandarin), but not EU juice. We cannot accept double standards.”
MEPs have therefore voted to allow up to 10 per cent mandarin juice to orange juice – so long as it is mentioned in the list of ingredients.
With or without labelling
The committee also voted for looser labelling requirements for nectars – agreeing with Perelló that a 'with added sugar' label need not be stamped on these products. Unlike fruit juices, nectars may be sweetened with sugar or honey.
A European Parliament spokesperson said: “He (Perelló) says that other drinks with high sugar content, such as soft drinks, are not required to make such a specific statement.”
It was also agreed that other sweeteners, other than just sugar and honey, should be allowed in nectars.
Nevertheless, the committee said any sweeteners should be clearly marked in the ingredients list and information campaigns carried out to inform consumers of the difference between nectars and juices.
Once consumer understanding has improved, the MEPs want to have “without added sugar labels” removed from juices given that the addition of sugar is prohibited anyway. They set a five year window in which manufacturers can continue using the label.
Stuart Shotton, a consultant from Food Chain Europe, warned that any additional changes to labelling requirements could prove costly. He said UK government estimates put the cost of changes to EU juice rules, which came into force this year, at £7,000 per product.
Shotton also questioned whether the latest proposals make consumers any better off. He said: “I doubt many consumers really understand the difference between nectars and juices.” And regarding the removal of “with/ without” style labelling, the consultant said such labelling can be useful as few consumers read the ingredients list.
The MEP recommendations were put forward following the publication of Commission proposals back in September designed to bring EU rules on fruit juices and nectars in line the codex Alimentarius standard. To read the Commission proposal please click here.
The next stage is for the plenary of the European Parliament to vote on the report agreed by the Committee for Environment. That vote is due to take place during the session from 4-7 June.