MEPs, voting in the Parliament’s plenary session this morning, vetoed the European Commission’s bid to revise Annex of EC Regulation 1924/2006 which was aimed at encouraging food makers to make incremental reformulation efforts.
The politician opposed to the proposal concluded that the new food labeling could have confused or misled consumers. Today’s vote mirrors the resolution of MEPs involved in Tuesday’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) committee’s poll on the same topic.
"The European Parliament has defended the interests of health-conscious consumers, who need to be able to make clear comparisons when shopping for food", said Matthias Groote, chair of the ENVI Committee, in reaction to today’s plenary vote.
The Commisson had sought to introduces two new nutrition claims into the Annex - namely, the ‘Now contains X% less’ claim as well as the ‘No added salt /sodium’ claim.
Back to square one
But Parliament's veto - 393 votes in favour, 161 against and 21 abstentions - sends the Commission’s proposal back to the drawing board.
The amendments, if passed, would have allowed, for example, a "15% less sugar" claim, which would be based on a previous formulation of the same product.
But MEPs said this would be hard to compare - or could misleadingly appear healthier - than a ‘reduced sugar’ label, which must contain 30% less than other similar products, under existing EU legislation on health and nutrition claims.
Lack of informed choice?
"It means that consumers will not be informed of important reformulations to foods so that they can make an informed food choice thus driving positive changes in dietary habits. Secondly, it serves a ‘bitter pill’ to food operators who have strived to voluntarily reformulate their products in line with consumer taste and public health expectations over the years.
It is difficult to comprehend how member states who agreed on the merits of informing consumers about these claims, and which were taken up within the EU High Level Group on Nutrition and under the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, yet, members of the European Parliament have failed to understand that reasoning."
The UK food and drink industry also expressed disappointment and concerns about the potential impact on industry’s reformulation work.
Barbara Gallani, director of food safety and science at the Food and Drink Federation, commented: “Today’s result is a blow for consumers and industry alike. ‘X% less’ and ‘no added salt’ claims would have supported the food industry’s drive to gradually reformulate products."
Public health impact
DG Sanco, the Health and Consumer Policy directorate at the Commission, claimed an incremental approach to food and drink reformulation such as proposed under the ‘percentage less" claim was in line with the viewpoint of the EU platform for action on diet, physical activity and health.
A spokesperson for DG Sanco said last week that modest reductions are more feasible and achievable by “more operators”. and, he argued: “A wider range of reformulated products with such modest improvements but acceptable by more consumers could become available and therefore lead to a bigger impact in term of public health, compared with the 'light' products which are consumed by a limited [number of] consumers.”