The ENL gives a colour based on the individual nutrients such as sugar, fat and salt in a food and drink, meaning a single product could simultaneously have a green and red light. It also gives nutritional information per portion rather than per 100 g.
This has resulted in criticism over its potential to mislead consumers. Ferrero's chocolate and hazelnut-based spread Nutella, for instance, contains 90% sugar and fat but, under the ENL logo, has no red light.
Mars was one of the original six companies that developed the label but will now withdraw, instead calling for a single nutrition label to be used uniformly across Europe.
A spokesperson told FoodNavigator: "After a year of intense engagement with [ENL] stakeholders, we have come to the conclusion that whilst there is support for a pan-European approach and to a lesser degree for interpretative nutrition labelling, the ‘per portion’ solution explored by ENL does not currently enjoy the credibility and required broad level of consensus among stakeholders to make it a viable option at this point."
The five other ENL companies, Mondelēz , Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Unilever, said they remained committed to the logo.
'We call on the Commission to develop an EU regulation'
The global manufacturer of M&Ms, Uncle Ben’s, Dolmio sauces and Wrigley’s chewing gum is calling for binding EU regulation to create a level playing field for manufacturers.
"We cannot risk inertia –we call to move forward with EU-level action," the Mars spokesperson said. "We need a pan-European solution, for all EU consumers to benefit from it and to reduce complexity and cost to businesses."
"Given the diverging stakeholder views on the right approach to nutrition labelling, we call on the European Commission to take stock of the situation and, together with EU member states, consider developing an EU regulation to harmonise interpretative labelling. This would deliver benefits to consumers, ensure a level playing field for businesses and provide legal certainty."
The firm said this would be best achieved by a transparent and inclusive EU-level process, led by the European Commission, bringing together member states, consumer and public health NGOs, academics and industry, to explore which existing scheme or schemes are credible and acceptable to be rolled out across the EU.
Five remaining firms call on others to adopt ENL
A statement given by a Unilever spokesperson on behalf of the remaining ENL companies said they respected Mars’ decision. “Moving forward, we welcome Mars’ continued support for a consistent Europe-wide approach to interpretative nutrition labelling."
The five remaining companies said they firmly believed that ENL was an important contribution towards identifying a European solution for nutrition labelling and, while recognising the existence of diverging views on the issue, called on other companies to adopt the ENL.
“Through ENL, our aim has always been to address the needs of our consumers, who want simple, easy-to-understand and meaningful nutrition labelling including realistic portion size information. For this reason, we continue our EU and national consultations, while we reiterate our call for the European Commission to define standard portion sizes.
“We firmly believe in the power of collective action and therefore call for an EU-led process that brings together all relevant stakeholders (the European Commission, Member States, consumer groups, NGOs and industry) for constructive engagement toward identifying a solution that will benefit all European consumers.”
Mégane Ghorbani, campaign manager at industry watchdog Foodwatch France said Mars’ decision was a step in the right direction.
“It proves that a major player in the agri-food industry recognizes the criticism of Foodwatch and many others on a fanciful approach based on unrealistic serving portions carried by some big manufacturers. We now hope that they will all side with reason and abandon their attempt to spread misinformation.”
Foodwatch called on the manufacturers to adopt government-backed labelling schemes, such as the UK’s traffic light logo that was developed by the Food Standards Agency or France’s NutriScore.
Mars in transparency drive
Mars' ENL announcement comes just weeks after it said it was leaving the controversial industry-funded science group, International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) by the end of the year.
It also published its science policy, (click here to read in full) in which it promises to freely publish research findings regardless of the outcome, fully disclose any potential conflicts of interest and ensure that funding is not linked to achievement of a specific research result.