‘Serious compromise’ needed over EU nutrition labelling, report

EUFood industry and consumer groups are poles apart over the question of mandatory nutrition labelling, according to the results of a public consultation conducted last year, with government opinion somewhere between the two.

Nutrition labelling for the bloc is governed by the Council Directive 90/496/EC, and a subsequent amendment in 2003. In November 2004 the EC published an impact assessment on the topic conducted by European Advisory Services on the mandatory nutrition labelling for pre-packaged food products.

The findings of the consultation industry are in line with those of EAS: while most consumer and health NGOs said they were in favour of a mandatory approach, the food industry continues to press for a voluntary approach.

The public consultation was initiated by the DG SANCO, European Commission last year in the hope of finding a common approach. But from the 175 responses received, it appears its hopes have found little fertile ground.

EAS regulatory and affairs manager Efi Leontopoulou predicts that it will take “serious compromise” to reach a consensus between the need to inform the consumer and the impact of setting out mandatory labelling requirements on small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

From the food industry's perspective, however, one of the main objections related to cost. By questioning a sample of 203 companies from 21 member states, it was established that the cost of nutrition labelling in table form was “considerably higher” than for linear labelling.

“Both consumer and health NGOs and food industry have strong arguments to defend their positions,” said EAS regulatory and affairs manager Efi Leontopoulou.

However Leontopoulou accepted that both agreed that the label should serve as an accurate information tool for the consumer.

Other labelling issues on the table include which products should be exempt (water and/or alcoholic drinks, for instance); what to do when there is only a small space available; and the presence of Guidance Daily Allowances (GDAs) of energy, fats, carbohydrates and proteins alongside traditional information, rather than instead of it.

Last week some of the UK's biggest food manufacturers are launching a £4m campaign next Monday to promote GDA labels.

Danone, Kellogg's, Kraft, Nestle and PepsiCo and retailers Tesco and Morrisons have joined together to promote the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) scheme, which they claim will help people 'make better-informed decisions about the food they eat'.

But this scheme has been described as fundamentally flawed by the UK's Children's Food Campaign, which says that almost half of adults and most children lack the complex mathematical skills to interpret them.

source Food Navigator