E.U. votes in favor of uniform food labeling

by Eric Schroeder
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STRASBOURG, FRANCE — Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on June 16 adopted draft legislation that would make certain nutrition information and guideline daily amounts mandatory but rejected a proposal for “traffic light” values to highlight the salt, sugar and fat content of processed foods.

The final vote was 559 in favor of the legislation, 54 against and 32 abstentions.

“Overall I am satisfied with the result of today’s important vote on clearer food information rules,” said Renate Sommer, a German MEP and one of those responsible for drafting the report. “Personally, I am pleased that MEPs did not support traffic light labeling, but I also feel that we can continue to improve the current proposal to better inform consumers.”

In setting out clearer and more consistent food labeling rules, the MEPs backed the European Commission proposal that quantities of fat, saturates, sugar and salt — as well as energy — must be indicated on the front of food packs. The MEPs said the quantities should be accompanied by guideline daily amounts and expressed with per 100 gram or per 100 ml values. The MEPs also voted for details of protein, fibers and trans fats to be included elsewhere on the packaging.

The introduction of a “traffic light” system that would have required certain processed foods to carry red, amber or green values to indicate certain levels of salt, sugar and fat, was rejected by a majority of MEPs, as was a proposal to allow a similar scheme at the national level.

Regarding new country-of-origin requirements, the MEPs supported extending the rules to include all meat, poultry, dairy products and other single-ingredient products. Country-of-origin labeling is already mandatory for certain foods, such as beef, honey, olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition, the MEPs voted for the country-of-origin to be stated for meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed food. Specific to meat, the MEPs said labels should indicate where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered. In addition, meat from slaughter without stunning (according to certain religious traditions) should be labeled as such, the MEPs said.

The MEPs narrowly rejected — by a single vote — a recommendation that would have eliminated “nutrient profiles” from existing E.U. nutrition and health claims legislation. Those against consider the profiles to be unscientific, while those for view them as essential to assess health claims.

Before the legislation is adopted, the E.C. said it is likely to return to Parliament for a second reading. Once adopted, food and beverage companies will have three years to adapt to the rules. Smaller operators, with fewer than 100 employees and an annual turnover under €5 million, would have five years to comply.

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