Brussels, 30 January 2008
The European Commission adopted today a proposal to make food labels clearer and more relevant to the needs of EU consumers. The aim of the draft Regulation is to modernise and improve EU food labelling rules, so that consumers have, in a legible and understandable manner, the essential information they need to make informed purchasing choices. Under today's proposal, pre-packaged food will have to display key nutritional information on the front of the package. General requirements on how nutrition information should be displayed on food labels are also set out, although there is room for Member States to promote additional national schemes provided they do not undermine the EU rules. For public health reasons, the draft Regulation extends the current requirements for allergen labelling to cover non pre-packed food, including food sold in restaurants and other catering establishments. Industry should also benefit from the proposed new rules, as they set up a clearer, more harmonised legislative framework for food labelling and create a level playing field for all operators. The draft Regulation was drawn up following extensive consultations with consumer organisations, industry and other stakeholders.
Commissioner for Health, Markos Kyprianou, said: "Food labels can have a huge influence on consumers' purchasing decisions. Confusing, overloaded or misleading labels can be more of a hindrance than a help to the consumer. Today's proposal aims to ensure that food labels carry the essential information in a clear and legible way, so that EU citizens are empowered to make balanced dietary choices."
Modern rules for a modern market
Consumers today are bombarded with information on the food they buy. Moreover, the way in which this information is presented is becoming ever more varied and complex, while the quality of food labels varies greatly from product to product and from one Member State to another. Research shows that many consumers feel confused or overwhelmed by modern food labels, and have difficulty in identifying the key information. The Commission's proposal aims to provide consumers with easy access to the most important information on food labels and to ensure some uniformity in its presentation across the 27 Member States. At the same time, the proposed new measures are flexible to market changes and seek to encourage innovation in the food industry.
Facilitating healthier choices
One of the Commission's public health priorities is to promote healthier diets amongst EU citizens. Part of this campaign entails providing consumers with the tools to make informed nutritional choices. Clear, accurate and relevant information on food labels can be a valuable means for consumers to check exactly what they are buying and eating.
Today's proposal requires that the energy, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates with specific reference to sugars and salt content per 100 ml/g or per portion of the product are displayed clearly on the front of the packet. In addition, the proportion of these elements to the reference intakes (e.g. Recommended Daily Allowance) must be indicated.
Clear, understandable information
By far the most common complaint that consumers have with regard to food labels is that they cannot find or read the information that they are looking for. Often essential information is very small, hidden or overshadowed by marketing slogans. Therefore, the draft Regulation sets down general principles for food labelling which will have to be respected by industry. These include requirements that the label is legible (print size of at least 3mm), clear and accurate and that the presentation of voluntary information does not detract from the mandatory information.
More protection against allergens
Given the severe health risks that allergens can pose, the draft Regulation proposes that all food containing allergenic substances (such as peanuts, milk, mustard or fish) must be labelled or the presence of the allergen must be clearly indicated in another way. This is one step further than the current allergen labelling requirement, which only covers pre-packed food at the Community level. Under the new rules, unpackaged food and food served by restaurants or catering establishments will also have to indicate the presence of allergens, to better protect those who are susceptible to reactions to such products.
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