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food / travel

EU Food Labels On The Way – Just Not Right Away

The EU Council of Ministers has finally cleared the way for Nutrition Facts labels to be standardized Europe-wide. But manufacturers still have a few years to conform – and consumer protection groups aren’t entirely happy.

Starting in 2016, Europe plans to standardize food labels
Starting in 2016, Europe plans to standardize food labels
Daniela Kuhr

It's a familiar story. Much too often, European shoppers reach for fatty, high calorie food that is often either very sweet or very salty. That, in turn, can lead to unhealthy weight gain, which is one of the reasons health care costs are exploding.

So that consumers can recognize at first glance what exactly is in a food product, on Thursday the EU Council of Ministers – after three and a half years of negotiations with the Commission and Parliament – finally cleared the way for standardized European labeling. They also gave manufacturers a generous amount of time to conform.

From 2016, all European food packaging must contain information about a product‘s energy value, as well as its fat, saturate, carbohydrate, sugar, protein, and salt content. The information must be expressed per 100g or per 100ml, but can additionally be indicated on a per portion basis and, as is already the case in Germany, as a percentage of reference intakes, better known as GDA (Guidelines Daily Amounts).

Consumer protection groups say the new regulations don't go far enough. There are two particular areas of concern. First, the new rules allow food producers to ‘hide" information about a product's caloric value on the back of the package. Consumer protection groups wanted the information to appear on the front of packaging.

Second, a number of nutritionists and doctors had supported putting the so-called Food Check on packaging. The Food Check uses red, yellow and green to indicate whether the nutritional value of a food is high, middling or low. However, as research showed that this simplified way of indicating the information caused many consumers to draw false conclusions about the quality of a product, neither EU parliamentarians nor members of the Council of Ministers favored its inclusion.

Germany's Federal Minister of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, Ilse Aigner, characterized the new regulations as "an important step." In the future, consumers all over Europe will be able to count on "transparent and uniform labeling," she said.

In Germany, many food manufacturers have long been voluntarily providing nutritional values on their packaging, including information about daily requirements. "I'm assuming that they will keep on providing the daily requirement information even if it isn't stipulated in the new rules," says Anja Weisgerber, a German consumer protection expert at the European Parliament.

The rules also include stipulations for producers of imitation food, such as imitation cheese, or reconstituted meat that is glued together through the use meat glue. From 2014, substitute or glued ingredients must be clearly legible near the product name. VZBV nutrition expert Christina Rempe welcomed this as being one of the "biggest advantages' of the new regulations. "It enables consumers to see through a product and recognize when a flattering names boil down to little more than a cheap substitution product."

Read the original article in German

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