Industry lobbying sees EU reject 'traffic light' food labelling

Food labelling

Consumer and health campaigners have complained that existing food labels are confusing

Food industry spent €1 billion euros lobbying against proposals to help consumers make 'healthy meal' choices with a system of red, green and amber labels on the front of food packaging

EU MPs have voted against proposals to force food manufacturers to add 'traffic light' labels on the front of packaging to help consumers work out their daily intake of salt, sugar and fat.

Foods high in these ingredients would have been given red warning labels and had been widely supported by health and consumer groups. Sainsburys and Asda have also adopted the scheme on some of their produce.

However, in the face of heavy lobbying from the food industry, European MPs voted instead for alternative proposals to put nutritional information in the form of Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) on the front of packaging.

Confused shoppers

Health campaigners complain that these will be misleading and unnoticeable to busy shoppers.

Sustain campaigner Christine Haigh said traffic light labelling was important for helping children to learn how to make healthy choices about what to eat and parents shopping for what to get the family to eat.

She said there was disagreement about portion sizes amongst food manufacturers with the alternative labelling scheme. It also did not give portions for children, often the target market for snack and sweet foods high in salt, sugar and fat.

Industry lobbying

Other health campaigners expressed their dismay at the amount of food industry lobbying against traffic light labelling.

The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) was estimated to have spent €1 billion euros opposing the plans. European MP Carl Schlyter, member of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), admitted the lobbying had 'buried traffic light labelling'.

'The most active interest groups on the lobbying front were associations of retailers, of producers of processed products such as cereals, chewing gums, ready-meals, and soft-drinks manufacturers of course,' he said.

British Heart Foundation CEO Peter Hollins said European MPs should be 'ashamed' of putting the interests of the food lobby ahead of the health of the people they represent.

'Thousands of people across the UK have taken action to ask their MEPs to back traffic lights because they want help to make healthy choices. But the food industry has spent millions of pounds lobbying to block this improvement in food labelling. David has been no match for the industry’s Goliath,' he said.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said the vote was not the end of any hope for 'traffic light' labelling and Member States and the Commission could yet reverse the decision.

Useful links
FSA on food labelling


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