Food labels should include mandatory nutritional information, inter alia on trans fats and the country of provenance, said Environment Committee MEPs on Tuesday. The committee amended draft EU legislation to ensure that labels are legible, do not mislead, and provide the information that consumers need to make choices.
The draft legislation, voted at the second reading by the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee on Tuesday, aims to modernise, simplify and clarify food labelling within the EU. It would change existing rules on information that is compulsory on all labels, such as name, list of ingredients, "best before" or "use by" dates, specific conditions of use, and add a requirement to list key nutritional information. MEPs also want to require an indication of the "date of first freezing" for frozen unprocessed meat, poultry and fish.
Compulsory legible nutrition labelling on packaging
MEPs agreed that key nutritional information, such as energy content, and amounts of fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt, must be indicated in a legible tabular form on the back of the packaging. But to this list they added trans fats (the inclusion of which the Council of Ministers would have made voluntary). All this information would have to be expressed per 100g or per 100ml, and also per portion, and could also be accompanied by guideline daily amounts.
To ensure the labels are legible, MEPs list a wide range of factors to be taken into account by the Commission, which will have to establish binding rules.
New "country of provenance" requirements
The origin of certain foods, such as beef, honey, olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables, must already be stated on the label. At Parliament's request, the Council of Ministers agreed to extend this to swine, sheep, goat and poultry meat. However, MEPs now wish to go further, by indicating the "place or country of provenance " for all meat and poultry, milk and dairy products and other single-ingredient products.. They also voted for a requirement to state the country of provenance for meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed food.
Additional labelling of meat and clear labelling of "imitated food", to avoid misleading consumers
Meat labels should indicate where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered, say MEPs. In addition, meat from slaughter without stunning (in accordance with certain religious traditions), should be labelled as such and meat consisting of combined meat parts must be labelled "formed meat".
MEPs strengthened the rules to ensure that consumers are not misled by the presentation of food packaging. They also insisted that foods should not be labelled in a way that could create the impression that they are a different food. Where an ingredient has been replaced, this should be clearly stated on the label, they say. Food containing aspartame should be labelled "Contains aspartame (a source of phenylalanine; might be unsuitable for pregnant women)".
Exemptions: alcohol and micro-enterprises
A majority in committee felt that alcoholic drinks should be exempted from the new rules. MEPs argued that the issue of "alcopops" cannot be addressed until they have been defined - a task that they assigned to the Commission. They also asked the Commission to assess the need to include alcohol in future, accompanied if necessary by a legislative proposal.
MEPs also approved exemptions for non-prepacked food intended for immediate consumption. Micro-entreprises making handcrafted food products should also be excluded, MEPs say.
The committee approved its proposals with 57 votes in favour, 4 against and 1 abstention, giving rapporteur Renate Sommer (EPP, DE) a strong mandate to enter into negotiations with to achieve a second-reading agreement with Council ahead of Parliament's plenary vote in July.
Entry into force
Once the legislation is adopted, food businesses will have three years to adapt to the rules. They will have two more years, so five years in total, to apply the rules on the nutritional declaration.
In the chair: Jo Leinen (S&D, DE)