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Traffic Light Labelling in the EU refused
The proposal to label food packaging with a traffic light in red, yellow and green to inform consumers about the sugar, salt and fat content of food was refused by the members of the European Parliament.
Around the globe the number of overweight people is rising. They increasingly become a risk for global health care systems because the associated diseases cost societies billions. According to the EU commission in most EU member states over 50% of the population are overweight. 7% of the total health care costs in the EU are estimated to be caused by diseases related to obesity. Does nutrition-related data on food packaging provide relief here?
No traffic lights on packaging
At least for the time being there will be no European traffic light for food. The proposal made to apply the "traffic light labelling" introduced in the UK for convenience food, snacks and lemonades all over Europe was refused by the EU parliament. The MEPs in the European Union voted against its Europe-wide introduction. The food traffic light would have been used to label the sugar, salt and fat content in red, yellow and green. Red would have meant "high level" and green "low".
Two thirds of the MEPs voted against the proposal for several reasons: they said that the traffic light system was developed for convenience food in England and therefore not suitable for basic foodstuffs. For instance, Diet Coke would get a "green light" because of its sugar content while natural fruit juice would end up with a "red light" just on account of its natural sugar content. Likewise, the traffic light system could not make a distinction between butter and low-fat margarine: both had a high fat content and would therefore be "red". Healthy products such as nuts would - on account of their relatively high fat content - be given the "red card" without their mineral and vitamin content being taken into consideration.
Another argument stated was that based on the experience acquired in the UK some manufacturers had changed their product ingredients so as to obtain "better colours". Sugar was said to have been replaced by food starch or sweeteners, salt by glutamate thereby deceiving consumers.
What will change?
So far nutritional labelling has been done voluntarily by producers and retail. As a result it was not uniform. In future, information on calories will have to be provided on the front of the packaging and nutritional information on its reverse: producers are to be obliged to make unambiguous statements on a number of ingredients such as fat, salt, sugar, proteins or unsaturated fatty acids.
Another problem was and still is legibility. Even though a list of ingredients is now already mandatory, it is often hard to read since the font size is too small or the print too poor. A problem especially for older shoppers. Furthermore, the nutritional value box will be made mandatory, which states the contents of the most important nutrients per 100 gram or 100 millilitres on the back of the packaging. Always in the same place on the front and in large font there will now be mandatory information on calories. Additionally, there will be separate labelling for so-called imitation foods such as analogue cheese, i.e. cheese made from vegetable fats. It looks like cheese, tastes like cheese - but is not a dairy product. And consumers are to know in future.
Critics, however, demand that packaging should not unnecessarily be "blown up" due to this specified minimum font size. The potential national provisions could cause additional costs to the tune of several billion Euros since many food manufacturers distribute their products throughout Europe.