Monday, February 16, 2009

Food labelling

Today in Brussels I am taking part in a debate in my full committee (Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) on a proposed new law on food labelling. We are essentially looking at how much information should be provided on the labels of the food we buy and how it should be presented. As with all proposed EU legislation, the European Commission has proposed the first draft and now it is up to MEPs and national governments to jointly decide on the final content of it (it's what in euro-speak is called co-decision).

Today we will be debating the 700 or so amendments submitted to the proposal by members of the committee! I have submitted my own amendments which aim to do the following:

  1. Ensure that when we buy our food in the supermarket we can see where it comes from, be it bacon, fruit or ready meals. This is known as country of origin labelling. At present there is no obligation on food manufacturers to provide this information and this must change. I think people want to know where their food comes from and I hope my fellow MEPs on the committee will back me on this. It is also important that the place of production is accurate - for example at present a ready lasagna could be labelled as British because it was last processed in Britain, even though the meat in it could in fact have come from Romania and the tomatoes from Greece. I support labelling of the place of agricultural production (birth, rearing and slaughter) of the main ingredients rather than just the country where the ingredients were all put together in a factory.

  2. Introduce a requirement to label the amount of energy and carbohydrates on alcoholic drinks. There is no reason why this information should not be given on a can of lager or a bottle of alcopops so those who want to can see how many calories and carbohydrates they are consuming.

  3. Introduce a mandatory requirement for the UK's own successful traffic light system to be used. Research shows that consumers prefer the use of red, amber and green to indicate whether a food is high, medium or low in a particular nutrient. It provides for easy to understand, at a glance comparison. My amendments would make these mandatory for all processed convenience foods such as pizzas, burgers, sausages, ready meals. Again I will be seeking to persuade other MEPs to support my proposed changes to the draft legislation.

After the debate today, there will be a vote by all MEPs on the committee in March and then the legislation as amended is scheduled to be voted on by the full Parliament (in what we call a plenary session) in May. If after the May vote there is agreement with the national governments, then the legislation will become law. If the European Parliament and the national governments cannot agree then there will be a second reading in the Parliament's next term, following the June elections.

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