Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A mixed bag of food labelling

Now the dust has settled, last week's plenary vote, as I blogged beforehand might well be described as a mixed bag.

We lost our headline campaign, which was to get mandatory traffic light labelling on processed convenience foods and unfortunately the provision for voluntary national schemes such as the FSA's traffic light scheme was also deleted, with the support of Tory MEPs, which means, somewhat bizarrely, that Tory MEPs voted to reduce their own government's scope to implement its own front of pack labelling scheme, preferring a harmonised EU scheme of percentage GDAs (Guideline Daily Amounts).

Their basis for opposition to my proposals for colour coding appeared to be wholly based on the arguments industry put forward and on industry-supported research.

The first criticism made by Tory MEPs was that the colours were too simplistic so they preferred GDAs. Despite all the information I had sent to them in advance of the vote, they must have failed to spot that the amendments on the table provided for a combination of GDAs and traffic lights - colour-coded GDAs - so rather than simplistic, it actually provided more information than GDAs alone.

The other argument used was that traffic lights would favour diet coca-cola over apple juice on sugar, given the high levels of natural sugars in apple juice and the artificial sweeteners used in diet Coke. If they had bothered to look at my proposal, again they would have seen that fruit juices would not be covered by my amendments.

Colour coding aside, we did win a major (but narrow) victory on mandatory country of origin labelling, with a majority of MEPs voting to ensure honest and transparent food labelling. My amendments as adopted would see food producers obliged to label all meat, poultry, dairy products and other single-ingredient products with the country of origin, and also the meat, poultry and fish contained in processed or multi-ingredient products.

We also secured front of pack labelling for the key nutrients such as calories, salt, sugar and fats and fought off industry-backed attempts reduce consumer protection from misleading advertising of health and nutrition claims.

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