EU wants clearer food labelling

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New proposals to regulate food labels in the EU went before the European Parliament on Tuesday.

Country-of-origin labelling may become mandatory for meat, poultry, fish, dairy produce, fruit and vegetables.

Meat labels would also state exactly where the animal was reared.

But there are fears that an EU-wide "traffic light" coding system could stigmatise some foods. Cheese, for example, could be red for fat but green for calcium and protein.

The European Commission says food labels need updating because many shoppers now buy food on the internet and food is packaged in new ways.

Advocates of clearer labels also point to rising obesity rates in Europe, saying consumers need help to make the right choices.

National choices

"Traffic light" coding is already used by some supermarkets and the idea is backed by the European Consumers' Organisation BEUC.

"Independent research tells us that the colour-code labelling scheme... is the system of labelling that shoppers find the most useful and easiest to understand," said BEUC director general Monique Goyens.

But the European Parliament's environment committee rejected mandatory "traffic lights" in March, saying there should be scope for countries to retain national schemes, provided they did not violate EU rules.

Consumer groups are up against food industry lobbyists who fear an excessive administrative burden.

The new legislation would include on the front-of-pack label the energy, fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates, with specific reference to sugars and salt content - all expressed as per 100ml, per 100g or per portion.

Mandatory allergen labelling would be extended to food that was not pre-packed, including restaurant food.

Euro MPs will hold a first reading vote on the draft legislation on Wednesday, but it still has a long way to go, with more amendments expected.

Once it is agreed, food producers will have three years to update their labels, and small firms with fewer than 100 employees will have five years to do so.

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