All 27 EU member states will have to adhere to new rules on food labelling, giving consumers more information about the nutritional aspects of packaged food products.
The new EU food labelling laws were given the last nod by the European Parliament last week and are expected to enter into force in three years’ time, giving food manufacturers ample time to adapt to the new regime.
The main changes will concern the origin of all type of meat and nutritional information on all packaged food. Until now, producers were only obliged to state the origin of beef. The new rules extend the “origin” information to all types of meat including pork, chicken and lamb.
The rule of origin will also apply to other types of food such as honey, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables and in future could also be extended to other categories, like meat when used as an ingredient, milk or unprocessed foods.
The European Commission must, however, first carry out impact assessments to weigh up the feasibility and potential costs of applying the rule to unprocessed foods.
Another novelty will be the introduction of compulsory nutritional values. According to the new regime, the energy content and amounts of fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt must all be stated in a legible tabular form on the packaging together and in the same field of vision. All this information has to be expressed per 100g or per 100ml. It may also, in addition, be expressed per portion.
It should also become easier for consumers to inspect whether a product contains allergenic substances as they will have to be highlighted in the ingredient list.
The new rules also state that information on allergens must be given for non-packaged foods, for example on food sold in restaurants or canteens.
Member states may decide how the information is to be made available to consumers.
Consumer groups positively welcomed the new rules even though they expressed dismay at the exclusion of alcohol – a big lobbying industry. “Why doesn’t the alcohol industry do it? If it’s such a natural product why is it such a big secret,” said Marianne Skar, from European Alcohol Policy Alliance.
European Health Commissioner John Dalli said plans to include alcohol in the new legislation could still be in the pipeline. “On alcohol, I believe we will be making our own studies to see whether we can come to an arrangement to have some type of nutrition information on alcoholic beverages,” he said.
Traceability of Europe’s food became a major issue during the recent E. coli outbreak.