18 June 2010
FOOD INDUSTRY "MUST NOW ACCEPT THE NEED FOR HONEST LABELLING"
Food manufacturers must now accept the need to be more upfront and honest about the way they label their packages.
That's the message from North East Labour MEP Stephen Hughes after the European Parliament voted to require companies to display more nutritional information about their products on the front of packs.
A massive lobby by the food industry defeated proposals by parliamentarians to require the use of "traffic light labels" on many processed foods, but manufacturers failed in their attempts to block more honest labelling about where products are produced.
In an important victory for consumers, the parliament backed rules to prevent products largely produced with imported ingredients from being misleadingly labelled as British. That's a move that will be welcomed by the National Farmers Unions and consumer groups.
At present the processing of a food in the UK can allow companies to label it as British, even though the meat could have come from an animal that was reared and slaughtered abroad.
Although not approving colour coded labels, the parliament did back a requirement for foods to include key nutritional information, including the amount of salt, fat and sugar contained in the product, on the front of packaging.
Manufacturers were pushing to limit this requirement to the back of the pack.
Stephen Hughes MEP, First Vice President of the Socialist Group, had supported the charge to introduce more consumer friendly labels.
Speaking after the vote he said: "Food manufacturers must now recognise that they have a responsibility to be fair and upfront with their customers.
"The rules we've approved today make it clear that we won't stand for people being misled by food packaging.
"It's an important victory that I know will be welcomed by farmers and, most importantly, by shoppers who want to know exactly where their food has come from."
Unsurprised by traffic light result
Speaking about the failure to push through a traffic light scheme, Stephen said: "I'm disappointed but unsurprised that we didn't get agreement on traffic lights.
"What's particularly sad about the last few weeks is that discussions took place in a climate of misinformation - due in no small part to the campaign being waged against consumer-friendly labels.
"Food manufactures have spent so much time and money on trying to avoid giving their own customers honest information about their food. These companies should be focussing their resources on helping consumers understand exactly what they're putting in their trolley."
Campaign to continue
Today's first reading vote will now be considered by ministers from EU governments.
Stephen Hughes added: "We still need EU governments to agree to these provisions, and food manufacturers are already pushing hard for them to weaken the parliament's plans.
"If we're serious about tackling heart disease and obesity, we have to help people understand how much salt, fat and sugar is in their food. That's particularly true for products like ready meals and prepacked sandwiches where the label is the only way of knowing how healthy something is."
"Labour MEPs will continue to campaign to give shoppers the right to know exactly what is in their food."
- The plans still need agreement of the EU Council of Ministers, which brings together national ministers from all the EU member states. However, any changes they want to make would need to win the approval of the European Parliament.