The European Parliament has taken its first vote on food labelling. What’s needed is a combination of labelling that includes the traffic light scheme – so why have they left it out?
So, the first votes are in. It’s yes to country of origin labelling on meat and no to a traffic light scheme; both issues we’ve been busily campaigning for years. Although this was only a first step in the lengthy European legislation process, the final outcome will affect us all as it will have to be translated into UK law.
Better labelling begins here
Let’s start with the good. Our research shows that eight in 10 people think it’s important the country of origin is labelled on meat and poultry, yet the information currently provided is patchy, and often misleading.
Food labels only have to state the country in which it underwent the last ‘substantial change’. So sausages made in a British factory can be labelled as ‘made in the UK’ even if they were made from imported meat. New legislation will change all that. MEPs want to extend country-of-origin labelling to cover all meat and poultry as well as some other products. This will tell you exactly where ingredients are from as well as where the final product is made, giving shoppers much more knowledge when selecting their food.
What’s more, meat products have long been bulked out with proteins, water and starches. The second great win for us is that these added ingredients will now need to be prominently declared on food labels.
Currently, meat products in supermarkets do have to tell you about added ingredients like pork gelatine, but manufacturers can choose where to position the text and it often gets lost. Now, information about all meat and fish species in animal products must appear in the same field of view as the name of the food. Result.
We’ll still fight for traffic lights
We’re left deflated that legislation stops short of introducing traffic light schemes. These show red lights for high levels of salt, fat and sugar, with amber and green for lower amounts.
Food manufacturers claim that this is unnecessary and are in favour of percentage-based Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA). But our Senior Which? Advocacy Advisor, Mette Kahlin, disagrees, basing her conclusions on the most comprehensive research by the Food Standards Agency. She says the scheme that would work best for consumers includes a combination of traffic lights colours, the words ‘high, medium or low’ and GDAs.
“It’s frustrating and disappointing that MEPs have chosen to listen to industry instead of going with what independent evidence says is best for people,” she says. “There is generally a high level of understanding of front of packet (FOP) labels, even among those who don’t tend to use them.”
She says shoppers who use traffic light labels value them and use them, particularly if they are comparing different products, if they have a health concern like high blood pressure or diabetes, or if they’re watching their weight.
“If traffic lights aren’t recognised in the next round of European voting we’ll all continue to be confused by what we’re consuming.”