CIAA keeps up pressure over labelling free-market fears

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

The issues of font size and co-existence of European and national front-of-pack nutrition schemes are still vital topics for discussions on the new labelling regulation, says the CIAA in advance of the rapporteur’s report.

The proposal for the new regulation on information to appear on food and beverage packaging was published in January; this has been broadly welcomed by the Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) for its potential to guarantee the single market, protect producers’ interests, and enable consumers to make informed choices.

But at a briefing yesterday, it reiterated the view that the allowance for national front-of pack schemes alongside an agreed EU standard – as set out in articles 37 to 47 of the proposal – is of “major concern”.

Susanne Döring, director of consumer information diet & health issues, said the CIAA​has concerns with regard to the proposed national schemes and the effect these may have on the single European market”.

The proposal actually favours a system not dissimilar to the CIAA’s Guidance Daily Amount (GDA) scheme, which is expected to be used on some 1030 brands in the EU by the end of 2008. This scheme gives info on calories, sugars, fat, saturates and sodium content – as well as percentage of the GDA for each.

However the proposal left the opportunity open for national schemes to be used as well – such as the UK-favoured traffic light scheme, and the Choices mark that is widely used in The Netherlands.

This flexibility is thought to have been granted because the Commission does not feel it is equipped with sufficient data to back one of the various schemes being put forward.

However the CIAA would prefer full harmonization across all packs sold in the EU, but flexibility for operators to provide additional information on a voluntary basis.

Colourful GDAs?

Some major manufacturers also spoke out yesterday against the combination of GDAs with colour-coded schemes, such as traffic lights. This approach has been adopted by UK supermarket ASDA.

Phil Myers, public and government affairs director at PepsiCo, said:​There are three myths that the research dispels. These are that GDAs are hard to understand, that traffic lights are easy to understand, and that hybrids are the ideal compromise.

“The research shows that a majority of consumers understand and use GDAs. According to ASDA findings only 15 per cent found the addition of colour coding to GDAs useful.”

Marta Baffigo, director of European public affairs at Kellogg, said: ​[In a hybrid scheme] we see that the colour is detracting from the numbers... The colour is confusing consumers, the numbers give the right answer.”

The font size questions

There are also considerable concerns over the proposal that mandatory information on font sizes should be no smaller than 3mm in font size, as set out in article 14.

This, says the CIAA, is “impractical and a disproportionate burden for manufacturers”.

It would rather issues over clarity and legibility of labels were tackled via guidelines, which would “not only be a more proportionate tool but also a more flexible tool enabling a case-by-case application”.

Döring said: “Legibility is a key issue for manufacturers, who are committed to helping consumers make informed choices by providing them with accurate, effective, valuable and readable information on pack. But it is more than a simple question of font size. Legibility is a concept to which ‘the total is greater than the sum of its parts’ applies.”

Legislation progress

Rapporteur Renate Sommer was expected to present her report to the Parliament committee next Tuesday, 4th November. However understands this report has now been delayed and may not be circulated in draft form before December.

This means that the lawmaking process will be taken up in the Czech presidency, which commences in January 2009.

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