FLABEL (Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life), which is the first EU-funded research programme on nutrition labelling, is a consortium of twelve partners from eight countries.
Two of these partners – the UK’s Tesco Stores Ltd and the European Community of Consumer Cooperatives (Euro Coop) – are major figures in the food retail sector.
It will carry out in-store observation of customers purchasing food items, as well as examine data collected from checkout scanners.
FLABEL says that food labelling can only have an effect on consumer choice if the consumer is exposed to the label, pays attention to it (either consciously or subconsciously) and reads it.
It points out that the majority of previous research has only taken into account results obtained through forced exposure to labelling, and thus after a conscious processing of the information.
This three-year research programme, says FLABEL, “will use state-of-the-art technology and facilities to track conscious and subconscious indicators of consumer attention to and reading of food labels”.
This will help it to achieve its two key aims: to determine how nutritional labelling can affect dietary choices and habits (and, thus, food-related health issues), and to provide a scientific basis for the use of nutritional information on food labels.
It hopes to establish which types of labelling are the most effective and investigate the possible benefits of a universal labelling system.
A universal system?
There is currently no legislation regarding a set standard or format for food labelling in Europe. Various different schemes are in proliferation across the continent.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), for example, is a proponent of the traffic light scheme, which uses colour coding to indicate levels of sugars, salts and fats. However, some manufacturers combine this with specific information showing the nutritional value as a proportion of the guideline daily amount (GDA), although there is no obligation to do so.
However, the FLABEL programme comes in the midst of debate between the European Parliament and the Council over the possibility of introducing a pan-European food labelling scheme.
Rapporteur Renate Sommer was expected to present her report to the Parliament committee earlier this month, but the report was delayed and a draft scheduled to appear in December.
However, FoodNavigator.com has learned that the report may now face further delays.
Whether or not legislation is passed in the near future, FLABEL sees its work as an ongoing project which can contribute to the information available on food labelling in a much wider sense.
“We hope that we can in some way contribute to the debate,” a spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com. However, were a pan-European labelling standard to be established, she said,“We would take the legislation into consideration and incorporate it into our ongoing research.”
Other members of the FLABEL consortium include teams of scientific researchers at academic institutions including the University of Surrey in the UK and the Agricultural University of Athens.
Small- and medium sized businesses (SMEs) are represented by the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (UEAPME).