'Traffic light' food labelling rejected by EU parliament

 

Four Fine Gael MEPs vote against colour code system for fat, salt and sugar levels

FOUR FINE Gael MEPs have voted with the majority in the European Parliament to defeat proposals for a new “traffic light” system of food labelling designed to combat rising levels of obesity.

The MEPs, Seán Kelly, Mairead McGuinness, Jim Higgins and Gay Mitchell, voted with their colleagues on the EPP group against the proposal, which would have seen a red, amber and green colouring code placed on food packets according to the levels of calories, sugar, salt and fat they contain.

Six Irish MEPs voted in favour of the plan, which was backed by health groups as an easily understood way of informing consumers about the contents of the food they eat.

They included members of Fianna Fáil, Labour, independent MEP Marian Harkin and Socialist Party member Joe Higgins.

Irish Labour MEP Nessa Childers condemned the vote, which she said was a victory for the food industry which had launched a vigorous lobbying campaign against the traffic light system.

Food companies had lobbied MEPs to vote against the traffic light proposals, arguing they were too simplistic and unfairly demonised certain foods, such as cheese or pâté.

“In what must be one of the biggest lobbying efforts ever seen in Brussels, we have been bombarded with thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls and sponsored reports, lectures and conferences on this single issue.”

The parliament voted that food products must display calorie, sugar, salt and fat content on the front of packaging accompanied by guideline daily amounts.

Food and Drink Industry Ireland welcomed the MEPs’ rejection of a traffic light system, which it said failed to take into account the place of a particular food in the context of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

However, the defeat of the proposal was described as “a very serious setback” by the European Consumers’ Organisation.

The proposal still has to go before the European Council before its implementation where more changes are expected.

MEPs also voted in favour of country-of-origin labelling for all meats and not just beef and fish, which would state where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered. This labelling will also apply to dairy and other single-ingredient products.

The plenary session in Strasbourg also saw a majority of MEPs vote against the inclusion of alcohol products in the nutrition labelling system. Just three Irish MEPs – Joe Higgins, Nessa Childers and Proinsias De Rossa – voted that alcoholic drinks should be subject to nutrition labelling rules.

Most MEPs voted in favour of strict labelling for mixed alcoholic drinks or “alcopops”, further suggesting that these should be kept separate from soft drinks where they are sold.