EU Sets Rules for Food Labels

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The European Union has agreed to a set of rules governing food labels, but the results are disappointing, too close to what the Grocery Manufacturers and Food Marketers wanted

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According to Food Chemical News (October 7), the European Union has finally agreed on rules for food labels. These are disappointing. They allow much of the current confusion to continue.

Here's what they are said to do:

  • Packaged foods will have to be labeled with amounts of calories, fat, saturated fats, carbohydrate, protein, sugars, and salt. This is the "mandatory nutrition declaration."
  • Amounts are to be expressed per 100 grams or 100 milliliters. Per-portion will be voluntary as will percentage of reference intakes, meaning that the confusing Guideline Daily Amounts can continue.
  • Packages may display traffic lights or other graphics and symbols, as long as they don't mislead consumers, are supported by evidence of consumer understanding, and don't create trade barriers in the EU's internal market [my interpretation: goodbye traffic lights].
  • All elements of the nutrition declaration must appear together, but some can be repeated on the "front of pack."
  • The mandatory nutrition declaration can be supplemented voluntarily with "better for you" nutrients such as mono-unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, polyols, starch, fiber, vitamins, and minerals [alas, this is a sellout].
  • Calories must be expressed per 100 g/ml, but also per portion.

Too bad. I was hoping for something better, more along the lines of what the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has proposed and less along the lines of what the Grocery Manufacturers and Food Marketers are doing.

The second IOM report on front-of-pack (FOP) labeling is due out in a few weeks. I am eager to see what the IOM committee thinks the FDA should do about FOP labels. Stay tuned.

Image: REUTERS/John Gress.

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This post also appears on Food Politics.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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