Tuesday

23rd Jan 2018

European food labelling to help in fight against fat

Research has shown that eating healthily with a well balanced diet can prevent most food-related diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

There are plenty of products on the supermarket shelves which promise to do just so, but can they be relied on? A new and tougher EU law on nutrition claims seeks to make food labels more trustworthy.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"A lot of products claim to be healthy and as a consumer you have no way of knowing whether the claim is right or not," says Sue Davies from the consumer group 'Which?'

At the moment, food labels often carry nutrition or health claims such as saying that a product is "low fat" or that it "reduces cholesterol". But many of the claims are misleading, say consumer groups, as a product which is low in fat is also sometimes high in sugar, which slows the body's process of burning fat.

And labels do matter to consumers.

What's in a label?

A recent survey by the European consumer group, BEUC, showed that Europeans want to eat a healthy diet and mainly rely on marketing claims when choosing what food to buy.

Out of the 3000 consumers asked across the EU, 59 percent of them said that claims always or often caught their attention and that they read them while over half of the persons asked agreed that a claim would lead them to buy a product.

Products are often labelled with words such as "natural", "wholesome" or "traditional" making them sound healthy but which do not really mean all that much.

Having the word "organic" printed on a label appeals to the conscience of consumers because it means it was grown or raised without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or hormones. But again that does not necessarily mean that it is healthy.

The name 'Organic crisps' for example might have a greater appeal to consumers, but when it comes to healthiness, crisps made by an organic food company have around the same amount of calories for the same serving size as any other bag of crisps.

Similarly, a label that says "80% fat free" actually means that 20 percent of the product is fat, which is way above a generally recognised 3 percent allowed for a 'low fat' claim.

The EU's labelling law

In July 2003, the European Commission took action to regulate how products are labelled unleashing one of the strongest lobbying bouts Brussels has ever seen.

The bitterest part of the debate centred around "article 4" on nutrient profiles aimed at preventing the positive promotion of products which are high in sugar, salt and/or fat.

After member states unanimously adopted the proposal in December 2005, the much divided European Parliament voted by a small majority against the use of nutrition profiles and against the authorisation requirements for health claims.

A deal was reached in the eleventh hour after intense behind-the-scene talks between representatives from the member states, the parliament and the commission.

In the end the parliament agreed to leave in "article 4" and the law was endorsed by a majority of the MEPs on 16 May 2006.

Under the new law, set to be adopted by member states later this year, all nutrition claims have to be checked by the European Food Security Agency (EFSA) before they can be put on a label and be used in marketing, while health claims will be subjected to strict requirements.

The law will in general prevent foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt from carrying health claims.

No food products will be banned by the new EU law, but manufacturers unable to justify claims will have to change the labelling of their products.

Meanwhile, trademarks which can be interpreted as a health or nutrition claim will not be allowed.

Already existing brand names, such as "weight watchers" and "slim fast", might have to be phased out and removed from the market over a 15 year period from the start of the law entering into force - unless it can prove that it meets the new requirements.

Cool reception

The European employers' group for small and medium sized companies, UEAPME, gave a cool welcome to the new law arguing it would not be beneficial to consumers.

"European SME producers ... will now have to deal with additional registration procedures ... if they wish to inform consumers on the nutritional benefits of their foodstuffs," said the group's advisor on food issues, Ludger Fischer.

"This will increase the bureaucratic burden, limit the number of possible claims and ultimately reduce the amount of information available for the consumer," he stated.

German conservative MEP Renate Sommer, who had been fighting against the law for the last three years, said the final compromise was "just as bad as the original draft of the commission."

She said her criticism of the law was due to small businesses losing money because of EU over-regulation and that the bloc could not tell people how to live their lives. "Food advertisers are obviously not responsible for the fact that people are becoming fatter."

Ms Davies of the 'Which?' consumer group criticised the food industry's lobbying against the law.

"You can certainly not let whether nutritional claims are true or not be up to the consumer," she said, arguing that the consumer is not going to go and do research or background reading when food shopping for healthier products.

"This is a clear case of where consumers needed a legal framework," said Ms Davies adding that labels are important to help consumers avoid obesity and diet related diseases "but only if the claims are actually true."

"There is a strong link between what we eat and what kills us," she said.

EUobserver - Health and Lifestyle Focus

Visual Data

Europe's social democrats are having a hard time

All across Europe, social democratic parties are struggling to stay relevant, leading to a crisis in one of the continent's oldest political ideologies. An overview of the data behind the current situation.

Visual Data

Europe's social democrats are having a hard time

All across Europe, social democratic parties are struggling to stay relevant, leading to a crisis in one of the continent's oldest political ideologies. An overview of the data behind the current situation.

News in Brief

  1. Belgium lowers terror alert level
  2. France, Spain set to gain seats in post-Brexit EU parliament
  3. Orban family probed over 'fraudulent' EU projects
  4. Spanish judge rejects Puigdemont arrest warrant
  5. Austria plans to sue Commission over Hungary's nuclear plant
  6. Puigdemont proposed as sole candidate for Catalan leadership
  7. Abbas in Brussels to discuss Palestinian state recognition
  8. Exiled Catalan leader leaves Belgium for first time

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. EU stands by Palestine on Jerusalem
  2. MEPs may bar killer robots and drones from EU research cash
  3. Europe's social democrats are having a hard time
  4. How Oettinger's CO2 permit sale could fill Brexit blackhole
  5. New Polish foreign minister tries to charm EU commission
  6. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on agenda This WEEK
  7. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  8. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap