28th Feb 2024


The EU's 'no added sugars' fruit-juice label sleight-of-hand

  • Why is the EU Commission proposing that fruit juice can make the claim 'no added sugars' — when in fact a glass of juice contains about as much sugar as a glass of Coca-Cola? (Photo: Pixabay)
Listen to article

When the EU Commission released its so-called Breakfast Directive earlier this year, it seemed to pass under the radar, even though it includes a proposal which would give a free but misleading advertising slogan to food industry — "no added sugar."

In December 2022, the Food Information to Consumers (FIC) package had been pulled off the agenda by the European Commission at the very last minute.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

From access-to-document requests, we can see that there was heavy lobbying and controversy around the proposal for an EU-wide, mandatory front-of-pack nutritional label.

But the FIC was more than that. The FIC would have finally regulated on the health or nutrition claims companies can make on their products: claims like "heart-healthy" "30 percent less fat" or "no added sugar". Legislation on these claims is now 15 years overdue.

In the EU's 'breakfast directive,' honey, jam and fruit-juice labels are being dealt with on their own, not part of a clear and overarching FIC package.

The commission proposes that the fruit-juice sector should be able to add the claim "no added sugar" to the front of its pack. A disturbing proposal as consumers will be misled into considering juices as a healthy option.

Simultaneously, the industry thus gets a 'nutrition claim', like an advertising slogan, on every packet to boost their sales.

Fruit juice is high in free sugars (from the fruit) which has the same health implications for consumers as added sugars. This may seem complicated but really, it is not.

Sugars can be seen as naturally present and intact when they are in a whole fruit, vegetable or in milk. The moment that we juice fruit, remove the fibre, the naturally present sugar has a different effect. It is now called a free sugar. Added sugar is what we know as sugar and what some put in their coffee at breakfast.

In the same European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) study, the conclusions are clear. Free and added sugars behave in the same way for our health. Juice or honey may contain vitamins or minerals, but they contain considerable amounts of free sugars and must be treated in the same way as added sugars, i.e. according to EFSA, consumed "as little as possible."

Orange juice vs Coca-Cola?

So, given these clear conclusions by EFSA, why is the Commission proposing that fruit juice can make the claim 'no added sugars' — when in fact a glass of juice contains about as much sugar as a glass of Coca-Cola? (In Belgium Minute Maid orange juice contains 11.6g sugar per 100g and regular Coca-Cola 10.6g/100ml).

I would argue it is an attempt to deliberately mislead consumers and to promote the fruit juice industry. The issues that foodwatch is battling against daily.

The European Parliament will vote on the legislation in the ENVI committee on Wednesday (29 November). The battle to get a compromise amendment to delete this claim on fruit juice is fierce between the MEPs who do not want misleading claims and those who want to reintroduce this claim which has been forbidden since 2016.

This is more absurd given the current context of a European health crisis on the rise.

Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease are responsible for 77 percent of the disease burden in the European region. They account for the largest part of countries' healthcare expenditures, costing EU economies €115bn annually.

The commission itself stated clearly in the inception impact assessment for the FIC that something is going wrong with nutrition and health claims in the EU: "there is evidence that more than one third of foods bearing claims continue, to date, to have a high FSS (fat, sugar, salt) content, which may be masked by the use of a nutrition or a health claim on the label"

Consumers need clear information on the food they are eating and help to make healthy choices. General Food Law forbids misleading consumers, yet it is a frequent practice.

A colour coded front-of-pack nutritional label, like the Nutri-Score, would go a long way to help. Nutri-Score is only a translation of the mandatory nutritional information on the back of the pack into a logo which is easier to read.

This change needs to be done as part of the Food Information to Consumers package, and any nutrition or health claims made on a package must be based on independent science.

It's not only about breakfast, it's about every time we eat and drink. It's not about one product, it's about all the many claims across the supermarket. It's time for the commission, our governments, and the MEPs to deliver on the whole Food Information to Consumers package.

Author bio

Suzy Sumner is head of the Brussels office for Foodwatch International, the citizen-based NGO watchdog uncovering and challenging food industry practices that violate the rights or interests of consumers.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU proposes legal targets to cut food waste

With concerns over food security, inflation and the environmental impact of food waste becoming increasingly evident, the European Commission has proposed legally-binding targets to reduce food waste across the EU.


Mycelium food and EU regulation

In the 1960s, among fears of the so-called 'protein gap' — the idea that a growing global population would need an unsustainable amount of protein production to avoid malnutrition — researchers at British Petroleum made a remarkable discovery.


Novel food — from safety checks to grocery shelves

Antarctic Krill oil, protein extract from pig kidneys, magnolia bark extract and the mung bean. All these and many others are on a list of approved 'novel foods' for sale on the European market.

For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive

The EU Commission's 2022 CSDDD proposal did not include provisions incorporating "conflict due diligence", they were added, after the Russian invasion, by the European Parliament and Council into the final directive text — for Ukraine's sake, vote for it.

Latest News

  1. Macron on Western boots in Ukraine: What he really meant
  2. Amazon lobbyists banned from EU Parliament
  3. MEPs adopt new transparency rules for political ads
  4. EU nature restoration law approved after massive backlash
  5. Memo from Munich — EU needs to reinvent democracy support
  6. For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive
  7. All of Orbán's MPs back Sweden's Nato entry
  8. India makes first objection to EU carbon levy at WTO summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us