Greater flexibility rather than new labelling requirements

by Editor fleischwirtschaft.com
Monday, November 30, 2009

For the second time the International Butchers' Confederation (IBC) managed to persuade an EU Commissioner to address its European Meat Forum. Androulla Vassiliou, responsible for Health, gave a statement on the draft of the new food labelling Regulation.

In the future, comprehensive product information will help protect consumers and serve as the basis for their making informed purchasing decisions. “We cannot force consumers to live healthy lives. But by providing information and labelling we can help them make better choices.” This was how EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou explained the aim of the new legislation. Besides a requirement to provide obligatory information on nutritional values for pre-packed foods, the draft also includes compulsory disclosure of the products' region or country of origin and a declaration of the allergens. This also applies for loose goods.

Labelling - practicable for smaller businesses, too

IBC President was less than pleased by these additional new requirements. Oswald, from Luxembourg, said, “A labelling law which is intended to be more efficient should serve to protect the consumer, but it should also be practicable to implement.”

The EU Parliament rapporteur responsible for reworking the food labelling regulations supported the butchers in many points. Dr. Renate Sommer issued a harsh judgement on the EU Commission's plans. In particular she criticised the aim of putting extensive nutritional information on the front of a product. Sommer doubted whether it would improve consumers' habits if more information is attached, turning the front of a package into the back. In shops, consumers are confronted with a whole range of different foods and labelling standards. Her fear is that they will be overwhelmed by the amount of information and will eventually refuse to read anything.

Similar to the Health Claims Regulation, Sommer argued in favour of removing loose goods from the extended nutritional labelling requirement. “It's the only way, I think.” What would be feasible, however, would be allergen labelling which she said should also be compulsory for non-prepacked foods.

Variety of products at risk

IBC General Secretary Martin Fuchs warned against overweening regulation of the butchery industry: this would threaten the existence of a sector made up primarily of small businesses, and one which embodies the idea of a “Europe of regions”.
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