MEPs said new claims would confuse consumers and act as disincentive for further reformulation

MEPs said new claims would confuse consumers and act as disincentive for further reformulation

European politicians have rejected plans that would have allowed food makers to use new nutrition claims, including that a product contains 15% less sugar.

The European Parliament blocked a proposal from The European Commission that would have allowed "percentage less" claims on nutrients like sugar, salt and fat.

MEPs who voted against the Commission's plan said consumers would have found it hard to compare such a claim with a "reduced sugar" label. Products making such a claim must contain 30% less sugar than rival lines. Opponents of the new labels said consumers could assume a generic "reduced" claim would be of less significance than one that contained a specific fall in a nutrient.

The Commission's proposal would also have "provided a disincentive" for companies to "substantially lower" the sugar, salt and fat content in their products.

FoodDrinkEurope, the industry association for European food manufacturers, said it was "dismayed" at the outcome of yesterday's (2 February) vote.

"Today's vote in the European Parliament sends a strong signal to consumers and industry on two counts. Firstly, it means that consumers will not be informed of important reformulations to foods so that they can make an informed food choice thus driving positive changes in dietary habits. Secondly, it serves a bitter pill to food operators who have strived to voluntarily reformulate their products in line with consumer taste and public health expectations over the years," Jesús Serafín Pérez, president of FoodDrinkEurope and CEO of Spanish bottled water firm Fuensanta, said.

"It is difficult to comprehend how member states who agreed on the merits of informing consumers about these claims, and which were taken up within the EU High Level Group on nutrition and under the EU platform for action on diet, physical activity and health, yet, members of the European Parliament have failed to understand that reasoning."

In the UK, local trade body The Food and Drink Federation said the vote was "a missed opportunity" for consumers.

"The vote against this amendment suggests that MEPs have underestimated both consumers' ability to read food labels and desire to make informed decisions about the foods that make up their diet," Barbara Gallani, the FDF's director of food safety and science, said.

Gallani said the new claims would have helped the food industry continue to reformulate its products and claimed the European Parliament had failed to recognise the improvements the sector had already made.

"X% less and no added salt claims would have supported the food industry's drive to gradually reformulate products, even where technically challenging, by making consumers readily aware of health improvements in their favourite products," she said.

"The European Parliament has failed to acknowledge the enormous efforts and investments that the food and drink manufacturing industry has been putting into product reformulation. The Parliament has also shown a complete lack of understanding of the technical and consumer acceptance challenges that make changing recipes to reduce energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt so difficult."