Food Industry spends €1 billion in fight against health warnings

Next week MEPs are due to vote on new legislation on food labelling – determining what nutritional information should be displayed on the packaging of items such as snacks, soft drinks and ready-meals. The vote has been the subject of a major lobby campaign by the food industry, opposed to mandatory information on food packaging. Source Corporate Europe Observatory The Confederation of the food and drink industries of the EU (CIAA) has spent €1 billion opposing proposals for front-of-pack ‘traffic light’ labels – which have a green symbol for healthy options and a red symbol for sugary, fatty and salty foods – in favour of a system based on guideline daily amounts (GDAs), which shows how many calories a ‘portion’ contains as a percentage of an adult’s daily needs. Health and consumer campaigners argue that such labels are less effective because they are single-coloured, so less visible, rely on an arbitrary notion of a portion, and only reflect adult needs, which are not relevant for children – often the target market for snacks and sweets. They favour the traffic-light label which is much easier to understand for a larger audience and the most socially disadvantaged. But their voices were completely outnumbered by industry’s campaign, which included TV adverts, lunch debates with MEPs, and tons of detailed ‘voting recommendations’ sent to MEPs. Industry also commissioned two studies to look at consumer perceptions of labels from the European Food Information Council (EUFIC), a think tank which is funded by the food industry. The studies failed to examine consumer responses to labels using traffic lights, only examining industry’s preferred GDA approach. An independent study in Australia found that people who used traffic light labelling were five times more likely to be able to identify healthier food products than those who saw the single coloured counterpart promoted by industry. In March, the European Parliament’s Environment committee rejected the traffic-light system by 32 to 30 votes and that Committee’s report is due to be discussed and adopted by MEPs next week in Strasbourg.

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