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Europe says no to traffic lights

'Traffic light' colours rejected by MEPs

Food labelling was dealt a serious blow yesterday as MEPs rejected a proposal for traffic light colours to indicate salt, sugar and fat content in processed foods. 

The traffic light labelling scheme, which uses red, amber and green to denote levels of salt, sugar, fat and saturated fat, was rejected by MEPs despite clear evidence that it works best for shoppers.  

The vote follows intense lobbying by the European food industry who, according to Corporate Europe Observatory, spent an estimated €1billion to convince MEPs not to adopt the scheme. Traffic lights would require foods high in fat, sugar or salt, such as many junk foods, to be marked red on the front of their packaging

Which? chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith says: ‘The outcome of the vote is hugely disappointing as too many MEPs disregarded evidence on nutrition labelling which clearly shows that a single labelling scheme that indicates the level of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt; and includes traffic light colours as well as the percentage guideline daily amounts (GDAs), works best for consumers.

What this means for UK shoppers

The voluntary traffic light scheme was adopted to varying degrees by a number of retailers including Asda, Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spence, The Co-Operative and Waitrose, but was not industry wide. It is unclear whether this vote now means these retailers will have to remove traffic lights from their products in the UK.

Labels indicating quantities per 100g and guideline daily amounts were approved by MEPs, as was mandatory country of origin labelling. 

Peter Vicary-Smith says: ‘Which? research has shown that shoppers want information about where their food comes from. We are therefore pleased that MEPs supported extending mandatory country of origin labelling to all meat, poultry, dairy products and other single-ingredient products as well as meat, poultry and fish when used as an ingredient in processed food.’

Nutrient profiles, where foods that make health claims must meet nutrient thresholds on salt, fat and sugar, was approved – but only just. 

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