Britain's 'traffic light' food labels spur EU inquiry

BRUSSELS Fri Feb 21, 2014 7:08pm GMT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain's system of colour-coding food products to tell consumers how healthy they are has prompted EU regulators to launch an enquiry after other EU member states, led by Italy, complained it was unfair.

Britain has a voluntary "traffic light" scheme to show consumers how much salt, fat and sugar food products contain and their contribution to recommended daily amounts.

Products such as cheese can be given warning labels because of their high fat content, alarming to Italy, for instance, as a producer of Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) and other cheeses. It has said the British labelling is misleading and unfair.

In a statement on Friday, the European Commission, the EU executive, said the British traffic light system had "triggered vivid reactions" and it had launched a preliminary, or pilot, investigation into its compatibility with EU rules on free movement of goods.

It added it had received complaints that "adoption of such a hybrid food labelling scheme in the UK would fragment the issue of nutrition labelling in the European Union".

A preliminary investigation could lead to formal infringement proceedings against Britain, depending on the Commission's findings.

British authorities have already replied, the Commission said, and it is analysing their response.

"The UK scheme is voluntary and fully legally compliant with EU food law," said a spokesman for the British government who asked not to be named.

"It is the result of over 11 years of research to identify a label that consumers can use at a glance to identify healthier choices and to highlight those foods that are high in salt, fat, saturated fat and sugar."

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Barbara Lewis; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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