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The general framework of the labelling legislation lays down the requirements that are applicable to all foodstuffs intended for the ultimate consumer, and to foodstuffs supplied to restaurants and mass caterers.
The objective of that legislation is to enable consumers to make an informed choice and not to be misled on the characteristics of foodstuffs.
The broad aim of the current review of this legislation is to find a sensible and practical balance between the polarized positions: requests for more information on labels, and the need to have clear and meaningful labels, which are easily understood by consumers.
- Consumers want the information on the label to be as complete as possible but at the same time consider there is too much information on present labels, which make them less comprehensible
- Manufacturers consider the present labelling requirements as a burden, but at the same time, they “voluntarily” add extra information, which cuts back on space for the ingredients list and nutrition labelling
This view may appear contradictory and therefore lead to controversial discussions about the required changes.
Nutrition labelling of food is also an issue where there is some controversy, but many stakeholders believe that they should become mandatory because of the on-going debate about rising obesity.
However, such views need to be considered alongside research which indicates that whilst more consumers are keen to have nutrition labels, there is evidence that the majority of consumers do not actually make use of them.
The Commission’s view is that such schemes should be in conformity with existing labelling legislation, and should not contradict or undermine efforts to improve existing EU rules.
Responses to the recent DG SANCO consultation (Labelling: competitiveness, consumer information and better regulation for the EU) are going to be used towards developing the revisions of the general food and nutrition labelling legislation.
The Nutrition and Health Claims legislation has the aim to ensure that the claims that food companies make on packets regarding alleged nutritional or health benefits are valid, and evidence based. This marks a major step towards making life easier for consumers to make healthy choices when selecting which food to buy.
Traceability is an obligation for all food business operators as laid down in the General Food Law Regulation of 2002. The objective is to have in place a mechanism through which products can be traced back and forward through the food chain when food safety problems are identified.
Food and feed business operators need to be able to:
- Identify from whom and to whom a product has been supplied (one step back and one step forward)
- Have systems and procedures in place that allow for this information to be made available to the relevant authorities
These general requirements are valid for the whole food chain, apply to all EU producers and comprise foodstuffs, feed and food producing animals.
Labelling and traceability are different tools with different objectives. However, traceability could also allow for ensuring that information provided on labels is reliable. In that sense, there are complementarities between traceability and labelling where the latter can provide information on how the food was produced.
Opinion surveys have revealed that a majority of European consumers are concerned about the welfare conditions of animals kept for food production.
Furthermore citizens cite animal welfare standards as an indicator of other product attributes – such as food safety, quality and healthiness. Many consumers equate good animal welfare standards with good food standards in general, and higher food quality.
And moreover, in addition to wanting to see more welfare friendly products on the shelves, citizens have expressed a readiness and willingness to pay for such products.
A majority of citizens stated that the relevant and appropriate information to identify products produced under acceptable animal welfare conditions is often missing or inadequate.
The same survey also revealed that consumers’ knowledge on the way animals are farmed is often insufficient to make a truly informed choice.
EU producers need to capitalize on the market advantages that spring from this. Our high animal welfare standards need to be considered and promoted as an asset and an opportunity, rather than viewed as an economic burden.
Clearly there is much work to be done to match consumers’ aspirations with purchasing actions.
The Commission will continue to strive for better conditions for animals; increased marketing opportunities for European welfare friendly production; and better informed consumers.