BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union negotiators reached a deal Wednesday on new EU-wide food labeling rules, intended to fight rising obesity levels in Europe by helping consumers make more informed purchasing decisions.
Under the agreement, within five years all food products must carry labels showing their energy, salt, sugar, protein, carbohydrate, fat and saturated fat content, EU officials with knowledge of the deal said.
The nutritional labels will not have to go on the front of packages, but companies will have the option of repeating some of the information on the front if they choose.
The deal was reached in the early hours of Wednesday, after lengthy talks between officials from the Hungarian EU presidency, the European Parliament and the European Commission.
“The most important thing is: Any labeling on the packaging will have to be legible so that consumers will really be able to take a facts-based decision,” Renate Sommer, a German conservative lawmaker involved in the talks, said in a statement.
All alcoholic beverages will be exempted from nutritional labeling, including alcopops, which EU governments had originally wanted to see labeled, an official said.
“Guideline daily amount” or GDA information on salt, fat, sugar and energy content will be voluntary under the agreement, rather than mandatory.
The deal was reached after 10 weeks of tough negotiations between lawmakers and EU countries, said Sommer, and must still be formally approved by governments and the full parliament before becoming law.
If they fail to rubber stamp the agreement, last-ditch talks would be held between the parliament and governments to try to rescue the legislation.
The new rules would require compulsory country-of-origin labeling for pork, poultry, lamb and goat meat within two years of entering force.
Mandatory origin labeling for beef and veal was agreed in the EU in 2000, at the start of the Europe’s second BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) crisis.
Before the new labels are introduced, the Commission must specify how it intends to deal with animals that are born, raised or slaughtered in more than one country, an official said.
The Commission must also say by 2013 whether origin labels should be extended to include processed meat products and a year later make a decision on whether to widen the scope further to include milk products.
Under the deal, countries can allow the use of labeling systems that go beyond the EU rules, provided they meet the minimum requirements and remain voluntary.
This would could allow retailers including Britain’s J Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer to keep their traffic-light systems, which rank the fat, sugar and salt content of food as either high (red), medium (yellow) or low (green).
Reporting by Charlie Dunmore, editing by Rex Merrifield and Jane Baird