Europe's Label Crackdown

March 16/Brussels, Belgium/Press Association Mediapoint -- MEPs have demanded a crackdown on misleading food labels claiming that foreign-reared meat is "British."

The European Parliament's public health committee voted for tighter rules obliging manufacturers to state clearly where the animals used in meat products were raised. Rules for processing food in the U.K. currently allow companies to label meat as British, even though it could have come from an animal that was reared and slaughtered abroad.

The system means that processed foods, such as sausages, and pre-prepared meals such as pre-packed sandwiches, can be labelled as British even if they do not contain British meat.

Labor leader in the European Parliament Glenis Willmott commented, "If you buy food labelled as British, you would rightly expect any meat in it to have come from British farms. Yet currently you have no way of checking whether that's really the case. So your chicken-salad sandwich might say it's British, but the chicken could have come from Thailand.

"Today's vote is the latest step in our campaign to ensure that manufacturers are honest with consumers about where their products come from."

The committee also voted for laws ensuring that labelling informs consumers that egg-based foods, such as quiches and mayonnaise, come from battery-farmed or free-range hens.

The committee rejected the idea of "traffic light" labelling of food, which some companies support as an easy indicator of key ingredients such as fats, calories and sugar.

Willmott claimed that major food manufacturers were trying to limit the amount of information on food labels.

She said, "Against a background of intensive lobbying, Labr MEPs are standing up for consumer rights.

"We know that people want this kind of information, and health professionals are clear that it would help in the battle against obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So, why are manufacturers so afraid of telling people what's in their food?"

She added, "We'll continue to do whatever we can to help shoppers make an informed choice about what they eat and drink."

The full European Parliament is expected to vote on the issue in Strasbourg in May, and any final accord on future food labelling rules will require approval of EU government ministers.  

From the March 29, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition