An audacious attempt to remove nutrient profiles from the European Union's Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation has failed — by the narrowest possible margin.
MEPs voted 309 in favour and 309 against a proposal to delete the controversial profiles, with a tie meaning the motion was defeated.
Nutrient profiles were introduced to the Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation as a means of preventing foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat from being marketed with claims that could make consumers think they were healthy. But the concept has proven notoriously difficult to drive through, with member states and even different European Commission departments struggling to agree on how the profiles should be defined.
The vote on nutrient profiles took place on 16 June during a debate on the Food Information to Consumers proposal, a piece of legislation that will eventually contain new EU-wide labelling laws.
German MEP Renate Sommer, who has opposed nutrient profiles from the start, introduced an amendment to delete Article 4 from the Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation, the article which includes a requirement for profiles, via the insertion of a new article into the Food Information proposal — a procedure permitted under EU rules.
However, her failure to win enough support for the amendment means the Commission and member states must now make another attempt to reach an agreement on profiles.
During the debate MEPs also decided a number of matters directly relevant to the Food Information proposal. They agreed that placing nutritional information on the front of pack should be mandatory — but voted down an attempt to introduce a 'traffic light' system that would require products to be labelled red, amber or green according to how healthy they are.
This angered UK-based pressure group the Children's Food Campaign. Chairman Mike Rayner said: "With over half of Europeans and more than 60% of people in the UK now overweight, this outcome is a massive blow for consumers. Traffic light labels have been found to help parents make healthier food choices for their children, so their rejection is yet another setback in the fight against childhood obesity."
MEPs also voted in favour of deleting a clause in the Food Information proposal that would give member state governments the freedom to introduce national labelling schemes — in addition to the EU's basic requirements — within their own borders.
CIAA, the Brussels-based European food industry trade body, welcomed this. "We believe this would have confused consumers and further fragmented the EU single market creating additional burdens for industry operating across several markets," it said. "Today's outcome sends a positive message that we need harmonized rules across the EU."
Meanwhile, MEPs rejected moves to introduce a minimum font size for mandatory on-pack information, voting instead for guidelines on legibility. This was another outcome welcomed by the industry, which had feared such a stipulation would leave little room on packs for marketing messages.