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Europe votes down front-of-pack nutrition labeling

Front-of-pack food label regulations have been voted down in the EU.  Manufacturers still will have to put nutrition facts on the back of the package, though.

European politicians have voted overwhelmingly not to force food and beverage manufacturers to put detailed nutrition information on the front of packs under a new EU labeling regulation.

However, companies will still be obliged to placed this information all together somewhere on pack – and print it in a font size no smaller than 1.2mm to ensure legibility. In addition, allergens will have to be marked clearly on ingredients lists, and companies will have to specify which vegetable oils are contained in a product.

The new measures are contained in the EU Food Information Regulation, which was approved by MEPs on July 6. Under the new regulation, food and beverage labels will have to spell out levels of calories, fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates.

This information can be printed anywhere on a pack, but the nutrients must be grouped in the same “field of vision”.

The voting through of the new regulation marks the end of a long, and sometimes fraught, process to reach agreement on a range of labeling issues. MEP Renate Sommer, who led the European Parliament’s team in negotiations during the passage of the draft regulation, said the new legislation represented a "good compromise."

Some stakeholders still have reservations. John Dalli, the European Commissioner for health & consumer policy, said the regulation was "good news for consumers," highlighting the new rules on minimum font size and allergen labeling as particularly positive measures.

But he added: "Of course, the outcome of today's decision was the result of compromise. I, therefore, regret to note that in some key areas the regulation does not go as far as we would have liked it to. For instance, the initial proposal of the Commission for nutrition labeling on the front of packages has not been endorsed."

European food manufacturers’ trade body FoodDrinkEurope (formerly CIAA) urged EU politicians and officials to ensure the regulation was enforced in a way that harmonized labeling rules across all member states – the original purpose of the legislation.

The proposed Food Information Regulation was approved in the European Parliament by 606 votes to 46, with 26 abstentions. Manufacturers and retailers will have three years to adapt to most new measures, although the transition time is five years in the case of the new stipulations on nutrition labeling.

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