Regulators and industry representatives from across the EU yesterday wrapped up a meeting in Rotterdam debating standardised system for food labelling across the bloc.
The debate indicates the way regulators are thinking about future labelling requirements and what industry can look forward to in changes in their packaging lines.
Currently a variety of labelling systems exist in the 25 EU members, posing a barrier to inter-country trade and increasing packaging costs for companies.
Possible solutions for the future were debated at the Rotterdam meeting, including standardisation of the way information is provided to aid consumers in navigating labels, the use of logos to address problems caused by multi-lingual labels, simplifying nutrition labelling to provide information that is both understandable and of use to consumers, and the provision of other information off the label.
The two-day event, organised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Dutch Ministry for Health, Welfare and Sport, was held as the European Commission continues its review of labelling legislation.
The degree to which the current labelling regime meets consumer and industry requirements was questioned and there were calls for simplification and consolidation of existing EU legislation.
The European Commission is due to issue a discussion document this year, with proposals expected in 2007.
The FSA anticipates that the revision process will include looking at the performance of labels that meet the current requirements of European legislation and also at how food labelling might develop in the future, taking into account new technologies.
"Commercial information aside, the consumer is informed about, for example, the content, safety and, increasingly, on the healthiness of a product," the FSA stated. "In addition, there is increasing pressure from consumers to provide information that is, in general, only of interest to a sub group of the population."
The pressure includes calls for additional information such as place of origin and production methods.
"In contrast, consumer criticisms of current food labelling include a lack of clarity due to the size of lettering, and technical information that is difficult to understand," the FSA noted.
Consumer research also shows that much of the information currently provided on the label is not regularly used. Less than a third of the 79 per cent of consumers who actually look at labels look for any information other than durability dates, the amount of fat, salt, and sugar, additives and cooking instructions.