Deregulating the current rules on packaging will help increase cross-border competition for industry and consumer choice on the market, the European Commission stated after the vote in Strasbourg.
Once implemented, the law will give food processors, among others, the option to sell the deregulated products in customised containers, rather than the pre-set sizes mandated by various member states and current EU legislation. It would also prevent member States from legislating on pack sizes other than those still regulated by EU law.
This could save food processors the costs involved in making different sized packs for different markets.
Parliament voted to retain mandatory sizes for spirits, wines, soluble coffee, brown and white sugar, drinking milk, butter, ground or unground roasted coffee, dried pasta, rice and most products sold in aerosols. Products such as these, as staples of the average consumer's diet, should only be sold in a restricted number of sizes, MEPs argued during the debate.
The Parliament also voted to exclude "pre-packed bread, spreadable fats or tea" from the scope of the directive. For these products, national rules on nominal quantities will continue to apply.
In the case of milk, the law allows the UK dairy industry to retain the imperial system, allowing companies to sell milk in packages in the one-third to six pint range.
Consumers, especially the most disadvantaged ones, risk being misled into buying a cheaper bottle of milk or a cheaper stick of butter without realising that it contains a smaller volume, MEPs stated, according to a Commission report on the debate.
British Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour noted "a certain amount of entirely misleading controversy" in the British press on this proposal, especially "about the loss of the traditional British pint", the report stated.
Commissioner Günter Verheugen said the proposed directive is in line with Brussels policy to simplify and harmonise the bloc's legislation.
"From a legal point of view, the [current] situation is, to put it mildly, quite confusing," he stated.
Over the past three years, EU law has allowed for national variations amongst EU member states.