The European Parliament approved new nutrition label guidelines last week that met with mixed reactions. The requirements will institute a uniform labeling process across the 27 EU member states that manufacturers will have three years to implement.
Under the new regulations, all meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as products like honey and olive oil, must be marked with country of origin labels (COOL). In addition, tabular nutritional values will be mandatory on packaged food products, and allergen information is required on both packaged and non-packaged food. Alcohol is excluded from the labeling guidelines (to the dismay of many consumer groups).
The European Commissioner’s Bureau (BEUC) applauded the new measures, but lamented the fact that labels do not have to be placed on the front of packaged food and that a country of origin label is not required for processed meats (like sausage). The European Commission has said that it will review the cost of implementing country of origin labels on ingredients in processed foods in the next two years. Some animal welfare activists felt the labeling on meat needed to be even more detailed, indicating the place of birth, rearing and slaughter method of the animal in question.
While most agree that the new labels are a step in the right direction, the high price of implementing them is sure to cause some frustration among food manufacturers. One consultant from FoodChain Europe estimated that the new label requirements would cost manufacturers £7,000 (roughly $11,000) per product.
The U.S. instituted similar labeling rules under the 2002 and 2008 farm bills. Transparency in the European food system has gained particular signficance after the recent E. Coli outbreak in Germany.