Food Law News - EU - 2007

EP News Item, 12 April 2007

WEIGHTS - Less regulation, more choice: qualified support for pack size deregulation

MEPs in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee gave qualified backing to the Council's common position on a proposal to deregulate pack sizes for pre-packed products. Once implemented, the plan will affect a wide range of products available to European consumers.

By deregulating current rules on packaging for all but a few basic product groups (i.e. repealing all existing pack sizes currently under optional harmonisation and consolidating existing legislation in a single act), the EU is aiming to optimise competition for industry and to ensure freedom of choice for consumers. The legislation, if adopted, would permit industry to produce, and customers to buy, goods in a potentially infinite range of sizes. It would prevent Member States from legislating on pack sizes other than those still regulated by European law.

At the first reading, the European Parliament, whilst welcoming the Commission's initiative, decided to reduce its scope. Whereas the Commission had proposed to retain mandatory sizes for a handful of goods (spirits, wines, soluble coffee, white sugar and most products sold in aerosols), MEPs voted for them to apply also to six other product groups: drinking milk, butter, ground or unground roasted coffee, dried pasta, rice and brown sugar.

Second reading: Committee MEPs respond to the Council's Common Position

In its Common Position, the Council did not accept these amendments, instead setting a transitional period of 5 years for phasing out existing national sizes for domestic production of milk, butter, coffee, dried pasta and rice, and six years for EU-wide rules on white sugar. In its report, the Internal Market Committee accepts most of these provisions, but asks that national rules should also continue to apply to pre-packed bread and that mandatory sizes should be retained for white sugar throughout the EU. All the institutions agree that mandatory sizes should continue to apply to wines and spirits.

In addition, MEPs would like the Commission to revisit the legislation. The Commission, they decided, "shall observe market developments after transposition [into national laws], and shall consider [...] applying follow-up measures to the Directive by maintaining mandatory packing sizes" for those goods where national sizes apply".

The report, approved by a large majority (by show of hands) is due for a plenary vote in early May. To adopt any changes to the Council's position, Parliament will need an absolute majority in the plenary session (i.e. at least 393 votes in favour).

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