Commission Speech (SPEECH/11/513), 5 July 2011
President, Honourable Members,
More than three years ago, on the 30. January 2008, the Commission adopted its Proposal for a Regulation on "Food information to consumers" and now in July 2011 I am able to congratulate the European Parliament on the major achievement of reaching a conclusion on this important Regulation.
I am grateful, in particular, to the rapporteur, Dr Sommer, for her hard work and commitment towards finding a balanced compromise with the Council. Let me also thank all shadow rapporteurs for their active and fruitful involvement.
And last but not least, let me thank the Hungarian Presidency, which was very active and did an excellent job to find compromises that are acceptable for the Council as a whole.
I am pleased to see that the Parliament shares the Commission's vision to establish a general framework for the provision of food information which puts consumers first.
With this text, we make sure that our approach to food information is both forward-looking and sufficiently flexible to respond to future developments.
Our common work during the past months has been rewarded in several areas. Let me highlight some of them:
First, the introduction of a minimum font size for mandatory information will improve the legibility of food labels – one of the main complaints in this area.
Second, mandatory nutrition information will help consumers identify the foods that meet their personal preferences or dietary requirements.
Third, mandatory information on all food on substances causing food allergies or intolerances (not only pre-packed foods but also non-pre-packed foods and foods sold in restaurants) will ensure better protection of consumer health. Highlighting allergens in the list of ingredients will also help consumers to identify them more easily.
Fourth, the move to mandatory origin labelling will provide more transparency to consumers on the food they buy. To ensure consumers are given meaningful information and that the new rules are enforceable, Commissioner Ciolos – my colleague responsible for Agriculture – and I, will pay particular attention to the implementing rules.
Although the new legislation improves matters for consumers and food business operators alike, I regret to see that the "front of pack" nutrition declaration – an important part of the initial Commission proposal – has been deleted. This reduces the benefits of including nutrition information for consumers.
The framework for the voluntary inclusion of nutrition information on the front of pack, including other forms of expression, is, however, a step in the right direction. This provides the basis for further consideration of this issue in the future.
I also regret to see that alcoholic beverages have been totally exempted from the ingredient and nutrition labelling requirements. I believe that consumers are entitled to receive appropriate information when they consume alcoholic beverages. I will seek to ensure that we strike the right balance in this area in the context of the future report.
Finally, there are four statements that have been requested by either the Parliament or the Council:
First, a Declaration by the Commission on information on the method of slaughter of animals
The Parliament and the Council have noted that European consumers show an interest in the implementation of the EU animal welfare rules at the time of slaughter, including whether the animal was stunned before slaughter.
Therefore, a study on the opportunity to provide consumers with relevant information on stunning animals before slaughter will be considered in the context of the future EU strategy for protection and welfare of animals.
Second, a Declaration by the Commission on Aspartame
On 4 May 2011 the Commission asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to perform a full re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame. The EFSA accepted this request and it is expected that the scientific assessment will be completed by September 2012. The Commission will ensure that EFSA will also consider the effect of aspartame on pregnant women.
In the light of the opinion of the EFSA the Commission will consider whether there is a need to review the existing legislation on aspartame and, if necessary, will undertake appropriate legal measures, such as revising maximum permitted levels and/or requiring provision of relevant information to consumers.
Third, a Declaration by the Commission on colouring food
The Commission is working with the Member States on developing guidance on the classification of food extracts with colouring properties. It is expected that the guidance will be finalised in the second half of 2012.
The outcome of this technical work will provide the basis for refining the definition of colouring foods and for enabling the provision of accurate information to consumers in relation to the use of food ingredients with colouring properties.
Fourth, a statement by the Commission on food pre-packed for direct sale
The status of food pre-packed for direct sale in terms of hygiene requirements and the provision of food information in this respect will be considered in the context of the future revision of the Food Hygiene Package.
Finally, I would also like to make the following statement on an institutional aspect of the text:
The Commission underlines that it is contrary to the letter and to the spirit of Regulation 182/2011 (laying down the rules and general principles concerning mechanisms for control by Members States of the Commissions exercise of implementing powers) to invoke Article 5 § 4, subparagraph 2, point (b) in a systematic manner. Recourse to this provision must respond to a specific need to depart from the rule of principle which is that the Commission may adopt a draft implementing act when no opinion is delivered. Given that it is an exception to the general rule established by Article 5 § 4, recourse to subparagraph 2, point (b) cannot be simply seen as a "discretionary power" of the Legislator, but must be interpreted in a restrictive manner and thus must be justified.
President, Honourable Members,
The compromise package on which you will vote tomorrow is a significant step forward in the area of food information.