EUROPEAN Commission proposals aimed at banning misleading and meaningless claims on food labels have been welcomed by co-ops and consumer groups.
However the Co-operative Group – which launched its own 'Lie of the Label' initiative six years ago – warned that the proposed reforms do not go far enough.
The legislation, which needs to be approved by member states and the European Parliament, lays down definitions for the first time on claims such as `low sugar,` `fat free,` `reduces calorific intake,` `reduces stress` and `high fibre.`
If the proposals become law, the entire European Union will have to follow the Co-operative Group's lead in banning misleading claims from Co-op own brand products.
David Croft, head of Co-op brand and technical for the Co-operative Group, commented: `We welcome this long-awaited legislation which will harmonise health and nutritional claims across Europe and prevent consumers from being misled by irresponsible marketeers.
`But there's a lot more still to be done. In particular the simplification of nutritional information on food products which our research shows consumers find baffling without the plain English approach we adopt.`
The Brussels-based European Community of Consumer Co-operatives also welcomed the proposed ban on misleading and dubious label claims as an important step towards providing better consumer information and public health protection.
Spokeswoman Aude L'hirondel said: `Consumers are faced with an unregulated market of products often presented with catchy labels describing food as 'better' or 'healthy.' But many of these claims are often false and misleading and are not even scientifically proven.
`For example, most consumers believe that a ྖ% fat free' product contains less fat than a 'low fat' product – which of course is not true. Euro Co-op welcomes the authorisation systems planned for nutrition and health claims, which will be key to achieving a common high level of consumer protection across Europe.`
And the UK's Food Standards Agency welcomed the European Commission proposals as a `harmonised approach` which will ensure that food labels do not mislead and do not undermine efforts to promote healthy lifestyles.
The Commission would like to see the proposed changes approved by EU ministers in time for them to be introduced throughout the EU before the end of 2005.
The labelling regulations would then be written into the law of each member state, with individual nations deciding the extent of the penalties to be imposed for non-compliance.