The need for new European legislation on nutrition labelling has been called into question by the CIAA (Confederation of Food and Drink Industries in Europe), as a survey indicates that uptake of its voluntary scheme has been significant.
The draft European labelling legislation was published at the end of January this year, and is currently working its way through European Council and the Parliament procedures. It came down on the side of a front-of-pack scheme not dissimilar to the CIAA's GDA (guidance daily amount), but also left the way open for national schemes to co-exist.
The CIAA introduced its voluntary GDA scheme in 2006, in the absence of Europe-wide requirements. Products using the system give content of calories, sugars, fat, saturates and salt as a proportion of daily recommended levels on the front of pack.
The survey of uptake, conducted by independent firm APCO and reviewed by Dr Brian Young of the University of Exeter in the UK, found that 44 per cent are now voluntarily using GDAs on labelling.
"The successful voluntary implementation of GDAs calls into question the necessity for a European law mandating such labelling," said CIAA president Jean Martin.
"Voluntary initiatives can be more effective than legislation at delivering benefits to consumers quickly."
The survey looked at a representative sample of 2,026 food and drink producers, both large and small, covering the bakery, cereal, confectionery, meat-based, dairy, ice-cream, oils and fat, sauces and seasonings, and soft drinks sectors.
In addition to the overall 44 per cent take up, it found that 65 per cent of large companies, with sales over €5m per year, have introduced or are planning to introduce GDA labelling. Amongst medium size companies (sales €500,000 to €4.99m) the proportion is 58 per cent, and amongst small companies (sales less than €499,000) 34 per cent.
"We have gone from having hardly any GDA labels just two years ago to covering a significant and rapidly growing share of food and drink products today," said Martin.
According to the CIAA, most of its large company members plan to use GDA labels on 100 per cent of their products by the end of 2009.
Following the publication of the draft legislation, the CIAA expressed a number of concerns - including that the two-pronged EU-national approach to labelling could harm the single market.
It is also concerned at the proposal of a minimum font size of 3mm for mandatory information on packs, saying that this could over-clutter the packs and detract from branding - which could ultimately lead to consumer confusion.
Progress of the legislation through the debating and lawmaking process is expected to depend on the priorities of the new French presidency of the EU.