“Traffic lights” for food – the final curtain?

21 July 2010

Jarste Akkermann

In our April edition of the Food Law Digest we reported on the status of the “Traffic lights” for food.

We illustrated that a front-of-pack nutrition labelling by way of a signposting scheme has already been a common practice in some European countries, for example in the United Kingdom. The signposting scheme is supposed to help consumers make informed choices and construct a balanced diet and to allow consumers to quickly and correctly identify whether a product is a healthier option or one high in fat, salt and sugar. There are different possible formats like a multiple traffic light system, simple traffic lights or a concept with colour coding, often just simply called “traffic lights”. In the light of harmonisation and to ensure a high level of consumer safety and information standard, the European Commission has been planning to adopt a mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling by way of a signposting scheme.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg has issued a majority vote on 16 June 2010 for a cancellation of a European traffic light system for food. In the first reading of the drafted new EU Food Information Regulation, the parliament voted against the traffic lights system on a process of labelling of foods with the three signal colours, red, yellow and green. This decision has been met in the food market with great relief. For example the German Federation of Food Law and Food Science (BLL) welcomed the decision as a victory of reason.

In the light of the majority vote of the European Parliament it is unlikely that a European mandatory traffic light system will prevail in the near future.