by Marion Nestle
Oct 7 2011

European Union sets rules for food labels

According to Food Chemical News (October 7), the European Union has finally agreed on rules for food labels.  These are disappointing.  They allow much of the current confusion to continue. 

Here’s what they are said to do:

  • Packaged foods will have to be labeled with amounts of calories, fat, saturated fats, carbohydrate, protein, sugars and salt.  This is the “mandatory nutrition declaration.”
  • Amounts are to be expressed per 100 grams or 100 milliliters.  Per-portion will be voluntary as will percentage of reference intakes, meaning that the confusing Guideline Daily Amounts can continue.
  • Packages may display traffic lights or other graphics and symbols, as long as they don’t mislead consumers, are supported by evidence of consumer understanding, and don’t create trade barriers in the EU’s internal market [my interpretation: goodbye traffic lights].
  • All elements of the nutrition declaration must appear together, but some can be repeated on the “front of pack.” 
  • The mandatory nutrition declaration can be supplemented voluntarily with “better for you” nutrients such as mono-unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, polyols, starch, fiber, vitamins, and minerals [alas, this is a sellout].  
  • Calories must be expressed per 100 g/ml, but also per portion.

Too bad.  I was hoping for something better, more along the lines of what the Institute of Medicine(IOM)  has proposed and less along the lines of what the Grocery Manufacturers and Food Marketers are doing.

The second  IOM report on front-of-pack (FOP) labeling is due out in a few weeks.  I am eager to see what the IOM committee thinks the FDA should do about FOP labels.  Stay tuned. 



  • Excellent reporting, Ms. Nestle. I share your concerns about the sell-out by the EU to the special vested interest groups when it comes to labeling of foodstuffs. In my opinion, it is imperative that food be accurately and clearly labeled as to all ingredients within the product. Especially in the area of: Artificial Sweeteners, Artificial Growth Hormones, GMO (genetically modified organisms), Organic, Colorings, Flavors, Certified Organic ingredients and others. Thank you again for shedding light on a very complex issue such as this one. — Mary Nash Stoddard/author Deadly Deception Story of Aspartame

  • Mike Rayner

    Hopefully it won’t be ‘goobye traffic lights’, There isn’t much evidence that it will be. In fact most retailers in the UK who currently use traffic-lights say that they have no intention of stopping. It’s not particularly good news for traffic-lights (although at one point it looked as if they might be banned! so the permission to use them is better than might have been feared). Only in the dreams of a few of us did it ever look as if the EU would make ftraffic lights compulsory! IOM hhmph.

  • Jonesy

    That’s because some food firms complained that tyrannical governments were not giving them a fair shot at taking advantage of potential victims.

  • Off topic sorry 🙁 but we write about food and nutrition too. Hey every one we are new to blogging and we just posted a request for people to share something anything maybe about there plans for the weekend ora good link or to promote something. IF you can help us get some activity we would be very grateful. You can find the post here all spam protection is turned off so go ahead and leave as many links as you like lol

  • NYFarmer

    In a different aspect of labeling, US dairy farmers have fought for “Country of Origin” labeling on products. Processors have told us it would be “too confusing for consumers.”

  • gesa

    This is a lost opportunity but not the end of the story. Whilest the Euopean food and drink industry spent1 billion Euro to implement useless GDAs, Norway, Sweden and Denmark introduced the ‘Keyhole’ as joint nordic nutrition label. The keyhole has been developed in Sweden 20 years ago. The products labelled must contain less fat, sugars and salt and more fibre than food products of the same type not carrying the symbol. Junk food is not allowed to get a Keyhole. Nutritien profiles were developed and certified by the Swedish National Food Administration. see In Norway there is a discussion about lowering the prices of keyhole labelled food. Even though the keyhole is not part of the official European legislation, in Skandinavian countries the strategy seems to be successfull. And when I am right the keyhole may be used worldwide.

  • Irving

    I’m for one, not optimistic. The EU food label standard described above was adopted precisely to prevent anything resembling keyhole from being taken EU wide.