By Kayleigh Lewis - 20th September 2012
We should agree on what the 'may contain' labelling means.
The EU's 'may contain' labelling and cross contamination information on food product packaging is not keeping European citizens informed and can lead to 'core nutrition issues', a European parliament conference has heard.
Speaking at the event on Wednesday, parliament's rapporteur on the 'food information to consumers' regulation Renata Sommer expressed her dissatisfaction with progress on the rules for food labelling across Europe.
The event was hosted by the European federation of allergy and airways diseases patients' associations (EFA), a network for patients which specialises in allergy and asthma.
According to Sommer, the addition of food information to consumers' regulation, which was approved by the institutions late last year, has failed to produce a Europe-wide solution to allergen and intolerance labelling.
She said that 'may contain' labelling and the failure to find a solution for cross-contamination responsibilities were particular problems, as is the labelling of fresh and non-packaged foods.
Speaking at the event, the German MEP stressed that her "suggestion was that labelling could be done orally, but the council was not happy with that and so now the member states can decide on their own approach.
"I am personally not very happy with this solution," she added.
Although allergies now have to be emphasised on packaging, the list remains the same, and cross contamination of ingredients is considered to be a major issue.
"Food allergies are increasing in our society as well as elsewhere in the world and we don't really know the reasons why," said the EPP deputy.
She suggested that the increase in food allergies could be linked to people eating more processed foods and more foods from other areas in the world that were not naturally available to Europeans.
Despite her concerns, she agreed that there had to be a balance between allergen and intolerance labelling on food products and consideration for the interests of small businesses.
She said, "As the parliament we have to look on the other side as well, and we have to check that these rules stay feasible for SMEs."
"We decided that we couldn't force the handicrafters to write labels for all of their products"
"We would risk a massive decrease in the fresh products around the EU, [which] would probably reduce the variety"
Susanna Palkonen, EFA executive officer, said that allergen labelling is "crucial" and that "up to 25 per cent of people at some point in their lives react to some kind of food".
She said that cross contamination labels are now common practice and are therefore less effective, which can cause problems as "eight per cent of reactions happen because of people eating products with "may contain" labelling".
Adding, "We should agree on what the 'may contain' labelling means."
She also said that labels are often absent or not in the consumer's national language.
"The result of all of these things can be poor quality of life, social problems and sometimes they can cause core nutrition issues"
Alexandra Nikolakopoulou, deputy head of unit for food law, nutrition and labelling at the commission's DG Sanco, shared similar concerns saying, "Sometimes allergens can be present because of cross contamination and there is no legislation for accidental cross contamination"
"The three institutions share the same goal that food allergy should be important. They have to put a particular emphasis on it and they have to ensure a better and clearer presentation of allergens"
The EFA has said, "Precautionary labelling should not be used to avoid putting in place good manufacturing practices.
"They should only be used when the risk is not sufficiently eliminated despite having followed best practices guidelines."
The new 'food information to consumers' regulation comes into force in December 2014.