Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides scaled back the ambition of the EU’s new food policy during a meeting with agriculture MEPs on Monday (11 May), revealing that it will not provide a compulsory EU-wide nutritional food label scheme.
“The Farm to Fork (F2F) will be promoting harmonised labelling, but will not be mandating the type of labelling,” she told the agriculture committee (COMAGRI). She did added though that the upcoming Commission report on front-of-pack nutrition labelling will provide evidence on the need for harmonisation in this area, as under the current EU rules it is only voluntary.
According to Kyriakides, the considerable interest in foodstuff nutrient profiles has delayed the Commission’s action, but in the context of the F2F, the EU executive will come forward with a concrete response.
Improving consumer information on origin labelling is also going to be one of the actions of the F2F. “We need to define a long-term solution for the consumers’ interest,” the Cypriot official said. “I believe that multiple national measures that we see on origin labelling cause a fragmentation of the internal market,” she said.
Expectations on a new EU-wide food labelling scheme to be embedded in the F2F were high in the past months.
Last February, Kyriakides told COMAGRI MEPs that the Commission was working on harmonisation and that it will come up with a proposal on food labelling, adding that she was not able to say which food label would be proposed. Last week, a coalition of more than 40 food stakeholders reiterated their call for a legislative proposal to introduce the Nutri-score as compulsory for all food manufacturers.
In open defiance of the French Nutri-score, Italy’s government offered another proposal for an EU-wide nutritional food label scheme to the Commission. France’s Nutri-score converts the nutritional value of products into a code consisting of five letters, from A to E, each with its own colour, while Italy’s Nutrinform is based on a “battery-powered” symbol which shows the consumer the nutritional contribution in relation to their daily needs, as well as the correct dietary style. Although challenged by Italy, the Nutri-score is currently the only nutritional label system tested in supermarkets’ aisles, thus enjoying a head start over the battery system.
F2F is ready to go
After being delayed twice, the Commission will unveil its much-awaited food policy next week (20 May), together with the biodiversity strategy, which is equally crucial for the agri-food sector. “The Commission has absolutely no intention of postponing the adoption of the F2F,” Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans replied to COMAGRI lawmakers last week, who asked to reconsider this decision. “The Parliament will decide when to talk about it, but we have the right of initiative and we believe it’s urgent,” Timmermans added.
The question of whether to delay the F2F has been heavily debated in the past few weeks, with farmers association COPA-COGECA calling for further postponement and debate of the strategy due to mounting pressures faced by farmers over the COVID-19 outbreak. Similarly, the European People’s Party (EPP) group has also called for a further postponement until at least after the summer, citing the “crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic”.
EPP’s group coordinator in COMAGRI, the Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, said that presenting the F2F on 20 May is a very “unfortunate date” as the European Parliament can barely work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there can’t be a real debate on it. We should not use the pandemic as a pretext for delays, Commissioner Kyriakides stressed, adding that F2F actions are urgent and will be staged over the course of this Commission’s mandate. “This is not the Commission’s plan. It needs to be Europe’s plan,” she says. “The strategy, an important part of EU’s Green Deal, will be providing us with a new direction of travel and COVID-19 has reinforced the rationale for many of the actions we’ll propose,” she concluded.