EDA criticizes traffic light labeling for “inadequate” information on dairy

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01 Dec 2017 --- The European Dairy Association (EDA) has pointed out that the EU dairy sector highlights the nutritional value of dairy and its importance in the diet – and thus does not support the proposed traffic light labeling by the six multinational food companies grouped in the Evolved Nutrition Labeling Initiative (ENL) as it is not adequate for better informing on global nutritional properties of milk and dairy products.

The ENL proposal is an extension of the color-coded UK traffic light system but with reference values including portions (and not only on 100g). “Such a scheme should look at the food as a whole and support foods rich in essential nutrients,” EDA points out in a press release.

Official protest
EDA Secretary General Alexander Anton officially protested the proposal in today’s joint meeting of the “High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity” and the “EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health” in Luxembourg.
 
“For the second time this year, the EU Commission offered a high-level platform to a group of six multinationals to present and hence promote their own nutrition labeling scheme,” Anton said. “I know we’re not the only ones questioning the EU Commission leaving the leadership in this dossier to national authorities or to six multinationals: basically, all these schemes may well be very sophisticated, but they’re not based on all relevant science on diets and do in no way reflect common sense.”

“Nutrition labeling schemes where a diet soft drink ranks healthier than drinking milk are obviously and seriously nonsense,” Anton added. “Nevertheless, the Luxembourg-based EU Commission services do help directly or indirectly to promote such nutrition labeling schemes.”
 
“I protested and urged the EU Commission to stop any such scheme in place like the UK traffic light [scheme] and to stop any direct or indirect support for any nutrition labeling schemes that fail what I personally call the ‘diet soft drink vs. drinking milk’ test,” concluded Anton.

The test refers to Anton’s previous statement: “There is seriously something wrong with a scheme where a diet soda drink ranks better than drinking milk.”

Nutrient issues
EDA says it supports consumers’ right to be fully informed on the nutritional properties of foods, one of the legal requirements of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011. It adds that it believes that voluntary labeling schemes used in addition to the nutrition declaration required by the EU law can be a useful additional tool for consumers if they fulfill a number of important criteria.

EDA believes that a good voluntary labeling scheme should be thoroughly evaluated, have a significant positive impact on consumer behavior and public health, be compatible with EU legislation and be supported by relevant stakeholders. In the organization’s view, the latest traffic light scheme proposal by six multinational food companies grouped in the ENL does not fulfill these requirements and thus is not an adequate system for milk and dairy products.

The association notes that it is fully engaged on nutrition and health topics with policy-makers, industry groups and other stakeholders to help make a positive impact on overall public health. The health and nutrition debate has always been very close to the dairy industry, it adds: “Over the last years, the European dairy sector has put a lot of effort, research and resources to ensure that consumers have access to a wide range of nutritious dairy products.”

However, EDA warns: “The proposed system includes only the content of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt and fully ignores any positive nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals.”

Selective labeling system
Such a selective approach does not recognize the importance of nutrient-dense foods as recommended in dietary recommendations nor does it help consumers to compose a balanced and varied diet with nutritious foods, according to EDA. It believes that traffic light-style schemes such as ENL are not in line with the principle of providing “objective and non-discriminatory” food information required by the EU legislation because the introduction of color-coding is a non-objective judgment of the nutritional quality of products and unnecessarily discriminate certain foods.

In addition, EDA reports that the UK traffic light system has not shown to change the consumer behavior, and no study so far proves that color-coded and “negative nutrient” based schemes indeed help to improve public health in ways like reducing obesity.

Considering other positive labeling systems, EDA notes that alternatives consider the overall nutritional quality of foods in a “more balanced” way, without “harmful discrimination of basic foods.” It believes that systems which are worth further discussion and consideration by the interested stakeholders could be the Australian Health Star Rating scheme or the Choices International logo.

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