July 12, 2006

Top food firms to standardize EU nutrition labels

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Seven international food and drink
companies have agreed to label their products in Europe for
nutritional content to help consumers pursue healthier
lifestyles, they said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

Their move is based on voluntary guidelines issued by the
Confederation of Food and Drink Industries (CIAA), representing
Europe's vast food and drinks industry, for a uniform list of
nutrients, calories per serving and recommended daily intakes.

The companies are: Coca-Cola Co., Danone, Kellogg Co.,
Kraft Foods Inc., Nestle, PepsiCo Inc. and Unilever. The new
labeling policy will start by the end of this year.

"The seven companies welcome the CIAA scheme and encourage
other companies to adopt it across the whole of Europe to
promote consistent nutrition labeling and information for
consumers," the statement said.

"Nutritional information can be difficult to understand and
the companies believe that this approach will be genuinely
effective in getting complex messages across in an easily
understood way," it said.

Labels will be placed on the front packaging of a food
product with the number of calories included and the percentage
they represent of total recommended daily calorie intake.

A list of eight key nutrients will be on the back - energy
in calories, proteins, carbohydrates, sugars, fats and
saturated fats, fiber and sodium/salt. If there is no space,
the list will be reduced to energy, proteins, carbohydrates and

There will also be information on guideline daily amounts
(GDAs) for items that the companies said were "of public health
concern": fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. "The inclusion
of GDAs will provide consumers with a science-based,
non-discriminatory and easy-to-use system that facilitates
informed dietary choices," the statement said.

CIAA's recommendations and their adoption by some major
food companies will feed into the EU's wider debate on health
and nutrition claims, a three-year saga that should end this
autumn with a vote in the European Parliament.

Once updated rules come into force, as they are expected to
do shortly after the Parliament vote, EU food and drink makers
using phrases such as "low fat," "high energy" or "low alcohol"
on products will have to use stricter definitions.

Under the new rules, a producer can make a claim concerning
fat, sugar, salt or energy only if it meets certain standards.

If it is making a claim about a positive aspect of a
product, it must also clearly detail any negative points. For
example, if a product has a low amount of sugar, but a lot more
salt, then the label will have to say "low in sugar, but high
salt content."

Until now, the food and drinks industry has been subject to
the individual laws of the bloc's 25 member states.

Fresh food such as fruit, vegetables and bread are excluded
from the new rules, while products with trademarks can continue
to be marketed in their current form for another 15 years.