The European Parliament has approved new EU food labelling rules, designed to help consumers make more informed, healthier choices.

Labels on packaged food will have to detail energy content, as well as fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and salt levels, in a way that is easy to understand. The levels must be stated in a legible tabular form, and expressed per 100g or 100ml. They can also be expressed per portion, although this is not mandatory.

The new rules state that information on allergens must also be given for non-packaged foods. Member States can decide how the information is made available to consumers. On packaged goods, allergens will have to be highlighted in the ingredients list.

The country-of-origin labelling rule has been extended to cover fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goat and poultry. Under existing EU rules, the origin of certain foods, including beef, honey, and olive oil, already has to be shown on the label.

“The new rules are supposed to provide more and better information to consumers so they can make informed choices when buying. But it is more than that: the food industry should benefit too,” said MEP Renate Sommer, who led Parliament’s team in negotiations with the Council.

“There should be more legal certainty, less bureaucracy and better legislation in general. (...) this is very important for SMEs (...) more than 80% of the European food sector are SMEs.”

A key aim of the new rules is to ensure consumers are not misled when making food purchases. Where an ingredient, that would normally be expected in a food product, has been replaced, it will now have to be clearly stated on the front of pack.

“The food and drink industry has been providing on-pack nutrition information for some time and supports measures that make it easier for consumers to make informed choices,” commented Barbara Gallani, director of food safety and science, Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

“The new legislation requires back-of-pack nutrition information in tabular format, which is something UK food and drink manufacturers have been providing for many years, responding to consumer demand for more and clearer information.”

However, she said the FDF remained concerned about the possible extension, in future years, of mandatory country-of-origin labelling to foods other than fresh meat, as it would create considerable extra costs for food manufacturers, without delivering any additional food safety benefit for consumers.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “It’s disappointing that comprehensive front-of-pack nutrition labelling, including traffic light colour coding, hasn’t been made compulsory, as that’s what works best for consumers. However, the regulations do allow manufacturers to provide this information voluntarily.”

Once the legislation is approved and published in the EU Official Journal, food businesses will have three years to adapt to most of the rules. For the rules on nutrition values, they will have five years.

>>EU rethink on chocolate rules

>>European Parliament amends draft legislation on food labelling