The European Parliament has rejected a proposal to change food labelling rules that would have allowed new ‘percentage less’ claims on sugar, salt and fat content.

MEPs voted against the resolution, saying that the new labels could have confused or misled consumers, only two days after members of a parliamentary committee recommended against the proposal to add new nutritional categories to a five-year-old regulation on health claims made on foods.

The recommendation would have allowed food companies to claim that reformulated foods have at least 15% less fat, sugar or salt than earlier recipes.

MEPs said that under existing EU legislation on health and nutrition claims, it would be hard to compare or could misleadingly appear healthier than a ‘reduced sugar’ label, which must contain 30% less than other similar products.

Health and consumer groups have argued that the proposed changes to food labels could deceive shoppers into believing they were getting much healthier food than they actually were.

German centre-right MEP Renate Sommer, the parliamentary rapporteur on food labelling, said the EU executive’s proposals would mislead consumers and producers would only have used them to boost sales.

According to industry association FoodDrinkEurope, blocking the commission’s proposals has restricted consumer access to information about nutritional improvements made to products.

The commission recommended adding the new ‘percentage less’ labels to two dozen existing nutritional claims that appear on food labels, such as ‘low fat’, ‘fat-free’ or ‘sugar-free’.

Caption: Last week, the European Parliament voted against new food labelling rules. Image courtesy of Jelmer Rozendal