The press is full of statistics on the obesity epidemic. Researchers are warning that the number of people in the UK classified as obese will rise from 15 million to 26 million by 2030.
EU politicians believe that, to address this issue, educating us to eat a healthier diet is the way forward. They are legislating on a variety of issues, including food labelling. They believe consumers want clear, standardised and simple labelling in order to allow them to make better choices. But can labelling really change people's eating habits? Or will it put an additional, unnecessary burden on the food and drink sector without achieving its desired aim?
The European legislation on food labelling will add another layer of complexity to one of the most highly regulated sectors of the UK economy. Putting the origin of a product on a label is easy in theory but not in reality. For example, if a blended fruit juice contains eight fruits then what should be marked as the origin where it was manufactured? Where it was bottled? Where each of the ingredients came from?
Rules on the font size and colour contrasts are part of the new regime to be used on labels. Making labels easier to read is no bad thing but will it in fact encourage consumers to change their buying habits? If I am buying a cake (which I already know is high in calories) then what's on the label is unlikely to stop me.
Obesity is a serious issue, but making food suppliers put more information on their labels leads to additional supply chain costs that will be passed on to consumers. Food businesses will need to review the regulations and plan changes. If they are selling on the internet, then in effect, the label will have to be replicated online. Contracts with suppliers need to be checked to ensure businesses have all the information they need to allow them to comply with the regulations.
With no evidence that changing labelling in any way changes our eating habits, this is just another example of EU overkill. Once again politicians are making populist, politically driven legislation that manufacturers and consumers will have to pay the price for.