Common sense and the needs of the customer should be key considerations in European legislation, says Andrew Opie

Last Monday afternoon, the second most-read item on the BBC website was 'UK scrambles to keep dozen eggs', as the national media followed up on The Grocer's story about proposed European consumer information regulation.

I don't think the Commission set out to ban labels that say a dozen eggs or six sausages, but that would be a consequence of the regulations as they stand today.

European law currently says food can be labelled by weight, volume and, in most EU countries, including the UK, number. New EU legislation has been drafted without the clause that allows the number-of-items option. For last month's vote, the British Retail Consortium helped get three amendments tabled to correct that, but they were rejected.

If it came into force in its current form, it would mean 400g of eggs, not six. But none of this is imminent. There are stages to go through, including the European Council, the Commission's redrafting and the Parliament's Second Reading. That means opportunities to reinstate the missing words and achieve a common-sense outcome, which is what we continue to push for.

This demonstrates how important the European Parliament is and how crucial it is for sectors such as retailing to have influence and win support there. Europe is responsible for almost all our food legislation and directly affects how businesses in the UK are run. That's why the BRC has had a Brussels office for years and is why we work so actively with officials and MEPs there.

The food information proposal amounts to 75 pages. The process began in 2004, legislation probably won't be agreed until late 2011 and may not apply until 2014. After 10 years' work, we need to end up with a version that's flexible enough to stand the test of time and to allow retailers to respond to customers.

What matters to customers changes over time; rules mustn't be too prescriptive and must allow room for development.

Retailers have no problem with putting country of origin on cuts of meat, but there is far less demand for that information when it comes to processed products. It's clear customers care more about factors such as price and quality. Yet, despite the huge amount of information that's already being provided voluntarily, country of origin has ended up as a centrepiece of this legislation.

As they were voting down the amendment to allow six eggs on boxes, MEPs supported country-of-origin labelling for single-ingredient products, but also for meat, poultry and fish when they are ingredients in processed food. There's very limited evidence that customers want to read where the chicken in their ready meal was raised, and changing labels from day-to-day as the source country changes will be a costly nightmare. Keeping this voluntary would allow customers who are interested to be accommodated, while avoiding needless burdens.

When it comes to nutritional information, MEPs need to understand that UK retailers have been providing detailed information for years and haven't needed legislation to make them do it. Why stop retailers using established systems that we know work?

Politicians should acknowledge that helping shoppers make choices is the driving principle behind this regulation and for that you cannot ignore them or the market.

Andrew Opie is food policy director at the British Retail Consortium.