A government blitz on food labelling will expose stores to a huge rise in fines under new EU laws, retailers warned this week.

Defra has called for an end to 'sell by' and 'display until' dates, claiming the system contributes to an estimated £12bn food waste mountain. However, the move comes just weeks after EU bureaucrats approved changes to food labelling laws which will quadruple the fines faced by retailers who allow out-of-date food to be sold. Under the new legislation, stores could be fined up to £20,000 for one incident.

The BRC claimed retailers were simultaneously being blamed for creating food waste and facing heavy penalties for potentially selling out-of-date stock. "This will lead to a massive increase in the fines retailers could face," said BRC food director Andrew Opie.

The FDF joined the BRC in lobbying the government to focus on solving confusion over the terms 'use by' and 'best before'. But environment secretary Caroline Spelman said Defra's proposed system would clarify "once and for all" when food was safe.