Retailers may soon have to display details of their own-label suppliers on pack under controversial proposals being considered by the European Commission.

The identity of own-label suppliers is often jealously guarded, with supermarkets and, in some cases, the suppliers themselves, keen to preserve the anonymity of the relationship.

But the Commission is looking at a number of measures to protect small suppliers and curb large retailers' power amid concern that supplier anonymity results in "consumer deception", less consumer choice, distortion of competition and the risk that retailers could use their power to switch suppliers at short notice.

The findings of a major study 'The impact of private labels on the competitiveness of the SMEs' are due to be reported to the Commission late October.

And measures under consideration also include a cap on the number of own-label products retailers can stock, although as yet there is no suggestion as to where the cap would be set.

But a key area specified at the study's outset was to choose whether to insist on identifying own-label manufacturers on-pack.

Three options are under consideration: the creation of a voluntary EU-wide scheme, which could subsequently be made compulsory if requested by producers. The second is a compulsory scheme under which every food product marketed in the EU as own label would carry an indication of the producer on the product pack. The third option is to do nothing.

The idea of including producer information on pack is proving unpopular with retailers and suppliers alike. One leading retail figure said such a move would be a "complete nightmare", and "the only people to gain would be the lawyers".

And suppliers suggested the move would also be unhelpful to their branded businesses as disclosure would "muddy the waters" for consumers.

"In most cases own-label lines are made in entirely separate facilities to the brands and use different ingredients and processes," he said. "The main thing a brand supplier brings is technical production expertise, but this may not be clear to consumers if suppliers' names start appearing on retailer lines."

A BRC spokesman denied that supermarkets were too powerful. "The EC's desire to protect suppliers is already enshrined in the UK under GSCOP."

The study is the latest move in Europe to tackle the retailers over their use of own label. This month the European Parliament ratified a report by MEP José Bové that claimed own label restricted competition for branded suppliers.