It tried to ban pounds and ounces. It introduced rules on bendy fruit and veg.

Now, if controversial EU Food Labelling Regulations are approved, Europe will outlaw the sale of groceries using numbers - the oldest, most basic measurement of all.

Under the draft legislation, to come into force as early as next year, eggs by the dozen, a four-pack of apples, and eight rashers of bacon along with scores of other grocery goods would be banned as a description on packaging, after MEPs last week voted against an amendment to the regulations that would allow individual states to nominate products that can be sold by number.

Each country is currently allowed this exemption under existing EU food directives. But the new Food Labelling Regulations make no such provisions. And all groceries would have to be sold according to their weight instead costing the industry millions, and leading potentially to labelling chaos.

The legislation could even see special unit-based promotional packs offering ‘eight chocolate bars for the price of six’ banned.

The legislation was declared “bonkers” and “absolute madness” by food industry experts, and although the implications of the draft were likely to have been an oversight, according to Federation of Bakers director Gordon Polson, it may be too late to change.

“The problem is now the exemption has been omitted from the legislation, it will be very difficult to get it put back in,” said Polson.

When food industry lobbyists tried to rectify the omission with an amendment, after it was discovered in the 174 pages of amendments to the initial 75-page proposal, there was not enough time to convince members of its importance before the crucial vote, he added.

“This is hindering rather than helping the consumer, taking away one of the key bits of information,” said a major supplier. “If this goes through it would demonstrate how far removed the legislators are from the real world. It’s bonkers.”

Another industry source added: “It’s absolute madness. You can’t make any argument that consumers are being confused by labels for six eggs or four bread rolls.”

Egg manufacturers would be particularly affected, added a BRC spokesman. “The egg industry has not been following these regulations closely and will get a shock. Each egg box would have to be weighed individually.”

But with a second reading still to come, the BRC spokesman added: “There is still time for this to be changed. We are pushing hard.”

An instant guide to the EU’s new-look label guidelines
Now: 24 Weetabix
What the label must say: 454g of Weetabix

Now: 6 sliced white rolls
What the label must say: 322g of sliced white rolls

Now: Half a dozen medium eggs
What the label must say: 372g of eggs

Now: 8 fresh thick sausages
What the label must say: 454g of fresh thick sausages

Read more

Editor’s Comment: The EU’s attempt to simplify labelling has created a multi-headed monster(26 June 2010)