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Food firms spend millions to block food health warning labels

David Gutierrez, staff writer

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Under the proposed "traffic light" plan, which has already been adopted by some European supermarkets, foods would be marked with a series of prominent green, yellow or red circles representing different key nutrients. A red light would mean that the product should be consumed only occasionally, a yellow light would mean the product could safely be consumed in moderation, and a green light would mean the product was good to consume in quantity.

Concerned that such a plan would turn consumers away from sugary drinks, salty snacks and other foods labeled with a number of "red lights," the food industry poured €1 billion ($1.2 billion) into lobbying the European Parliament to reject the scheme.

Food industry lobbying had previously convinced the parliament's environment committee to reject the plan, by a 32-30 vote.

The traffic light plan would be an important contribution to efforts to reign in obesity, said Monique Goyens of the consumer group BEUC.

"Consumers have a right to clear and easy-to-understand information on packaging," Goyens said. "At a time when one in five Europeans are obese, there should be no reason not to empower individuals to improve their diets if they so wish."

But instead, the parliament adopted an industry-backed plan that will put calorie, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugar and salt content on the front label of foods, with reference to the daily recommended intake per 100 milliliters or 100 grams.

Supporters of the traffic light plan -- who include medical associations, anti-obesity advocates, consumer groups, and a majority of British shoppers -- expressed anger at the decision.

"They prefer complex labels that make it far harder for shoppers to really understand what's going in their basket," said British MEP Glenis Willmott.

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Oct. 11, 2010