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Posted Jun 18 2010 3:38am

There was disappointment & outrage on Wednesday as the European Parliament appeared to reject recommendations designed to promote better health among consumers, in favour of the interests of the food industry.

Consumer & health groups were dismayed at the rejection of the proposals which were the result of much research in an attempt to devise a universal & easily understood system.

BEUC – the European consumer organization – pointed out that the traffic lights system has been endorsed by consumer groups, public health organisations and doctors, and is already in use in some of Europe’s major supermarkets.

Its director general - Monique Goyens - said: “Despite being presented with a wealth of independent research confirming that the vast majority of consumers wanted the colour coding system, MEPs have mystifyingly voted against it.

“One wonders how we are to convince lawmakers that the fight against obesity and the battle to improve public health needs to start with action today, not tomorrow.

“There is no doubt that this vote is a very, very serious setback.”

Members of the food industry have lobbied intensively against colour coded labelling, claiming that such a system would ‘demonize’ many of their products.

Conservative MEP, Struan Stevenson - speaking on Wednesday about the lobbying - said that hundreds of people from the food industry had been attempting to meet with him. He said that he had had five meetings with the Italian chocolate company Ferrero Rocher alone.

He told the BBC: “The lobbyists have now penetrated the inner sanctum of the MEPs and they’re walking into our offices very often without any appointments at all. People are objecting to that and saying we should have more control about where lobbyists are allowed to go. But on this issue there are armies of them. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Peter Hollins - chief executive of The British Heart Foundation – said that the vote went “against all the evidence”.

He said: “The European Parliament should be ashamed of putting the interests of the food lobby ahead of the health of the people they represent. Thousands of people across the UK have taken action to ask their MEPs to back traffic lights because they want help to make healthy choices.

“But the food industry has spent millions of pounds lobbying to block this improvement in food labelling. David has been no match for the industry’s Goliath.”

Before the new regulations become law, it is essential for all three parts of the European government – council, commission & parliament - to reach agreement.

Hollins said:  ”The European council and commission still have the opportunity to give this critical scheme the green light, and we will continue to fight for the health of ordinary people above the profits of the food industry.”

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