Revisions to European food Directives: Protecting consumers and promoting transparency

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) underscores the pivotal role of promoting healthy and sustainable diets in enhancing human health, preserving ecosystems, strengthening society, and supporting rural communities.

Achieving these objectives necessitates a multifaceted approach, including increasing the availability of sustainable products, educating individuals on healthier dietary choices, advocating for product reformulation, and expanding mandatory origin labeling for specific items. These changes must align with current societal concerns and consumer demands while maintaining competitiveness and favorable working conditions within the agrifood sector.

The opinion supports the Commission proposal of mandatory origin labelling for honey blends, but goes a step beyond by requesting also the percentages of each origin, conditioned to the development of a reliable testing method. On the other hand, adulterated honey is easily detectable; this is the most urgent measure to protect EU beekeepers; it could, and should, be enforced immediately says Kerli Ats rapporteur for an EESC report on this issue.

Challenges in the Honey Industry

European beekeepers and stakeholders in the honey supply chain face formidable challenges concerning the transparency of honey blends' origins. These challenges significantly affect their income and the broader European market situation. Current efforts to combat fraud and unfair competition remain insufficient. While the EESC welcomes the proposal to revise the Honey Directive by introducing mandatory origin labeling, it expresses reservations about the lack of ambition in implementing additional measures to combat fraud effectively.

The EESC strongly urges the adoption of more ambitious measures to safeguard European honey producers, enforce stringent marketing standards, institute systematic testing and traceability checks on honey imported into the EU, and mandate country of origin labeling for honey blends. The proposed labeling should detail the respective percentage share of each honey origin, presented in descending order.

Addressing the challenges in quantifying the percentage share of each honey origin in blends is paramount. The EESC emphasises the need for a swift and accessible analytical method to ensure the integrity of mandatory origin labeling, protecting consumers from fraud.

Addressing Fruit Juice Labels

The EESC calls for an evaluation of the impact of labeling indicating "no fruit juices contain added sugars." Concerns arise that such labels might encourage excessive juice consumption at the expense of whole fresh fruits. To address this issue, the EESC proposes that nectar producers include the statement "contains added sugars" when applicable, gradually phasing out the statement "with no added sugars." This measure aims to promote transparency and empower consumers to make well-informed dietary choices. Regarding jams, the EESC recognizes that increasing the fruit content in extra jams beyond the current standard of 450 g/kg does not necessarily result in lower sugar content. However, the EESC supports raising the fruit content in standard jams to 400 g/kg. This compromise proposal aligns with promoting healthier choices while preserving the competitiveness of the food industry.

Background and Context

The EESC's recommendations stem from concerns raised in the wake of a report on honey fraud in the EU market, wherein 46% of honey imported from third countries is suspected of non-compliance with the Honey Directive. This alarming situation underscores the urgent need for comprehensive revisions to establish fair practices in international trade and protect European beekeepers.

The European Commission's proposal to amend the "Breakfast Directives," a set of seven directives governing food composition, labeling, and presentation, further highlights the necessity of adapting regulations to the evolving food landscape. These amendments aim to empower consumers to make informed and sustainable food choices, reflecting changing societal concerns and consumer demands.

The Need for Revision

The Breakfast Directives have been in place for over two decades and were last amended over a decade ago. In light of significant transformations in food markets, driven by innovation and legislative developments, it is essential to adapt these rules to align with evolving consumer expectations. The amendments aim to empower consumers to make informed and sustainable food choices, a shared objective of both the Commission and the EESC.

Addressing Broader Food System Challenges

The EU's food system faces numerous challenges, encompassing health, societal well-being, climate, and the environment. These challenges have reached a critical juncture, necessitating a shift in consumer behaviour. To address these issues effectively, the EESC advocates for the creation of the "European Food Policy Council" (EFPC), a platform facilitating integrated and participatory food policy-making. The EFPC would enhance policy coherence, effectiveness, and legitimacy, promoting sustainable production practices, consumer health, and societal concerns. Overall, it aligns with the goal of establishing a sustainable and balanced food system. (ks)