Sophia Antipolis, 16 June 2010: The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) http://www.escardio.org/ and its branch, the European Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation (EACPR) http://www.escardio.org/communities/EACPR/Pages/welcome.aspx are joining forces with 12 other European Health and consumer communities to urge MEPs to vote in favour of a traffic light system for food labelling today.
"If MEPs vote against the traffic light system they will be failing the next generation. Widespread introduction of the system would enable people in Europe to make informed choices about eating healthily. That would make a significant contribution to reducing the toll of cardiovascular disease. The plain facts are that four out of five cases of heart disease are directly related to diet, physical activity and smoking," said ESC spokesperson Joep Perk, from the School of Health and Caring Sciences at Linnaeus University (Sweden). A vote against the traffic light system, he adds, would give out the message to society that European politicians are hand in glove with the food industry.
In 2008, the European Commission proposed new legislation on providing food information to consumers. The idea behind traffic light labelling is simple: consumers deserve clear information about the key nutrients in food. Traffic light labels use colours (red, orange and green) to signal whether products contain high, medium or low levels of the harmful nutrients. The actual levels of these nutrients (salt, fat, saturated fat, and sugars) in every product are also given in absolute grams per 100-gram (or 100 millilitre).
Sadly, on 16 March 2010, the European Parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee voted against the introduction of a mandatory "traffic-light" labelling system. Regulation, they said, should lay down general rules on how information should be displayed, which would allow different countries to keep or adopt national rules. This vote is then taken forward as a recommendation from the committee, to the plenary session, taking place 16 June 2010, where all MEPs have the opportunity to vote.
Failure to introduce the traffic lights system, says Perk, will widen the health differences that already exist between different socio economic classes in Europe. "The beauty of the traffic light approach is that people don't have to be highly educated or even literate to understand the information. It gives everyone equal opportunities to make informed choices about eating healthily," he says, adding that people can make these decisions where ever they are in Europe, regardless of whether they speak the local language.
One of the criticisms levelled against the traffic light system is that insufficient research has been undertaken to measure its effectiveness.
"That is nonsense," said ESC spokesperson Simon Capewell, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool (UK). "Extensive solid evidence exists showing that more people understand the simple traffic light system than other, more complicated schemes."
It is also sad, he added, that some companies have been lobbying MEPs to oppose traffic lights, and thus keep consumers ignorant about what is actually hidden in the packet. "In truth, millions of deaths from heart disease and stroke could be prevented if the industry halved the amount of salt, saturated fat and sugar hidden in our food. This is technically feasible, and has already been achieved in some countries."