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Confectioners rally against traffic light label proposals in France

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By Oliver Nieburg+

21-Aug-2014
Last updated on 21-Aug-2014 at 18:17 GMT

Associations say traffic light labeling would demonize chocolate and jeopardize the French chocolate industry
Associations say traffic light labeling would demonize chocolate and jeopardize the French chocolate industry

Europe’s confectionery association Caobisco has backed French chocolatiers in blocking proposals for traffic light labels on food products in France.

In June, France’s health minister Marisol Touraine proposed a new public health law  that included plans for a color coded nutrition labeling system.

French chocolate association, The Confédération des chocolatiers et pâtissiers de France, began its petition addressed to Tourraine on July 27, calling on the French government to scrap the bill that it claims would "paralyze the economic dynamism and creativity of French chocolatiers". The petition has so far collected over 3,500 signatures. A previous petition by medical organizations and consumer groups in support of improved food labeling collected over over 22,000 signatures, according to French newspaper Le Monde.

Why not educate instead?

The French chocolate association argued that the system would see chocolate carry red warning signs that could put consumers off a product that was not damaging to health when consumed in moderation.

“Why blacklist a particular product, rather than educate?[translation]” the petition asked.

“Such labeling will do nothing in the back obesity or diabetes because: chocolate is not fattening. Chocolates have a low glycemic index, they secrete little insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage. The cocoa polyphenols also reduce the formation of fat cells.”

It said the proposal would damage the 4,500 French chocolate confectioners that employ nearly 15,000 people a year.

“Food professionals were not consulted nor invited to the debate and we hope for further interaction with their support before the bill is submitted to the National Assembly," it said.

Caobisco: Traffic light system ‘flawed’

The Association of Chocolate, Biscuits and Confectionery Industries of Europe (Caobisco) stands by the French artisanal chocolate makers and called traffic light labels “flawed”.

Sabine Nafziger, secretary general of the association, told ConfectioneryNews: “Our view is that nutrition information has to be factual to help the consumer make informed choices.

UK traffic lights system

The UK has a voluntary front-of-pack traffic light labeling system that was adopted by Mars and Nestlé but rejected by Mondelēz. The European Commission is investigating whether the UK system is incompatible with EU law.

“Traffic lights are based on nutrient profiles. These in turn are based on fixed criteria which don’t/cannot take into account the specific circumstances of each consumer. In this sense they are flawed.”

She said that nutrition information needed to take account of differences between men and women, adults and children and active land sedentary lifestyles to enable consumers to make informed choices.

Healthy lifestyle labels an alternative option?

Nick Martin, senior vice president at Trace One, a firm that helps retailers and manufacturers develop private label and own brands, said: “Most consumers are aware that chocolate has a high level of fat and sugar and the benefits of legislation like this are likely to be outweighed by the disruption to chocolate’s image, something that would not be well received by loyal consumers.

“These customers may find information like ‘80% cocoa solids’ of more relevance to informing decisions, rather than sugar and fat contents, and it could be argued that it is more important this information is displayed on all chocolate products to maintain standards of quality.”

He said it may be more effective to encourage manufacturers to include an ‘enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle’ warning as research indicates that inactivity is a big cause of obesity.

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