Concern about lack of reliable information for schoolchildren and other consumers explains recommendation from the EU's assembly of local and regional politicians.
How much cheese is in the cheese? Do we know what we are eating? Questions such as these – and, in particular, a wish to instil good eating habits at a young age – prompted the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 4 July to urge the creation of a mandatory European colour-coded labelling system.
The proposal is one of a wide set of recommendations contained in an opinion entitled "Local and regional incentives to promote healthy and sustainable diets". The CoR also suggested to consider changes to spatial planning and infrastructure, as well as use of tools such as taxes, subsidies and legislation.
The rapporteur for the opinion – Nikolaos Chiotakis (EL/EPP), member of Kifissia Municipal Council – said: "The essential, health-relevant behavioral patterns developed in childhood and youth last for life. Sweets, junk food and sugary drinks have displaced the traditional diet based on fruit and vegetables, fish and olive oil. Our children consume too much salt, sugar and fat in their food."
The CoR also put particular emphasis on the importance of educational programmes in schools in order to promote a healthy and active lifestyle, with a special focus on pre-school and primary levels.
If accepted by decision-makers in the European Council and the European Parliament, the CoR's recommendation would require food producers to use colours on food packaging throughout the EU, providing consumers with clear information on the sugar, salt and fat content. The nutritional labelling would also be available online. A mandatory approach would radically change the status quo, in which many food producers decide for themselves which of their products are healthy enough to be advertised as suitable for children. Such claims would now need to be justified by meeting pan-European specifications.
Healthy alternatives that should be promoted include fruit and vegetables, low-fat dairy products and wholegrain cereal, according to the opinion, which also says that it is crucial to have a choice of sustainable foods.
The labelling system and other ideas would benefit all age groups and sectors of society. They also reflect a demand for a broader shift towards health promotion and disease prevention. An unhealthy diet is one of four principal factors highlighted by Mr Chiotakis as increasing the risk of non-communicable chronic diseases. The other three are tobacco use, physical inactivity, and the harmful use of alcohol.
As well as highlighting the tools that local and regional governments can use to promote heathy eating habits, the opinion underlines that local authorities have an opportunity to lead by example, through public procurement. It argues that public institutions – such as hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes, and prisons as well as kindergartens and schools – could serve as role models by selling and providing healthy, local and seasonal foodstuffs that ensure sustainability.
Sustainable public procurement of food was the subject of a study commissioned by the CoR this year.
Conclusions on nutrition adopted by the Council of the EU on 22 June 2018.
Recommendations on sustainable food choices, agreed by the World Health Organization.
The CoR's NAT Commission has in recent years drawn up the following opinions on promoting balanced nutrition:
The CoR this year published a study focused on sustainable public procurement of food, including examples from across the EU.
Pictures of the plenary session are available on our Flickr gallery.
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