The Italian Government has made a formal complaint to the European commission about the UK food labelling system that aims to highlight sugar, salt and fat content- warning that it risks penalizing top-quality traditional delicacies of the Mediterranean while doing little to help tackle Britain's obesity problem.
Britain's 'traffic-light' system, announced earlier this year, has been praised by UK health campaigners but has proved rather more indigestible in Rome, where one food scientist declared that if the British didn't want to exacerbate their "already terrible eating habits", they should consider embracing a diet that has been proved to work: the Mediterranean one.
Concerned that the labelling could imperil its national products, the Italian government has raised the issue with the European commission and is also discussing it with other European countries. In a letter to EU health commissioner Tonio Borg in June, health minister Beatrice de Lorenzin said the traffic-light labelling "dealt with the characteristics of products in a superficial way and risks discriminating against our traditional foods".
Paolo de Castro, head of the European parliament's agriculture committee, said more labelling was necessary, but that the traffic-light method – which divides a food's nutritional content into fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories, and then colour-codes it red, amber and green according to the levels – was not the way forward.
"All of us want more information for the consumer… The consumer should know everything. Every piece of information should be there," he said. "But the traffic-light system seeks to influence people's choices."