Labelling of animal-based 'E-numbers' on foodstuffs

30 May 2013    
Lena Kolarska-Bobińska (PPE)



Under the code for chemicals that can be used as food additives (shown as ‘E-numbers’ on food labels), are a number of chemicals derived from, or often derived from, animal products.

The most common of these are cochineal (E-120), a red food dye derived from insects, and gelatine (E441), which is derived from animal bones. However, in addition to these, there are numerous other E-numbers that could be of animal or plant origin.

Without knowledge of what exact E-numbers mean, consumers might be buying products in the false belief that a product is vegetarian or vegan.

When taken into consideration with the EU’s promotion of a diet that includes one day a week without meat and the religious/ethical diversity in Europe, the unclear labelling of animal products is problematic for our citizens.

— Could the Commission inform Parliament of what it intends to do to encourage clearer labelling of animal-based food additives?

— Could individual companies be encouraged to label animal-based ingredients with a full description beside the relevant E-numbers?

— Would the Commission consider working on EU-wide standardisation of the terms ‘Lacto-Vegetarian’, ‘Vegetarian’ and ‘Vegan’ on packaging and a symbol for these product types?

11 July 2013    
Answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission

The food additives are defined substances and their technological purpose is directly linked with their properties. The same substance fulfils the same technological purpose, regardless if it is chemically produced or obtained through extraction or purification of different natural sources. Under existing rules(1), the designation of food additives refers to the chemical name or to the substance concerned or the ‘Codex Alimentarius’ designation or even to the source or manufacturing process thereof. Because of the process that food additives have undergone prior to their placing on the Union market, they cannot be considered as foods normally consumed or as a characteristic ingredient of a food (e.g. food additives of animal origin). Therefore, the origin is not considered a determining factor for the characterisation of food additives. In light of the above considerations, the Commission does not intend to propose additional rules on the designation of food additives for the time being.

Food additives belonging to one of the categories listed in Annex II to Directive 2000/13/EC(2) must be designated by the name of their category followed by their specific name or EC number(3). No other labelling particulars concerning the designation of food additives in the list of ingredients are allowed to be mentioned on the labelling of foodstuffs.

Under the new Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011(4) on the provision of food information to consumers, the Commission is empowered to adopt an implementing act concerning the voluntary information related to suitability of a food for vegetarians or vegans. The Commission cannot commit at this stage to a specific date for its adoption.

(1)    Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on food additives, OJ L 354, 31.12.2008, p. 16.
(2)    Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 March 2000 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs, OJ L 109, 6.5.2000, p. 29.
(3)    Article 6 of Directive 2000/13/EC.
(4)    Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, amending Regulations (EC) No 1924/2006 and (EC) No 1925/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council, and repealing Commission Directive 87/250/EEC, Council Directive 90/496/EEC, Commission Directive 1999/10/EC, Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, Commission Directives 2002/67/EC and 2008/5/EC and Commission Regulation (EC) No 608/2004, OJ L 304, 22.11.2011, p. 18. The new Regulation will enter into application on 13 December 2014 and it will repeal and replace Directive 2000/13/EC.