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In the near future chocolate containing vegetable fats other than cocoa butter will be permitted in all EU Member States. On 22 February the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection decided to recommend that Parliament adopt almost unamended Council's common position on the directive on cocoa and chocolate products intended for human consumption. A clear majority (40 in favour, nine against, four abstentions) did not back the rapporteur who was against some key points in the common position, in particular extending the possibility of using vegetable fats other than cocoa butter and also the Council's proposals on labelling. He also stressed the serious consequences for cocoa producers in the Third World.
The committee called for a ban on the use of genetic or enzymatic engineering in cocoa and chocolate products in view of consumers' distrust of such methods. It also asked the Commission to consider how the interests of the producing countries could best be defended, for example by promoting "fair trade". Cocoa, cocoa butter and vegetable fats used in the manufacture of chocolate are mainly produced in Third World countries.
The common position seeks to harmonise the right to use vegetable fats other than cocoa butter in chocolate production throughout the Community. These fats have hitherto been allowed in only seven Member States. Under the new proposals up to 5 per cent of the finished product will be allowed to consist of such fats, although only six vegetable fats may be used, all of tropical origin. Coconut oil will be allowed only for the manufacture of ice-cream and similar frozen products.
The labelling of chocolate products containing these fats will be supplemented by a conspicuous and clearly legible statement: "also contains fats in addition to cocoa butter". This will have to be in the same field of vision as the list of ingredients, clearly separated from that list, in lettering at least as large and in bold. An amendment demanding that these details appear on the front of the product was not carried.
Subsequently, on 14 March, the European Parliament agreed the proposal for a new Chocolate Directive which will finally create a single market for chocolate whilst recognising the different traditions of making chocolate in Europe.
The main issue on which agreement has now been reached is the way in which manufacturers should be allowed to make small additions of specialised non-cocoa vegetable fats, presently permitted in seven out of the 15 Member States. After the European Parliament decision in Strasbourg, all types of chocolate will be freely traded across Europe. For the first time the milkier formulation of British milk chocolate will be recognised throughout Europe, although on the continent it will be called "family milk chocolate".
The Parliament adopted the Council's Common Position subject to two minor amendments. Formal adoption of the Directive is subject to final approval by Council. The existing 1973 Chocolate Directive allows the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Portugal and Austria to add up to 5 per cent of vegetable fat other than cocoa butter to chocolate. It also allows the UK and Ireland to sell in their countries a product labelled as "milk chocolate" with higher milk and lower cocoa content than "milk chocolate" made and sold in the rest of the Community.
The new Directive permits chocolate containing up to a maximum of 5 per cent vegetable fats to be freely marketed in each Member State. The addition of vegetable fats required for technical reasons is in addition to the required cocoa solids (same as in the existing Directive). A separate declaration "contains vegetable fats in addition to cocoa butter". The location of the statement would be in the same field of vision as the ingredients list and near the name of the food. The vegetable fats used are restricted to six tropical plant sources, which reflect the fats already in use.
The Directive would continue to permit UK and Irish "milk chocolate" made to a different recipe to be called "milk chocolate" but, if exported, it would have to be labelled "family milk chocolate".