Parliament's veto (393 votes in favour, 161 against and 21 abstentions) sends the European Commission proposal back to the drawing board.
"I am pleased that the European Parliament has defended the interests of health-conscious consumers, who need to be able to make clear comparisons when shopping for food", said Matthias Groote, Chair of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.
The proposal would have allowed, for example, a "15% less sugar" claim, which would be based on a previous formulation of the same product. MEPs say this would be hard to compare - or could misleadingly appear healthier - than a "reduced sugar" label, which must contain 30% less than other similar products, under existing EU legislation on health and nutrition claims.
The MEPs' rejection resolution says the Commission's proposal could have provided a disincentive for companies to reformulate their products with substantially lower sugar, salt and fat content.