A new guidance document for food manufacturers on the best way to present GDAs (Guideline Daily Amounts) on their products has reheated the ongoing debate on nutrition and health labelling.
Research firm IGD's Best Practice Guidance on the Presentation of Guideline Daily Amounts, published today, was developed in response to growing consumer demand for better information.
It argues that greater detail is needed.
As a result, the organisations original 1990s guidelines for nutritional labelling using GDAs for calories, fat and saturated fat for men and women have been extended to include children.
The range of nutrients has also been expanded to include GDAs for total sugars, carbohydrate, protein, fibre, salt and sodium.
"All the GDA values in the report are based upon, and consistent with, the latest published scientific data on dietary requirements and recommendations," said Joanne Denney-Finch, IGD chief executive.
"The report is designed to provide guidance to industry yon the best way to represent GDAs back-of-pack, and these guidelines are compatible with all the options advanced for nutrition signposting front-of-pack."
Food labelling has become a very hot topic of late. Currently a variety of labelling systems exist in the 25 EU members, posing a barrier to inter-country trade and increasing packaging costs for companies.
The European Commission is due to issue a discussion document on labelling this year, with proposals expected in 2007. Industry organisations and regulators meanwhile are continuing to push for what they see as the most sensible food labelling option.
IGD for example is confident that its research work has given it a good understanding of what consumers want, and also what the food industry believes is practical.
The organisation claims that consumers prefer to have the GDA information displayed in the same box as the nutrition information, in a one-box format back-of-pack. It says that consumers also perceive this style to be the easiest to understand.
"It is heartening that 83 per cent of respondents believe that GDA information should be displayed on all products," said Denny-Finch.
"The food industry is united in its commitment to good nutrition for all, which ties in with consumer demand for clear nutritional labelling to help them make informed choices."
The debate however is far from settled. The UK food industry was recently slammed by consumer groups for its rejection of an industry-wide colour-coded traffic light labelling scheme, as advocated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The announcement by several major food manufacturers that they were going ahead with their own front-of-pack signpost labelling system "suggests this a cynical move to derail the Food Standards Agencys steady progress towards an industry-wide agreement on front-of-pack food labelling," according to Ed Mayo, chief executive of the National Consumer Council (NCC).
The FSA is expected to publish its recommendations at the end of March. But these will just be recommendations and will not be enforceable by law.
Owen Warnock, a partner at Eversheds and an expert in labelling laws, summed up the current situation.
"The food industry I think is very aware of food regulations and very active in keeping up to date," he said. "The difficulty however is that what the industry wants and what the regulators want is not always the same thing."
IGD's new best practice guidance might help formulate a uniform labelling system that benefits both industry and consumers and lead to some form of consensus.