Concern over value of food labels

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Health claims, Nutrition

Confusing information on the nutrition content of food, along with
misleading health claims, have once again been brought under
scrutiny. Growing pressure in Europe for clearer labelling and
greater honesty about ingredients in products is likely to have a
major impact on upcoming European regulations on labelling.

The UK-based Consumers' Association for example has warned that current attitudes concerning nutritional information are simply inadequate. The association said that obesity levels will continue to spiral unless the government and the food industry take responsibility for the crisis.

The association also criticised the UK government for failing to make nutrition a priority and insisted that the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) should take the lead on this issue to ensure a proactive and co-ordinated approach.

"EU legislation is in on its way but the government cannot afford to rest on its laurels,"​ said the Consumers' Association's principal policy advisor Sue Davies. "With half of women and two thirds of men in the UK overweight or obese it is time to take tough action to force the food industry to stop the healthy choice being the hard choice."

The association wants the industry to provide user friendly and consistent information. It argues that this must be addressed by upcoming EU legislation on nutrition labelling. It also argues that it is difficult for consumers to work out levels of fat, salt and sugar in a food product or to determine how much of these nutrients consumers should be eating overall, and that people need easy ways to identify whether or not a food is high in fat, salt and sugar.

In addition, misleading health claims and marketing messages on food make it very difficult for consumers to eat healthily. For instance health claims and healthy eating ranges do not always mean healthy products; foods marketed to children are sometimes less healthy than adult ranges and nutritional terms such 'light' mean different things on different labels.

"Unless the government makes it clear that nutrition is a political priority, forces the industry to accept responsibility and gives the Food Standards Agency the lead in this area, we are unlikely to see any inroads made into addressing the obesity epidemic."

These arguments have been supported by the head of the new European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In an interview with the BBC, Geoffrey Podger called for a ban on claims that foods high in salt, sugar and fat are healthy.

Podger said that he wanted to put a stop to the practice of adding supplements such as vitamins to foods high in fat or sugar, so they can be marketed as healthy.

"We should recognise there are foods that are naughty but nice,"​ he said. "No harm in eating them, but to start making health claims because you have added ingredients to them will just confuse the situation, and make it more difficult for all of us to balance our diets."

Related topics: Ingredients