Row over 'deceptive' fruit flavours

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Flavor Food

A debate on flavourings has erupted over a report from a consumer
pressure group that claims fruit flavourings mislead consumers into
believing they contain actual fruit extract.

The Food Commission said that said that regulations for the use of flavourings are "confusing and hard to access". ​The group is calling for all flavourings to be individually identified on food labels as there are 2,700 flavourings that can be added to products without having to be declared as ingredients. Meanwhile, it advises consumers to check ingredients list to see what is in, or missing, from their food. "Describing a product as strawberry flavour and plastering the packet with pictures of strawberries, when that product contains just a tiny percentage of strawberry or even no real fruit at all, is misleading and deceptive,"​ said Ian Tokelove, spokesperson for the Food Commission. "Unfortunately, it is also legal and the practice is widespread." Industry rebuttal ​However, the industry and food bodies have argued back, saying that manufacturers are obliged to, and want to, avoid misleading consumers. Sabine Henssler from the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA) said: "All ingredients used in food or drink products, including flavourings, must be labelled by law as per a European Commission Directivethat sets out the rules on labelling for flavourings added to foodstuffs, and for flavourings sold as such to food producers and consumers." ​ The Food and Drink Federation, which represents the industry, said: "Food and drink manufacturers rely on the trust of consumers to buy their products every day and do not set out to mislead. All ingredients used in food or drink products, including flavourings, must be labelled by law. "Manufacturers make a wide range of foods to suit consumers' varying tastes and pockets. In response to consumer demand, companies are increasingly using natural flavours." ​ Manufacturers have been reformulating their products in response to the increasing demand for natural and organic foods in line and the growing health and wellness trend. Emily Buckland, press officer at Nestle, said: "The ingredients used to make Nesquik are clearly labelled on pack, as the law requires, to ensure that consumers can make informed choices. "In line with our long term reformulation programme, we are currently working on a move to use a natural colour in Strawberry Nesquik Magic Straws." Survey ​In a survey of strawberry flavoured food and drink, the group produced a long list of products that contain no strawberries at all, or use only tiny amounts of fruit. Big names such as Nestle, Yazoo, Ambosia and supermarket own brands were included in the list. For example, Nestle's Nesquik milkshake contains no fruit, while Jordans Frusli All Fruit Strawberry bards contain only 0.5 per cent strawberry juice concentrate and is actually made more apples. Tokelove said: "Flavourings allow companies to cut costs at the public's expense. With thousands of cheap flavourings to choose from, many food manufacturers can now flavour their products using these specialist additives instead of real ingredients." Legislation ​The Food Commission claims flavourings legislation across Europe is inconsistent. It said that in 1996, the European Parliament ruled that an EU-wide positive list of approved flavouring substances should be created, but the process is drawn out and may not be completed until 2010. However, the European Food Safety Authority said it is expecting to complete its evaluation of the safety of 2,800 flavouring substances by this April to allow for a positive list to be established. These registered flavourings include naturally occurring products from animals and vegetables, as well as artificial substances. Futhermore, the FIAP legislation (Food Improvement Agent Package) is expected to be adopted this year, which aims to update the general rules set out in Directive 88/388/EEC to reflect technological and scientific developments. It sets out clearer rules on maximum levels for undesirable substances in line with EFSA opinions. Definitions are clarified, and stricter conditions are also introduced for the use of the term 'natural'. Problems with flavourings ​ The Food Commission argues that although flavourings should be safe for consumption, any associated health problems would be impossible to identify if flavourings are not identified on the labels. Because they are used to improve the appeal of low-nutrient or high fat, sugar, salt (HFSS) foods, replacing genuine, nutritious ingredients, it says they are further having a negative impact on health. The group also said that repeated exposure to flavourings may negatively affect our reaction to the taste of fresh, unprocessed foods.

Related topics Ingredients

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