Academic slams food labelling plans as 'too simplistic'

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Food industry Nutrition

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA)'s proposed Multiple Traffic
Light system is 'too simplistic, twenty years out of date, dreamt
up by administrators rather than nutritionists and likely to
confuse consumers', according to a university professor.

Pre-empting the FSAs announcement of a recommended voluntary labelling system, due later this week, which will propose labelling foods red, orange and green according to their fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt contents, Tom Sanders, head of nutritional sciences at Kings College London claimed that telling people what is not in food wont help them select a balanced diet"​.

"The proposed Multiple Traffic Light system does not take into account the portion size,"​ said Sanders.

"If applied to all foods it would unfairly demonise perfectly healthy foods which, consumed in moderation, make up a balanced diet associated with a lower risk of heart disease (such as nuts, oily fish, half-fat cheese, olive oil, low fat spreads, ham and breakfast cereals).

"Given current concerns about obesity, it is also regrettable that the proposed labelling does not indicate the energy content of foods (calories). Most nutritionists prefer Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) as a method for labelling the nutritional value of food.

The FSA is expected to publish its labelling recommendations at the end of this month. But these will just be recommendations; they are not enforceable by law.

The food industry, and others opposed to the traffic light labelling proposal, are therefore determined to makes their opposition heard.

Indeed, Sanders' comments were made at a recent briefing hosted by the Breakfast Cereal Information Service (BCIS), which was attended by members of the Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers (ACFM). Association members are firmly in favour of implementing nutritional labelling through the use of Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) on all food products.

The food industry argues that GDAs enable consumers to make informed choices on balancing their diet by identifying the official recommended guideline levels for key nutrients and calories consumed each day and how much a portion of a particular food contributes to that allowance.

The Food and Drink Federation has also voiced its support for food makers. "There is clear agreement across industry that GDAs are the best way to provide consumers with useful information about their food,"​ said FDF director general Melanie Leech.

"This consensus enables companies to develop consistent, complementary approaches to providing on-pack information."

In any case, Health and Nutritional Claims regulations, currently being discussed within the EU, will​ have the force of law. Some food lawyers have questioned the wisdom of pushing through unpopular voluntary measures at the national level that will not even be legally enforceable.

"The food industry is not against regulations - they present an opportunity to show what product is healthiest and provide information,"​ Jessica Burt, a solicitor at CMS Cameron McKenna's SHEP (Safety, Health Environment and Products) team recently told FoodNavigator.

"But this is going to happen at a European level anyway, without Member States piling in with voluntary measures."

Even the FSA recognises this problem, though it believes that food makers are wrong to try and initiate their own voluntary measures.

Although we welcome action to help make healthier eating easier, we are concerned that different schemes may cause confusion,​ said FSA director of consumer choice and dietary health Gill Fine.

The ACFM is the trade association of the UKs leading breakfast cereal manufacturers. Members are Cereal Partners, Dailycer, Jordans, Kelloggs, Morning Foods, PepsiCo, and Weetabix.

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