Front-of-pack food labelling is a hotly contested issue.
Sydney lawyer Professor Roger Magnusson has been investigating the competing proposals for food labelling.
He finds that an interpretive, front-of-pack labelling scheme could encourage healthier eating patterns as well as being a catalyst for improvements in the nutritional quality of food products
the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) argues that front-of-pack food labelling should take the form of its own, voluntary scheme, called Daily Intake Labelling.
This is backed by Woolworths, Coles, Franklins, the Australian Beverages Council and the Confectionary Manufacturers of Australia, and is currently used by around 180 brands.
It indicates the percentage of energy, protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars and sodium per serve of the food in a thumbnail, monochrome format. The serving size is chosen by each manufacturer and may vary between like products.
According to Australian research conducted by a coalition of Australian organisations including CHOICE and the Cancer Council, can best help consumers in identifying foods that contribute to a healthier diet.
A NSW survey showed that consumers using traffic light labelling were ‘five times more likely to correctly identify the healthier food products than those using the monochrome Daily Intake system’.
1. Daily Intake Labelling is more complex. It requires comparison across seven categories. It also assumes that consumers measure out and limit themselves to the recommended serving…unrealistic, as who measures out 30 grams of cereal at breakfast?
For Daily Intake Labelling to be an effective aid to a healthier diet, consumers must compare nutrients from different serving sizes of the similar products the consumer is choosing between, since serving sizes vary and are the responsibility of each manufacturer
consumers must keep a tally of the foods consumed during the day in order not to over-consume ‘negative’ nutrients such as fat, and in order to achieve daily targets for ‘positive’ nutrients such as fibre. They must also consider how their individual daily intake needs compare with those of an average adult male.
2. Unlike Traffic Light Labelling, Daily Intake Labelling is ‘agnostic’ about the quality of the nutrition of a product. This explains why the Sanitarium Health Food Company has not signed on to Daily Intake Labelling, stating that:
“The % daily intake value only provides information about the quantity of nutrients not the quality of nutrition”.
Traffic Light Labelling helps consumers make healthier choices by taking a position on the nutritional content of the product.
It also has the capacity to interfere with the revenues of food manufacturers and retailers which may explain why the AFGC is promoting Daily Intake Labelling.
Traffic Light Labelling could encourage food manufacturers to change the food supply through product reformulation – changing the recipe to make it healthier and more cost effective – and development to meet nutrient criteria levels, unlike Daily Intake Labelling.
Traffic Light Labelling first originated in the United Kingdom, where it has been supported by at least twenty public health organisations and on 22 June 2010, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued a report which caled for Traffic Light Labelling to become the national standard.
Croakey, the Crikey health blog believes this dispute is
“an important test for government, and a case study of how self-interest prompts industry to promote weaker, voluntary schemes that pre-empt and undermine progressive public health regulation.”
A lot of people are watching for this decision.