If you think those health labels will steer shoppers away from junk food – fat chance

Food label? What food label?


Alf has never joined the clamour for more and more information to be stuck on food labels.

The champions of this nonsense want consumers to know which country the food comes from, how much fat and so on it contains, whether it has any genetically modified components….

Whole forests must be chopped down to provide the paper for the labels to carry the information that food products must carry already, without the labels telling us more.

Alf was astonished, on visiting a government website, to find the obligations heaped on food processors and retailers.

And guess what?

Most shoppers couldn’t give a toss about what they say.

Alf has learned this from a new study which shows most shoppers ignore nutritional labels labels on food packets and simply buy what they like.

The findings are a blow to the UK government, which has pressurised food manufacturers to display calorie, fat and salt content prominently on packaging so that consumers can make healthier choices.

This extends to the “traffic light” food-labelling system recommended by an official transtasman review.

Alf’s colleague, Kate Wilkinson, Minister of Tucker, was being badgered in recent days to reveal her position on this controversial proposal and other food labelling recommendations.

The report’s proposals aim to improve nutrition labels and urges enhancement of Australia’s country-of-origin labelling.

The report recommends introducing a generally voluntary multiple traffic lights front-of-pack label, but says it should be mandatory if health claims are made.

Ms Rich’s sister lobby group in Australia said the reviewers’ more-prescriptive approach flagged “greater costs for industry and government”.

The Herald explained the proposals in is account.

* Traffic lights on packaged food – red, orange, green dots to indicate how healthy/unhealthy it is.

* Chain restaurants encouraged to use same system on menus.

* Palm oil no longer disguised as “vegetable oil”.

* Trans fats to be listed above a certain percentage.

But guess what?

The Daily Mail says the labelling that most shoppers ignore include the voluntary ‘traffic light system’ and its ratings of how healthy food is by using red, orange or green labels.

Researchers from the Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life (FLABEL) investigated 37,000 products in five potentially unhealthy types of food, including biscuits, chilled ready meals and fizzy drinks.

They found Britain had the highest proportion of nutritional information on packaging, with more than 95 per cent including it on the back of packs, and 82 per cent on the front.

However, the research also found that most shoppers understand perfectly well how healthy various foods are with only the bare minimum of nutritional information.

The study strikes another blow to the costly schemes.

It found that people who said they understood or liked the various labelling schemes were happy to ignore them and buy the food they liked best, regardless of how unhealthy it was.

A FLABEL advisor, Professor Klaus Grunert, from Aarhus University in Denmark, has called on food companies to put clear information on the front of packs for maximum impact.

However, he conceded that even this wouldn’t make shoppers to dump the junk, saying: ‘Motivation was a major factor affecting the impact of nutrition labels on the choices made by consumers.

‘When prompted, consumers were able to identify which products were healthier, but they did not use this information to choose which product they prefer.

‘A lack of consumer motivation, therefore, is one factor standing in the way of healthy food choices resulting from nutrition labelling.’

The European Food Information Council said FLABEL found that 85% of all products carried nutrition information on the back of the pack, and 48% on the front of the pack.

The most widespread back-of-pack format was the tabular or linear listing of calorific value and nutrient composition at 84%, whereas nutrition claims and GDA were the most prevalent forms of front-of-pack nutrition information, both averaging 25%.

When information was provided on key nutrients (i.e. fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt) and energy, most consumers were able to correctly rank products according to healthiness.

Additional information, such as Health Logos, GDA or Traffic Lights, only marginally improved the accuracy of this ranking.

Consumers in the study said they preferred labels that provide complete information, but consumer liking and intention to use these labels, was not translated into actual product choices.

A big issue affecting the impact of nutrition labels on actual food purchases made by consumers was lack of attention to the nutrition information.

FLABEL found that food packages held consumers’ visual attention for very short periods, with the average attention to elements of nutrition labels being between 25 and 100 milliseconds, as measured by sophisticated eye-tracking equipment.

A Government website tells Alf that all food sold in this country must comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code for labelling.

The Code covers labels – among other things – so that information is available regarding the safety and suitability of the food you are about to eat.

Nearly every food product requires a label, with varying degrees of detail. A food label must be in English (other languages can be used in addition to English, as long as they do not contradict the information).

In general, these items must be shown on a food label:

the name of the food, to identify it

the lot identification, which identifies the premises where the food was packaged and/or prepared and the batch it came from, to assist should there be a food recall (this may also be the date mark)

the name and address of the supplier and business in New Zealand or Australia who can be contacted if more information about the product is needed

mandatory warning statements, advisory statements and declarations to identify certain ingredients/substances that may trigger allergies or be of concern

ingredient list in descending order of in-going weight including any food additives, such as preservatives, flavours and colours, which are identified by their function and name or code number (eg, Thickener (pectin) or Thickener (440))

date marking is needed for most packaged food with a shelf life of less than two years, most commonly these are ‘Use By’ and ‘Best Before’ dates

directions for use and storage (where needed) to ensure the food will keep for the period indicated by the date mark, and/or how you should store the food to stop it spoiling or reduce the growth of pathogens that may cause illness

Nutrition Information Panel to allow you to compare the quantities of seven key nutrients per serving and per 100g or 100ml of liquid

percentage labelling of characterising ingredient
net weight or volume.

A lot of time and effort will go into providing this information.

And – as we now know – the average shopper spends between 25 and 100 milliseconds absorbing it.

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