Cracking down on confusing food labeling

December 28, 2009 by  
Filed under OBESITY

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Do you understand the labels on the food products that you buy? If not, then you are not alone. Not understanding food labels is the rule, not the exception according to a survey by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). This is according to the health group’s online survey of 1,454 parents aged 16 to 64 years old and have children under the age of 16. This confusion about the labels are, according to researchers, due to inaccurate and sometimes misleading information intentionally given by the food manufacturers. As an example, BHF CEO Peter Hollins cites “distracting health-like claims to market breakfast foods and lunchbox snacks.” Unfortunately, the same breakfast foods, especially cereals can contain too much sugar, fat, and salt.

Hollins continues:

“Smoke-and-mirror tactics means that foods targeted at children and high in fat, salt and sugar are being disguised with partial health claims suggesting they’re a healthy choice. Regularly eating these types of foods could have serious implications for kids’ future health.”

The BHF is calling for a single, front-of-package label as well as banning all junk food ads on TV before 9 p.m

The UK is not the only country cracking down on erroneous food labeling. A Canadian study in 2007 revealed that “there are a significant number of products which have values on the label on the carton which are not correct values.” Although variations in the values may occur, which, Canadian regulations allow, could be up to 20%, many of the products surveyed exceeded this legal variation limit.

To counter the unclear food labeling, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest wrote a letter to Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq proposing better regulation of food labeling, including:

  • A traffic-light color coding that would alert consumers on certain undesirable contents in the products, most especially sugar and trans fats.
  • Disclosure of caffeine content per serving
  • Easier-to-read information on the packaging.

In the US, the FDA is also on the lookout for mislabeling in food products. In October this year, health officials questioned certain logos carried by some products. One of these is the so-called Smart Choices check mark, which according to critics, has rather lax standards. Other products carry a red heart logo, giving the impression that they are heart-healthy. Aside from the logos, unfounded claims can also be found on many product labels. Examples are:

In October the FDA issued a letter to the food industry on Front of Package Nutrition Label. The new guidelines require “directed, standardized, comprehensive front-of-package food labeling program and icon system by the FDA with unified criteria based upon the best available science and consumer research.”

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