Archive for Food labeling

New report: British retailers are committed in the fight against obesity

british retailing: a commitment to healthThe British Retail Consortium (BRC) just published a substantial catalogue of evidence from its major food retailing members. It shows they are responding to customer demand in the UK’s highly competitive grocery market and delivering healthier choices, food information and actual change in what customers buy – more comprehensively than legislation ever could.

From reducing salt, fat and sugar to portion size options, promotions and on-pack labelling, BRC members are enabling healthier choices which are being taken up by customers.

What we’re seeing is responsible retailers enthusiastically putting their resources and reputations firmly behind making their contribution to healthier diets.

The report covers a string of current food-retailing issues including: Labelling, Reformulation and Portion sizes.

Increasing consumption of healthy foods is really happening.  One step that has made a real difference has been running price promotions on fruit and vegetables and the introduction of ranges of highly nutritious but lower cosmetic quality produce.

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How about a unified front of package label?

Hemi from fooducate.com did a great job formulating a list of 9 urgent items on his wishlist for FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg starting on her first full week in office today. These include:

1. Free packaged foods of “health claims“, which are actually marketing claims, by banning them altogether. A reminder to our readers, “health claims” are a concession that the US lawmaker gave to the powerful food industry lobby in the early 90’s when the Nutrition Education and Labeling Act was being negotiated. The result of that law is the nutrition label as we know it today.

2. Please stop the practice of rounding down to zero. Manufacturers are legally allowed to claim a product has 0 trans fat even if a serving contains 0.49 grams. And since we all know people consume much more than the formal serving size, they can get much more than the 0 trans fat they were expecting.

3. Serving Size – Here are some ridiculous examples – 11 potato chips, 2 Oreo cookies. Come on, even 3 year olds eat more than that in a sitting. The reason serving sizes are so minute is to make them appear less caloric/fat/salty/sweet in the nutrition label. Please help manufacturers give us accurate info.

4. How about a unified front of package label? These labels are supposed to be a quick glance way for a consumer to decide if a product is nutrtious enough ro not. With all the new formats sprouting like mad (NuVal, Smart Choices, Guiding Stars, etc..), consumers are more confused than ever. Why not adopt a system such as UK’s Traffic Lights? Yes, it irritates food manufacturers, but hey, you are supposed to protect us consumers.

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Can the private sector improve public health?

Policy interventions to encourage healthy eating in European member states have included prohibitions on advertising certain foods to children, promotion of fruit and vegetable consumption, nutrition labelling, dialogue with the food industry to improve food product composition, regulation of school meals and public sector canteens to ensure healthy food offerings. To date, these have not been systematically evaluated.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a clear rationale for further government involvement in food choice. Obesity, driven partly by food choice, now accounts for between 5 and 7% of total health care costs in the EU. In addition to its contribution via obesity, poor dietary quality directly contributes to a range of preventable diseases that raise health care costs.” Obesity has been estimated to cost the EU some €70 billion annually through health care costs and lost productivity.

The new 3 year 2.5 million euros European research project, EATWELL, led by the University of Reading, will, for the first time, catalogue these interventions, evaluating what has worked well and why. It will investigate how the public sector can effectively market promising dietary interventions to the population, and what attitudinal barriers may be faced in implementation in the range of countries.

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Portion Size Review

Here you can download a resent food industry (IGD) report on portion size.

The report can be of use to those working in nutrition, product design, CSR, or regulatory positions involved in determining portion sizes for foods within the grocery and food service sectors.

Portion size is important for food labelling purposes and from the perspective of nutrient and energy intake. The increasing prevalence of obesity has focused attention on intake in relation to portion size and raised the question of whether guidance is needed on setting portion sizes for particular foods.

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Exploring global consumer attitudes toward nutrition information on food labels

This paper summarizes a workshop that examined consumer attitudes gathered regionally with the aim of establishing commonalities and differences.

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Food Labeling Terminology

Proposed terminology for use when discussing different food labeling schemes
Labeling scheme = Type of labeling

A labeling scheme can be specified using the following aspects
Steps on scale = Points on scale = fine-grained scale
A labeling scheme can be 2 steps (on or off like a checkmark), 3-steps (like LOW, MED and HIGH on a Traffic Light), indefinite (a continuous scale, in practice it could be a 100 step scale) or another number of steps. Number of steps contributes to the complexity of a labeling scheme.

Number of dimensions

A labeling scheme can display one or more dimensions, where a dimension could be “overall healthy ness” (like a checkmark) or the content of calories and different nutrients. A GDA label often has 5 dimensions: (1. Cal, 2. Sugars, 3. Fat, 4. Sat fat and 5. Salt). A GDA label can also show also only one dimension (Calories on a soda).

Interpretive element

This interpretive element can also be called ‘judgmental’ or the ‘guiding/helpful’ element. The interpretive element can be in the form of WORDS (Poor, Low, Mediun, High or Super), colors (red, amber, green) or a percent (like the %GDA). The nature of the interpretive element can be “Threshold(s)” or “Scoring/Scale”.

Reference unit

It could be “100 g/ 100 ml”, “100 kcal” or some “servings”

Reference values

Some labeling schemes are based on a set of intake ‘labeling reference intake values’.

Communication means

It can be any colors, numbers, text or symbols, or any combination hereof.

Complexity

This covers a function og the following dimensions: xxx, xxx

When discussing GDA-labeling the following terminology is proposed:Hent fra min mail og puds af.

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Smart Choices program and expert integrety

Marion Nestle just shared her thoughts on simple food labeling schems like the smart choice check mark and the keyhole. She was invited to serve on the Board of Directors of the Smart Choices program. Enjoy reading her line of arguments as to why she chose not to accept this invitation.

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Excellent UK Study

Last week FSA in the UK published this 158 page report on Comprehension and use of UK nutrition signpost labelling schemes. It’s called the final report on front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition signpost labelling.

A lot of effort went into preparing this report. It has both qualitative and quantitative elements, and a group of independent experts oversaw the work.

I certainly like the qualitative part. It brings new and valuable insights into how and why consumers use FOP labeling. Or maybe more important why consumers do NOT read and use food labeling.

In the UK there is a labeling war between the Food and Drink Industry who advocates for GDA and FSA and others who advocate for traffic light labeling. This also determined what schemes were studied in this project. Unfortunately no alternatives Traffic Light and GDA were included. The FSA Traffic Light, the GDA label and the new hybrid (see below) are unfortunately not as fast and easy to read and interpret ‘at a glance’ as I think they ought to be.

The report concludes that consumers would like the FOP labeling mess in the UK cleaned up in order to avoid unnecessary confusion. And – SUPRISE – the report recommends a combination of Traffic Lights and GDA to be the way forward. This has the potential to be a possible compromise in the UK. You can see the hybrid label below. Notice the colors AND the %GDA values in the lower row.

Here are the important links:

The new report it self

An excecutive summary

Slides from the launch

What others wrote about the report:

Sustain wrote:
The public is very clear that they only want one labelling scheme and so industry is now under enormous pressure to use the hybrid labels, including traffic light colours and the words ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’. Any company that doesn’t now adopt the public’s favourite system will be exposed as putting their profits before their customers’ health.

Sue Davies from Which? told the Guardian:
If the food industry really is serious about helping consumers make healthy choices then it must accept the study’s findings, start pulling in the same direction and adopt the labelling scheme that works best for consumers.

The British Heart Foundation in Medical News Today:
It’s time for food companies to stop making excuses, support one system and ensure shoppers are given the ‘at a glance’ information they need.

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EFSA confirmed 90 grams of sugar as an appropriate reference for GDA

On May 4th 2009 EFSA published their opinion on labeling reference intake values.

The values proposed by CIAA are confirmed as follows: EFSA are happy with references for total fat at 70 g, saturated fat at 20 g and salt at 6 grams. EFSA found 2000 kcal is good because it’s lower than that of men, but what about kids?

The panel surprisingly also found the 90 g of sugar as an acceptable reference without even commenting on the practical implications for food labeling. This opinion will legitimize CIAA’s efforts to continue promoting GDA labels which are misleading consumers to eat more empty calories. EFSA choose to amputate the currently only instrument available to encourage European consumers to eat a nutrient dense diet. In times of obesity nutrient density is essential. We need more not less nutrients for each calorie.

This desicion will reduce the transparancy of the food market, and make it more difficult for consumers to see the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods, and furthermore couteract the efforts of nutrition education. The incentives for food industry to develop healthier foods, will be reduced and EFSA’s descision will legitimize the increase use of added sugars in processed foods.

EFSA could have made clear that added sugar cannot be calculated and displayed as percent of total sugar when the reference is based on 50% indigenous (sugars naturally present in foods such as fruit, vegetables, cereals and lactose in milk products) and 50 % added sugar. EFSA could consider solving this challenge by proposing an alternative terminology where added sugar and indigenous sugar are not both called sugar.

In my opinion the sugar reference should be changed to 45 grams of added sugar. The caloric value of natural sugar is communicated effectively to consumers under calories on a food label. This would also bring simplicity and clearity to food labelling. Which is needed to improve public health.

See also stopGDA.eu and foodnavigator

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First Flabel results now online

The first results from the FLABEL project are now available as a webinar. Following 6 months of research, in 28 countries (27 EU Members States & Turkey), more than 37,000 products have been audited to determine the penetration of nutrition labelling in Europe today. Using a standardised analytical methodology, the number of products with nutrition information on pack (front and back), the main types of systems used in each country, the prevalence of nutrition and health claim usage, and the prevalence of nutrition information on products that are attractive to children, were assessed in these 5 product categories: bisquits, ready meals, carbonated soft drinks, breakfast cereals and yoghurts. Enjoy.

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