Food Law News - UK - 2000
FSA Press Release (2000/0025), 4 July 2000
LABELLING - Summary Report On 'Better Food Labelling' Initiative
What exactly is in it? Where does it come from? And how was it produced?
These are among the main questions posed by consumers when they are buying food, according to the written responses received to the Food Standards Agency's 'Better Food Labelling' Initiative, launched earlier this year.
The initiative aims to find out what consumers think about food labels, and particularly what improvements they would like to see. Leaflets were distributed through consumer interest groups, public libraries and supermarkets inviting comments. In addition, an open meeting in March attracted 85 participants, mostly ordinary consumers and public interest groups.
A report published today summarises the points raised by all who responded to the initiative, including 1,278 responses - 93 per cent of them from individuals, and 47 per cent sent by E-mail.
The key areas identified for action are:
Suzi Leather, Deputy Chair of the Food Standards Agency, said today: "Board members of the Agency are going to discuss these results at our October meeting. We shall need to consider various options for change, such as changes in national food labelling regulations; a new UK strategy for influencing future EU legislation; encouraging voluntary action by UK food manufacturers and retailers, and developing our own advice on interpreting what is claimed on food labels.
- Ingredient listing - including indicating the presence of GM ingredients, full declaration of allergens, identification of products/ingredients of animal origin, and clearer identification of additives.
- Country of origin labelling - particularly for meat and poultry.
- Production methods - including concern over animal welfare, ethical and environmental concerns, and information about the use of pesticides and growth hormones.
- Standardisation of food labels - including a mandatory format, minimum type size, standard print types and colours, and use of standard symbols.
- Date marking - especially the meaning of "best before" and "use by". There are also calls for clearer indications of how long food will last once opened, and the date of production.
- Nutrition labelling - there were suggestions that this should be mandatory, and that different types of fat (e.g., unsaturated), added sugar, and salt should always be listed. There was a preference for fat declaration as a percentage of total calorie content, and nutritional contents to be shown as a percentage of daily target.
- Misleading claims/information - such as "% fat free", unclear definitions of "low" and "high", marketing terms such as "healthy" and "country-style", and the use of "lite" and "organic" when used to imply that products are healthier.
"The public responses to our survey simply bear out what many of us have suspected for some time. Most people feel they need a degree in organic chemistry in order to understand some food labels. They don't know what is meant by terms like "hydrolised vegetable protein". They don't like the use of E numbers, some of which can only be properly understood by consulting a directory of food additives, and they dislike ambiguous claims such as "may contain nuts". They need to know whether it contains nuts or it doesn't - for some people, this could be a matter of life or death."
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