Food Law News - UK - 2002

FSA News, 4 March 2002

LABELLING - Fat content and calorie-counting tops labelling checklist

Consumers check the calorie and fat content on food labels, understand the term 'trace,' but get confused between the terms sodium and salt, FSA research reveals.

And although many do not understand what constitutes 'a portion,' they are more likely to check nutritional values 'per serving' than 'per 100g.' The study, based on group and individual in-depth interviews, compared eight different specimen labels (including the current standard layout) to see which layouts were easiest to read and understand.

The research found:

People understood that 'trace' meant a small amount, and felt that replacing it with '0' would be inaccurate and misleading,

Putting nutritional values as a percentage of Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) confuses people.

Although salt is regularly listed on labels and is useful for people with conditions such as high blood pressure who need to reduce their salt intake, sodium occurs in ingredients other than salt. Sodium bicarbonate, for example, is rgularly added to bakery products.

The research found that consumers would value some reordering of important nutrients such as salt in food labels, and putting some in bold or in a separate text box, but this could risk downgrading the perceived value of others, particularly sugars.

But the research report found that people don't always check labels, particularly for items they buy regularly.

One woman shopper told the researchers: 'I'm not going to stand there and read every single blooming label. I'm going to look at what's important like this (calories and fat) but not the rest of the stuff.'

Of the eight specimen labels shown to consumers, the one which grouped together fat, saturates and salt (linked to coronary heart disease) was considered sensible.

The report will help inform the Agency's submission to any future discussions in Brussels about nutritional labelling across the EC.

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