FSA News Item, 11 November 2002
'Health' claims made on food labels often leave consumers confused or unclear
about the properties of the products, according to research carried out on behalf
of the Food Standards Agency.
Health claims 'are of interest and relevance to consumers', the research says, but consumers' understanding of them is 'often more partial and confused than they believe it to be'.
Because they have other priorities, consumers often respond to the claims on labels in a non-scientific way and look at them 'in a wider and often "fuzzy" context', it concludes.
The research was commissioned following discussions on a draft European Commission proposal for EU legislation to control the use of health claims in food labelling.
The Agency welcomes the EC's move to harmonise the rules on the regulation of claims and considers that controls at an EU level would increase consumer protection and consumer choice. Currently, controls on health claims for food labelling and advertising are not harmonised at European Community level
The Commission's draft proposal identified a number of categories of health claims and suggested ways in which they might be regulated. Through its research, the Agency sought to establish whether consumers differentiate between these different types of claims.
The Agency's aim is to contribute to the development of a regime that enables labels to carry truthful information, that does not mislead and does not undermine efforts to promote healthy lifestyles. Its research considered consumer understanding of a range of claims, including some similar to those already in use.
In the UK, health claims are not subject to specific national rules. The Agency currently supports a self-regulatory Joint Health Claims Initiative developed by industry, consumer groups and law enforcement bodies, which defines good practice and establishes a system for validation of claims.
The Agency's research report, which will be made available to the European
Commission and Member States, will contribute to development of ideas for a
regulatory regime that takes full account of the need to provide health messages
in a form that is properly understood by consumers.
The Report can be found on the FSA web site at: http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/healtclaims.pdf