Fresh Calls For Traffic Light Food Label System

Consumer group, Which?, has renewed calls for a traffic light system to be introduced on food labelling, in order to clear up confusion that arises from a lack of consistency from food manufacturers. Which? has urged the government to use Brexit to break away from current EU rules, under which traffic light and other systems are only voluntary. The EU body, The European Consumer Organisation, or BEUC, has also called for sterner rules to help prevent what they describe as “misleading tricks” that food producers use.

Which? Investigation

We are all encouraged to eat and drink more healthily, but according to consumer group Which?, it isn’t as easy as it could or should be. In particular, the group took aim at breakfast cereal manufacturers. They said that consumers were being overloaded with information, and a lack of consistency from one manufacturer to the next further exacerbates the problem.

Which? investigated a range of cereals, including porridge and granola. The group found that a typical cereal can include more than three quarters of a person’s recommended daily intake of sugar. However, of equal concern to the group was the misleading labels and nutritional information that is included. It found that different companies use different portion sizes, making it very difficult to compare daily intake levels at a glance. Some companies also include levels of a portion that includes milk, while other’s do not. This inconsistency is damaging to consumers.

Traffic Light Systems

The traffic light system means that producers add a colour according to intake of salt, sugar, and fat levels. Red means that levels are high, amber means that levels are moderate, and green means low levels. All levels are calculated according to a 100g serving, and it would mean much greater transparency and ease in comparing various products. Consumers are advised to choose foods that have a greater number of green and amber nutritional values, and avoid those with too many red warnings.

Current Regulations

The UK is currently governed by EU laws on food labels. According to these rules, printing the traffic light guidance system on the front of food packaging is only a recommendation. Companies can opt in or out, but this means a lack of consistency across the space. Which? has called on the government to use Brexit as an opportunity to update and adopt their own laws and rules.

BEUC Calls For Change

However, it looks like EU rules themselves could change, at least if a recent report by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) are acted upon. The BEUC represents consumer organisations from 10 European countries. They have called on the EU to toughen up laws to rectify the current problem of “misleading” labels. They said that producers are using misleading labels to sugar coat the poor quality of their products. The group highlighted several practices that they believe need changing.

According to the report Food Labels: Tricks Of The Trade, producers were labelling goods as “traditional” or “artisanal” despite containing “industrial ingredients”; products that contain little or no fruit containing large images of fruit on the labels; and products that naturally contain barley and fibre being labelled as whole grain. The report went on to say that such practices run the risk of undermining consumer trust.

The report cited surveys from Germany and the Netherlands, which showed that more than 80% of consumers questioned from these countries did not fully trust the information that is included on labels and packaging. The BEUC said that a number of manufacturers have made changes, but that without state level and EU level intervention, the changes are not enough and that more needs to be done in order to rebuild trust in manufacturers and producers.

Proposed Changes

The BEUC has called for sweeping changes across the market. They want EU institutions to make food labels more honest. They have said that the EU should define certain terms, like “traditional” and “artisanal”. They also said that there should be minimum levels of whole grain content in order to be labelled as “whole grain”. The same minimum content guidelines should be carried across other products, including those that contain fruit and vegetables.

Are Current Rules Enough?

Not everybody agrees with the BEUC’s comments, however. FoodDrinkEurope, a body that represents food manufacturers from across the continent, has said that companies must “comply already today with a comprehensive set of EU food legislation, including the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation and the Food Information to Consumers Regulation.”

The Importance Of Clear Food Labelling

Clear food labelling is considered important. As a manufacturer, you need to include certain information, such as the nutritional values of food products, on the labelling, and all manufacturers are encouraged to be open and honest about the information that they print on labels. Laws could change once Britain leaves the EU.

The government themselves have suggested that they will use Brexit as an opportunity to tighten up laws on labelling meat products to aid consumers in identifying whether the animal was stunned before being slaughtered, and there have been fresh calls to include food labels on out-of-home food products, such as those that you buy from bakers.

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