Improved Food Labelling Campaign Issues
The Case for Clear Labelling
Consumers rely on the information they find on packaged food to be accurage and comprehensive. Shoppers should be able to pick any item from the supermarket shelf and easily understand what is on the product. Information also needs to be clear, honest and informative.
Labels, claims and endorsements are used by food companies to highlight and display information they believe will make a product attractive to a consumer. It is for this reason labels often focus on the positive elements of a product and don't tell you the whole story about what is in the food.
In 2008, we undertook a poll asking you about labelling. Over 90 per cent of you stated you check ingredients lists and nutrition panels, indicating the importance of labels. Just over 85 per cent of respondents stated you wanted the Government to introduce a multiple traffic light labelling system that clearly showed high, medium and low levels of fats, sugar and sodium.
In 2011, a survey of members resulted in 90 per cent of respondents telling us you want multiple traffic light labelling to be mandatory for packaged food products and in fast food outlets. The Parents' Jury continues to advocate on your behalf for this.
On this page;
Current Food Packaging
Food packaging contains many types of nutrition information, which allows manufacturers plenty of opportunity to promote the health and nutrition benefits of their products. Unfortunately this also opens the door to misleading impressions and savvy consumers need to read between the lines of labels.
All manufactured foods sold in Australia must display an ingredients list, listed in descending order with the main ingredient (highest weight) listed first and the smallest ingredient last. For example, if sugar is listed near the start of the list you can be sure that it forms a significant proportion of the food and it is not a healthy option. Food additives are listed by name or an approved numbering system. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) provide a comprehensive food additives list on their website
Nutrition Information Panels
All manufactured foods sold in Australia must display a Nutrition Information Panel that includes the amounts of energy (kilojoules), protein, total fat, saturated fat, total carbohydrate, sugar and sodium (salt) in the food. Some foods also display the fibre and calcium contents. These panels are usually found on the reverse of the packet and display the amounts per 100g as well as per serving.
Look very carefully at the serving size quoted as it is often much smaller than you would usually eat in one sitting or may contain more than one serving. For example, a standard 375ml can of Diet Coke actually contains 1.88 standard servings even though it is very likely that someone would drink the whole can at one sitting.
Nutrition claims are becoming increasingly common on children's foods. Nutrient content claims such as 'high fibre' and 'low fat' are allowed when the manufacturer can prove that the claim is true. Consumers need to be very careful with these types of claims as they can be misleading.
Examples of the types of nutrition claims you may find on children's food products:
Nestle Milo cereal
The font of pack states '9 essential vitamins and minerals' 'contains 20% wholegrains'. The Nutrition Information Panel on the back of the pack shows that the product is 30.8% sugar.
Yoplait Petit Miam fromage frais
The front of pack states ‘10% more fruit', but this actually means 10% more fruit then the previous formula. The Nutrition Information Panel shows that the product is only 8% fruit in total.
Natural Confectionery Company Snakes
The front of pack states ‘99% fat free'. The Nutrition Information Panel shows that the product is also 50.8% sugar.
Endorsements, approval stamps and ticks
Food manufacturers are increasingly using endorsements, approval stamps and ticks on foods to enhance their appeal to consumers. Endorsements and approval stamps may originate from an external organisation, or from the manufacturer themselves.
However, most consumers do not understand the full meaning of these programs and may make purchasing decisions based on trust rather than knowledge. Consumers need to be aware of the full meaning of endorsement programs in order to interpret them correctly. An example can be seen here:
Nesquik Chocolate Dairy Snack
The front of the pack clearly shows a Heart Foundation Approved tick. The tick is well recognised but may be misunderstood to mean that you can eat as much as you want of any product that it appears on. The tick actually means that the product is at the healthy end of the range of foods in the same category, but it is not a green light to eat the particular food in abundance. Food manufacturers pay an annual licensing fee to display the tick on products.
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Simplifying Nutrition Labelling Systems
There are currently many different types of information appearing on food packaging in Australia. The Australian Food and Grocery Council, which represents the food industry, favours the % Daily Intake guide, which appears on many processed food items. However, this guide is considered to be confusing for many consumers and often does not reflect normal portion servings.
Multiple traffic light labelling is the most popular choice amongst consumers and public health bodies. The Parents Jury wants a mandatory single labelling system that is used on all packaged foods. We believe labelling should provide honest nutrition information that all consumers, parents and children included, can understand at a glance.
There are different labelling options within a traffic light labelling system. For example, the levels of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt could be shown as red (high), amber (medium) or green (low). This type of labelling system would simplify the information presented to consumers and allow them to make informed healthy food choices at a glance by making direct comparisons between the brands available. To see how the system may look on products in Australia, check out CHOICE
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Understanding Nutrition Information Panels
In December 2011, the Australian Government responded to Labelling Logic: the Independent Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy, stating they do not intend to introduce traffic light labelling. However, the Government does intend to introduce easy to use labelling information, following further consultation. At present, Nutrition Information Panels remain the main source of information for consumers.
Learning to read a Nutrition Information Panel is a vital step towards making healthy food choices. A food label can tell you how high in energy a food is and the amounts of fat, sugar and sodium it contains. It is important to be able to read and interpret this information and apply your knowledge to help determine the amounts in different foods that your family consumes.
The Parents' Jury has designed a Nutrition Guide for Shoppers which shows you at-a-glance the low, medium and high levels of fat, sugar and sodium that you should look for on a Nutrition Information Panel. You can also download the Foodswitch app from The George Institute and Bupa.
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