Obesity crisis prompts leading food firms to add health labels
Health labels are to be put on some of the biggest-selling food brands in the UK because of growing fears about the crises of obesity and diet-related illnesses. Five of Britain's largest food manufacturers will announce an agreement today to place labels on the front of all their products, including Walkers crisps, Dairylea, Shredded Wheat and Kit Kat. The companies, Danone, Kellogg's, Kraft, Nestle and PepsiCo, have been under pressure to be more open about the nutritional values of their wares.
But the move angered consumer groups because it preempts more prescriptive guidelines being drawn up by the Food Standards Agency. "The timing suggests this is a cynical move to derail the FSA's steady progress towards an industry wide agreement," said Ed Mayo of the National Consumer Council. The scheme announced today, which will begin to come into effect in the spring, will tell shoppers how many calories and how much fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt a serving of each product contains. It will also say how much the serving contributes to official guideline daily amounts (GDAs) for each of those nutrients. But the labels will not be colour-coded to tell consumers at a glance whether the products fall under government definitions of high, medium or low in salt, fat or sugar.
The united move by the food manufacturers follows intense pressure from the government and the media. The FSA is finalising its proposals on labelling, and is expected to recommend a traffic-light scheme introducing the notion of "good" and "bad" foods. It has narrowed proposals down to two schemes with colour coding: one a simple traffic-light system and one a colour-coded GDA scheme, and is expected to make a recommendation in March. Consumer groups accused food manufacturers of trying to side-step this.
PepsiCo's chief executive for UK and Ireland, Martin Glenn, said yesterday the labels would become standard around the world. "The food industry won't sign up to traffic lights but it will to GDAs. The net effect will be massive," he said.
The FSA, which can only recommend voluntary labelling, said consistency was needed. "Consumers tell us they want a labelling scheme, established by an authoritative and trusted source, which will show them at a glance if a food contains high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, salt or sugar."
The Consumers' Association and the National Heart Forum questioned the industry's motives. "Could this be because the scheme most likely to be approved by government would affect these companies' sales and profits?" the forum's Paul Lincoln asked.
The head of Kraft in the UK, Ben Clarke, said industry research had found its labels would genuinely benefit consumers.
Felicity Lawrence, consumer affairs correspondent Thursday February 9, 2006 The Guardian