Best bits: UK, Australia highlight divisive nature of FOP label debate
Front-of-pack nutrition labels. It is a divisive subject that can turn those on both sides of the debate a nice shade of red.
In the last week or so, there have been announcements in two markets on the issue. One, in the UK, was the unveiling of the new "hybrid" label that incorporates traffic lights. A second, in Australia, was the publication of plans for food to have stars on packaging to try to indicate to consumers how healthy the products are. Both announcements - to varying degrees - highlighted how contentious the issue remains.
In the UK, there was just as much focus on which companies did not sign up to use the new label as on the label itself. While Mars, PepsiCo and Bernard Matthews were among that use that pledged to put the new label on-pack, household names like Kellogg and Unilever will not.
Given the manufacturers and retailers that will use the label account for over 60% of the food sold in the UK, it has to be said the new voluntary scheme has won a significant amount of backing from the industry. However, with the owners of brands like Coco Pops, Knorr and Cadbury having opted against using the label, it is clear there is still entrenched opposition in some quarters about having traffic lights on-pack. Significant parts of the industry view the use of traffic lights as too crude a way of highlighting the content of a food. It was telling, for example, that no dairy processor has signed up to the new UK labels.
Those that replied to requests for comment from us said they would be "reviewing" the details of the label and its impact on shoppers, although, with companies being consulted throughout the process, one could question why they still need to review the details of the label.
In his latest Consuming Issues column, just-food's Ben Cooper analyses why companies may have decided not to sign up to the scheme. He also argues that the long-running debate over front-of-pack labels, while not reaching a conclusion, has reached a tipping-point. Not every household name will use the label but the refuseniks will now be firmly in the campaigners' firing line.
In Australia, like in the UK, government and industry have discussed what form a front-of-pack nutrition label could take. However, after the government's latest announcement, it seems agreement is some way off.
The front-of-pack "health star" system seeks to give Australian - and New Zealand - consumers at-a-glance nutrition information. As one senior Australian politician said: "In short, the more stars, the healthier the food."
The star rating is underpinned by a modified nutrient profiling scoring system. Packaging will be required to carry nutrient information for saturated fat, sugar and salt. Food manufacturers will also be given the opportunity to display positive nutrient information, such as calcium content.
Australia's food industry, however, was less than happy at the proposals. The Australian Food and Grocery Council suggested the proposals were "rushed out" and added they contain "serious flaws".
That rates of obesity and diabetes are a concern in many markets, including the UK and Australia, is beyond doubt. However, the debate over how to use packaging and nutrition labels to help combat this ill remains a point of huge debate.
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