Blog: Dean BestLabelling and biofuels - the burning issues

Dean Best | 28 January 2008

In the fight to tackle rising obesity, labelling is taking centre stage.

Last week, the UK government unveiled its strategy for tackling the problem and, while the food industry will have been broadly pleased with the plans, there is sure to be some unease over the belligerent tone taken on labelling.

Within the next few months, the debate among producers and retailers in the UK over nutritional labelling is likely to come to a head. The Government wants one system used across the industry. Right now, there are three. With a single scheme, so the argument goes, consumers will be less confused and more able to follow a balanced diet – and so more likely to manage their weight. And, if the industry cannot come to an agreement, the Government has indicated that it will act.

All signs point to “traffic lights” being chosen over GDAs as the favoured system. The UK’s Food Standards Agency – a long proponent of traffic lights – is carrying out research into what system should be used and the Government wants industry to unite behind its findings, which are due by the end of the year.

Rather more imminently, legislators and the industry await proposals from the EU on food labelling, which are due this week. Interestingly, there are indications that the Commission will advocate a GDA-based format, and the degree to which this will influence the ongoing debate over labelling in the UK will be interesting to watch.

Elsewhere, the EU is – for some – having too much influence on UK policy. Brussels, like Washington, has, in recent months, been a fierce supporter of biofuels as a green alternative to oil. Targets have been drawn up and funding set aside for biofuels projects – despite concern among scientists and academics over the sustainability of the fuel and its effect on food prices around the world. Now those concerns are being heard among sections of the political elite, although Brussels moved to quell those fears with its climate-change strategy last week.

Biofuels, however, are here to stay. Their role in combating climate change could be vital but there are a myriad of issues that need to be ironed out before a definitive conclusion is drawn. Pulling corn out of food production has pushed up costs for producers and prices for consumers. And with consumers in the West seeing rising food bills - and, more urgently, riots over food prices from Mexico to Morocco - it is difficult to argue that biofuels are being produced in the best way right now.


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