A new report calls for further EU regulations on labelling and advertising. Campaigners know that until the vast majority of people have taken on board the anti-obesity message of avoiding fats, sugar and salt, food manufacturers will continue to cater to current tastes. Regulating labelling and marketing is a vital step in changing consumers’ attitudes.

Despite already instituting regulations on food labelling that have given food marketers cause for alarm, the EU came under further pressure today to adopt tougher measures on food advertising to children and more effective labelling restrictions. The London based International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) has produced a report highlighting the need for the food industry to be “part of the solution”.

In many ways the food industry is only too happy to provide products which will help consumers combat obesity, as this is something of a growth area. However, groups such as the IOTF fear that many of the changes the food industry will make of its own accord are cosmetic and, for example, the amounts of fat, salt and sugar to be found in processed foods will not change without outside regulation. Consequently, their report calls for an end to the ‘hard sell’ of such products. This would include changes in labelling which draw consumers’ attention to the levels of these ingredients in processed foods, and strong encouragement to create more products with healthy ingredients.

While labelling is the main issue that consumer groups focus on, the report highlights other avenues of approach for the EU, such as using subsidies to reward farmers who grow healthier crops and not, for example, oils and sugars. However, the view of the EU, as well as pressure groups, is that the fight against rising obesity will be won by converting consumers to a healthier lifestyle. As this begins to happen, food manufacturers are providing healthier products – Appletise, for example, is now proudly free of all added sugars, preservatives or additives. However, this is still very much the exception rather than the rule.

Changing consumers’ attitudes is going to be a long, hard task, and food manufacturers will fight proposed regulations as much as they can, in order to protect their current interests.

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