Consumer rights group Choice began its Campaign for Better Food Labelling last week by calling for a nationwide search to find food labels that carry dodgy nutrition claims.
The group said that food manufacturers in Australia often used claims like ‘reduced fat,’ ‘low carb’ and ‘high in fibre’ selectively and don’t show the full picture about the overall healthiness of a product.
“For example, 99% fat free on products like marshmallows that are high in sugar; 75% reduced salt claims on a packet of potato crisps which are high in saturated fat,” Ingrid Just, a spokesperson Choice, told Food Navigator-Asia.
Choice will ask consumers to go to the supermarkets, take photos or write down examples of dodgy food labels and email its office, which will then compile the worst offenders into a virtual ‘Wall of Shame.’
Just said that while breakfast cereals are amongst the worst offenders, others like lollies, salty snack foods, and sugar-sweetened yoghurts have also indulged in selective labelling.
One of the products on its Wall of Shame is Uncle Toby’s Apricot Yoghurt Topps, that claims to contain '20% of your wholegrain target', be a 'source of fibre' and contain 'no artificial colours or flavours,' but has been marked for being high in fat and containing 30% sugar.
Food makers call Choice approach 'selective'
Fran Heron, a spokesperson for Nestlé Australia Ltd, the maker of Uncle Toby’s product, however rejected Choice’s assertions, saying that their calculations are wrongly based on 100g rather than serving size.
“Choice elects not to use this because it doesn’t suit their argument. This approach is self-serving and misleading,” said Heron.
Heron pointed out that in Australia, the Food Standards Code has set daily intake (DI) values of nutrients using an average adult’s daily intake requirements, which include sugar, fat, saturated fat and sodium.
“On our packaging, we state what percent of the daily intake of these nutrients someone will consume if they eat the product – this is the serving size. By law we are also required to state the amount contained per 100g,” she said.
Heron added that in the case of the Uncle Toby’s muesli bars, the serving size is actually 30g, and that Choice bases its calculations on 100g rather than the serving size of 30g because that allows them to reference the higher amounts.
A doubt on the Choice approach was cast by Kellogg’s, whose Crispix Honey cereal was marked by Choice for claiming to be '99% fat free' and containing 'no artificial colours or flavours,’ but actually contains 24% sugar.
Tess Kerestes, a spokesperson for Kellogg’s, told Food Navigator-Asia that the Choice system shows it has two green lights and two red lights, but there is no clear conclusion as to what this means.
“The DI labelling shows how much is in the food and allows people to make an informed choice based on their own dietary requirements,” she said.