Consumers in Australia and New Zealand use nutritional information and health charity endorsements to select food, but set little store by health claim labels, a recent survey has found.
Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Trish Worth, said the survey, carried out by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) at the end of last year, confirmed the value of food labels, which appear to be used for many reasons and in different ways. However consumers need further information to help them understand the basics of healthy eating.
"Key results showed that the most widely used label elements were the use by/best before dates, ingredients list and Nutrition Information Panel, with over two thirds or more consumers reporting using this information," Worth said.
"Endorsements, such as the Heart Foundation's 'Pick the tick', and use by/best before dates were rated by consumers as the most clear and easy to understand. They were also rated as the most trustworthy," she continued.
However, the least used labelling element contained health claims, allergen declarations, genetically modified food declaration, and novel or irradiated food declarations.
The survey was conducted just before the new Food Standards Code came into full force in December 2002, developed to ensure that consumers could easily interpret food labels to help them make informed choices about the foods they purchase, according to FSANZ.
Almost 2,000 people were interviewed in metropolitan cities in Australia and New Zealand. Fifteen label elements were examined in the survey including the ingredients list, the nutrition information panel, country of origin, nutrient and health claims, allergen declaration, endorsements and novel food and irradiated food declarations.
The survey showed most consumers do not have trouble in reading and interpreting nutrition information panels but struggle to use this information to compare products. It also found that consumers misinterpreted nutrient claims, a warning for food makers seeking to promote the health benefits of their foods.
Results of the survey are available on the FSANZ website.