Confusing labelling schemeFood firms slated for going it alone on labelling

09 February 2006

Five of the UK's largest food manufacturers will be 'betraying' consumers if they adopt a labelling scheme that will only bamboozle shoppers.

That's the view of Which? after Danone, Kellogg's, Kraft, Nestle and PepsiCo proposed a common labelling scheme for all their food products.

The scheme would give Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) information on the front of their products and show the amount of calories, sugar, fat, saturates and salt per portion.

But Which? feels the five food giants are undermining the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) attempt to implement a consistent signposting scheme which would help consumers to make healthy choices. The industry model will only add to the confusion that consumers already face over healthy eating.

Signposting scheme

Next month the FSA is set to unveil a voluntary labelling scheme that will signpost how much fat, salt and sugar are in foods.

Currently there are a whole host of different labelling schemes and the aim of the FSA initiative is to cut this confusion by creating common symbols that could be adopted across the industry.

Which? feels this is a much more sensible approach and has urged the five companies to reconsider their own scheme.

Which? Chief Executive Peter Vicary-Smith has written to all five companies as well as the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represent the industry. He told them:

More confusion

'A national signposting scheme will only work if it is consistently adopted across the food industry. A medley of different labels in the shops will only increase confusion and damage any opportunity to help to reduce the incidence of diet-related disease in the UK.

'The food industry has had ample opportunity to input into the FSA model and we are disappointed that it has chosen to develop and launch this scheme with a select group of companies, rather than using the scheme that the FSA found helped consumers to easily identify which foods are high in fat, sugar and salt.

'Using different schemes won't help people compare similar products. Someone trying to compare the salt on a packet of Kellogg's cornflakes, for example, with a supermarket own brand using a different scheme could be more confused than before.

'We believe that the actions by these FDF members have betrayed the needs of consumers and we urge you to reconsider.'

Flawed scheme

The National Heart Forum has also attacked what it describes as a 'flawed' labelling scheme. Its Chairman Sir Alexander Macara said: 'It's a pity that the food industry has jumped the gun and acted in this way, before the FSA give their objective and scientific advice.

'This is a flawed conversion to health labelling and a blatant move by the food industry to do what suits them, not their customer's best. The new food industry scheme is the 'least worst option', they must act to avert further criticism but they do not want falling sales.'