Friday, 1 June 2012

Why Standardised Food Labelling is a Good Aim

The UK’s Heath Secretary, Andrew Lansley, last week announced a UK-wide consultation on standardising food labelling, with the aim of making it “ easier for consumers to compare the nutritional information on the food they buy“. At present in the UK, there are numerous food manufacturers all doing their own thing when it comes to displaying nutritional information for consumers to follow. The stated objectives of the consultation with the regional governments in the UK are as follows:
1.Maintain and extend the use of front-of-pack labelling across the widest possible range of food and drinks products. 2.Achieve the greatest possible consistency in the content and presentation of front-of-pack nutrition labelling, in a form that is clearest and most useful to consumers.
 I think standardising food labelling is a good idea. Anything that enables a consumer to make a healthier choice at the purchase stage should be encouraged. What I am confused about in the consultation launched is the reference to “front-of-pack”. What needs to be displayed somewhere on the package, tin, container or bottle, as far as I am concerned, is first a clear list of all the different ingredients in the product; and then the nutritional information provided in a clear way indicating the energy, protein, carbohydrate/sugar, fat, fibre and sodium content.  In addition to that, the amount of calories, sugar, fat, saturated fat and salt (sodium) in a product needs to be stated by the manufacturer in relation to the size of the container that the product comes in.
If a product, such as baked beans for instance, comes in a round tin, I cannot see at all that that it makes a difference where the relevant information is placed on the tin as long as it is legible and capable of being understood. In a round object what exactly constitutes the front and the back ? The same question could be asked of foodstuffs that that come in rectangular cardboard cartons. I suppose the drafters of the consultation document are calling where the name of the product is written, together with the depiction of the product, the front and the opposite side the rear. It is not always possible to put all the information consumers need to know about the constituent parts and nutrition value of a product on the same side as the name and the picture; although a very brief overview of this information might be accommodated there.

Having a list of list of ingredients somewhere on the packaging, which only some food manufacturers do at present, is crucial. I went over to package surrounding the porridge oats that I ate for breakfast this morning and on the ingredients list it said: “Rolled Oats (100%) “, in other words it is unprocessed as there are no additives listed at all. The healthiest choice is always the product that is either unprocessed, or has received the least processing; you can easily assess how much processing a product has received, and therefore compare different products for health worthiness, by reference to the ingredients list.  
A clear indication of the ingredients and nutritive value on packaging is a start in the right direction, in order to enable the consumer to make an informed choice when purchasing. However, you will still need to work out for yourself the health implications of some substances listed in the ingredients list. If, for example, nasty substances like sugar (found in abundance in the regular version of soft drinks), aspartame (found in the diet version of soft drinks) and hydrogenated oil (found in tinned meats) are listed, are there equivalent products available in the store without these health hazards ?
Any problems with how and where the information on products is to be displayed can be worked through as everything is still subject to the consultation process, and only needs to be finalised before there is a recommendation made at the end. Hopefully, if Britain adopts standard labelling of food products, other counties will follow suite. As lots of products such as rice, pasta, canned meats and canned fish cross international borders, a common way of displaying nutritional information on these products is desirable.  
If you have any views on this, use the comments box below to air them.  If you are a UK resident, you can make your views known to the Department of Health by going to the following website:  , and then following the links.


  1. It's good but I doubt it will end calorie confusion.

  2. Standardised food labelling can help clarify the constituents of food clearly in a way that is better than what you have got at present which is everybody doing their own thing.