Trade Talk

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Related tags: Food standards agency, Nutrition, Eu, Uk

Trade Talk
Let common sense beat the boffins

Nutrient profile modelling is a topical issue following the recent review of the UK version designed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to control advertising to children. At the same time, the European Commission is looking at another profiling scheme to control the use of nutrition and health claims on foods.

There is a danger of general confusion and maybe also the risk that some foods may pass one threshold but not the other. Despite protestations from officials that these schemes aren't intended to classify foods as good or bad, it's inevitable that inferences to that effect will be drawn by people who aren't close to policy-makers here or in the EU. This means the vast majority. After all, we're only human!

It's amazing that this concept, based as it is on scoring systems and arbitrary threshold limits, is viewed as a viable approach towards achieving a healthier diet. The UK model, based on a scoring system for five different nutrients and fruit/veg, has a pass or fail limit of four. The EU proposed approach, is based on three nutrients with different thresholds for food categories. This could result in foods 'failing' one and 'passing' the other. Consequently, a food banned from UK advertising to children might be allowed, under the EU scheme, to claim a dietary benefit.

It is conceivable that the same food may be perceived by the UK consumer to be healthy under one scheme yet unhealthy under another. After all, it is the consumer's perception that counts. With this in mind, it is tempting to argue that government policies that aren't capable of being understood by the general population should not be entertained in the first place because they're incompatible with common sense. From a consumer's point of view, they are based on compromise solutions emerging from some boffin's original, artificial creation.

Meanwhile, the government's proposed development of a healthy food code of practice in conjunction with industry and other interested parties promises "a single set of key healthy eating messages". And the FSA is investigating the use of portion sizes. Few would be likely to disagree with these initiatives.

If anything is going to work it has to enable consumers to make their own choices armed with sensible and comprehensible information. Artificial schemes attempting to make choices for consumers do not have a place here.

Clare Cheney​ is director general of the Provision Trade Federation