Campaign to clarify new hybrid label

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Health care

Unless the new labels change purchasing behaviour, they will have failed
Unless the new labels change purchasing behaviour, they will have failed
The government is planning a public education campaign to help consumers understand the new hybrid front-of-pack (FoP) nutrition labelling scheme the Department of Health (DH) recently launched to stem rising obesity levels.

The voluntary scheme, which combines coloured traffic lights and reference intake figures (a variant of the guideline daily amounts) in a ‘lozenge’ design, is backed by Britain’s major retailers, health lobby groups and about 60% of food manufacturers in bringing greater consistency to nutrition labelling.

The labels will inform consumers of energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt per 100gm or 100ml of liquid. While one of the aims is to get consumers to cut the amount of food they consume, a potential obstacle for manufacturers is that no commonly agreed measure of portion sizes exists across the EU.

‘Inform the work’

However, according to Barbara Gallani, Food and Drink Federation director of food safety and science, manufacturers across the EU are collaborating via FoodDrinkEurope to devise a consistent approach for portion size designation, which they hope will inform the work the European Commission is planning to do on the subject.

While the hybrid labels have been widely welcomed as a good way of informing consumers, many recognise that unless they change purchasing behaviour they will not translate into improved health. With this in mind, the DH is planning to run a consumer education campaign, said Alette Addison, food information and promotions manager at the DH.

In a presentation on food labelling policy at a seminar organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum in London last month, Addison said: “We will be doing an evaluation, but it’s not a simple thing to do.”​ She recognised that FoP nutrition labelling was only one factor influencing shopper choice, with price, habit and brands having a far greater influence.

‘Music to my ears’

“It​ [the adoption of the hybrid labels] is music to my ears and a lot of people in the public health lobby,”​ said Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, from the Department of Primary Care & Public Health Sciences at King’s College London. “It will become a major tool against obesity, heart disease and stroke.”

Maryon-Davis said the hybrid label was “relatively easy for consumers to understand"​ and hoped it would reduce health inequalities. He added: “But there needs to be a proper educational campaign around it.​” This view was supported by other speakers, including Sukh Gill, Leatherhead Food Research’s head of global regulatory services and the World Cancer Research Fund’s head of health information, Kate Mendoza.

Dr Monique Raats, director of the Food, Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre at the University of Surrey and partner in the EU Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life project, said: “We are starting to think in a more sophisticated way about how these education campaigns in labelling could work.”

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