Following an ‘undercover’ investigation, author Joanna Blythman accused the food industry of employing trickery to deceive consumers about the content of manufactured food.
The book, ‘Swallow this: Serving up the food industry's darkest secrets’, said the industry was “strange” and “inaccessible”. It claimed food firms were cheating consumers with ‘clean labels’ that didn’t mention preservation methods and fat reduction techniques.
Considerable consumer benefits
However, the book failed to acknowledge the many techniques used by the industry to benefit consumers, said Nick Court, interim director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation. For example, methods developed to extend shelf-life.
“EU law sets out how ingredients can be labelled on-pack and this information, along with that provided on company and regulator websites, allows individuals to make informed decisions about the foods they buy,” Court said.
“We have yet to read Joanne Blythman’s book. However, publicised extracts suggest a very personal view of food innovation which fails to acknowledge the considerable consumer benefit.”
Novel production methods that extended shelf-life, reduced fat, sugar and salt content, had provided consumers with access to a huge range of nutritious food and drink at affordable prices, he added.
“This is something that should be celebrated rather than opposed as it means people have access to competitively-priced products with the options of added nutrients, fewer calories, less saturated fat or they can choose speciality products such as dairy, meat or gluten-free.”
Clean labelling denounced
In the book, Blythman denounced clean labels as “superficial” and accused manufacturers of using them to hide behind.
“Clean labelling looks less like a thorough spring clean of factory food than a superficial tidy-up, with the most embarrassing mess stuffed in the cupboard behind a firmly shut door – where, hopefully, no one will notice,” she said.
In a live question and answer session on the Guardian’s website, she added: “I was shocked by the arrogant, patronising attitudes in the processed food industry to consumers.
“Clean label strategy is largely about palming us off with a reassuring fairy tale. Poor show.”
Blythman, an award winning investigative journalist, has previously written six other books on food issues.
These have explored the power of supermarkets, the environmental impact of salmon farming, the validity of healthy eating advice, farm animal cloning and the causes of food price rises and obesity.