Manufacturers risk backlash by opting out of new food labelling scheme

Manufacturers risk backlash by opting out of new food labelling scheme

Manufacturers who refuse to sign up to a new traffic light food labelling system to combat UK obesity will be accused of having something to hide, says a food expert from Shropshire’s Harper Adams University.

The warning has been issued by Ralph Early, head of the food science and agri-food supply chain management department at the university near Newport, who believes opting out of the scheme is a risky business.

Last week the Government announced that a revised traffic light system of consistent front-of-pack information on grocery food products is to be introduced over the next 18 months.

The new system, which is voluntary, will combine nutrition information with colour coding in a clearly visible and easily understandable form, allowing consumers to make judgements at a glance about the energy and nutrient values of the products.

Early said food product labels fulfilled many functions including providing a key point of communication between consumers, food manufacturers and retailers, marketing food products with creative designs and eye-catching artwork, informing consumers about the product, and allowing purchasers to know who takes responsibility for a product and who guarantees it.

“One of the most critical functions of food product labels is that of creating a bond of trust between consumers and those who make and sell food products,” he added.
“Food product labels are integral to the process of truth-telling that food manufacturers and retailers establish in order to attract and retain customers. The importance of this process and the integrity with which it is created and maintained cannot be understated.

“Not all food businesses have signed up to the system. Of those food manufacturers who have stated that they will not adopt the system, a number have said that they believe the display of daily guideline amounts is more useful to consumers in helping them to moderate consumption.

“But is this really true? Research will no doubt reveal the facts. In the meantime those manufacturers who do not adopt the new system will risk being accused of withholding information. They risk the accusation of intending to prevent consumers from knowing facts about products of direct relevance to their health and well-being.
“If it were not for the fact that the diet related health of the British population is assuming disastrous proportions, with increasing levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes placing an enormous burden on society, there would be no need for the new traffic light system.

“To refuse the use of the new traffic light food labelling system to help consumers know how much fat, sugar, salt and energy a food product contains risks interpretation that there is something to hide.

“Given the power of instant electronic communication, the media and the message today, it takes a brave chief executive to assume a position where the food business for which they are responsible appears wilfully to be withholding information of value to the health and well-being of consumers.

“Such chief executives would do well to reflect on the history of the tobacco industry and its record in matters of truth-telling.”

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