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Will the new labelling proposal simplify food choices for consumers?

The Choices International Foundation supports the European Commission’s initiative to make food labelling clearer and more relevant, yet the proposal as published seems to miss its target on an important point. Too much information front-of-pack will deter many consumers, who spend little time on reading labels.

The Choices International Foundation calls for the European Commission and the European Parliament to consider the option to put a positive logo that highlights healthy choices, as well as a GDA-based energy logo front-of-pack, with full GDAs back-of-pack. This approach is expected to benefit consumers most and is embraced by a broad range of companies, including small and medium enterprises, in various European countries.

Food labelling can play an important role in helping the consumer make informed choices when buying food, and thus can contribute to a healthier diet. Many food companies are looking for ways to offer effective food labelling, following the calls from the World Health Organization and the European Commission. As the number of different labels, each with a different format and – more importantly – different meaning, is increasing, the consumer gets confused rather than informed. A common approach for all companies in food industry, retail and catering is warranted.

The European Commission’s food labelling proposal, released last month, requires products to show front-of-pack energy, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugars and salt content of the product, expressed in terms of 100ml/100g or per portion as well as reference intakes (Guidelines Daily Amounts). It further allows national voluntary schemes to co-exist alongside EU requirements.

Jup van ‘t Veld, secretary to the Choices International Foundation, says “it is important to distinguish the two objectives of food labelling: to inform the consumer about the nutritional composition of the product, and to guide the consumer to make the healthy choice among alternative products.”

“GDA-labelling can be helpful in informing the consumer, as it offers objective nutritional information, but it leaves the interpretation to the consumers. ‘Choices’ interprets that information beforehand by assigning a simple logo to healthy choices only after meeting stringent qualifying criteria. Those criteria also include positive nutrients while GDA only mentions ‘negative’ nutrients.”

“Apart from motivating consumers, the Choices Programme is a powerful incentive for food industry to improve products in order to make them eligible for the label,” van ‘t Veld adds.

The Choices Programme provides a single logo across European countries thereby facilitating the internal market. The Choices label is fully compatible with the CIAA labelling scheme; GDAs are an informative complement to the guiding system of Choices. “Yet, an obligation to put full GDAs front-of-pack would be very counter-productive. It would become difficult for the consumer to correctly interpret all the information, as we know that consumers usually spend little time on reading labels. And as it focuses on ‘negative’ ingredients only, it could even lead to extreme diets.”

Jup van 't Veld | alfa
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