Credibility crucial in industry's contribution to fighting obesity

This was the key message of Cees ‘t Hart, chairman of the Choices International Foundation, to an audience of some 100 European opinion formers at a lunch debate last month, organised jointly by Friends of Europe and the Choices International Foundation. He explained why and how Campina, Friesland Foods and Unilever have set up an international multi-stakeholder programme for front-of-pack labelling that is open for any food company to join.

Basil Mathioudakis, responsible for food law and nutrition at DG Sanco, responded by saying that he was happy to see that the Choices Programme is an integrated approach, consistent with the views the Commission laid out in its White Paper on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues. “It is good to see that the Choices Foundation is setting up a scientifically sound evaluation scheme to measure the actual effect of the Choices Programme on public health”.

Léon Jansen, secretary to the independent Scientific Committee of the Choices Programme, stressed that the credibility of the programme is safeguarded by independent scrutiny at four levels: 1) the Scientific Committee sets the qualifying criteria by which healthy options are identified, 2) an accredited certifying agency evaluates whether products are eligible for the Choices stamp, 3) an independent auditing company checks composition and on-pack information of products on the market and 4) a science-led evaluation programme measures the effects on consumer awareness, purchasing behaviour, sales figures, progress in product reformulation and innovation and the overall effect on diet and public health.

The Choices programme is a world-wide initiative set up to make the healthy choice the easy choice. It has introduced a simple front-of-pack stamp on food products that have passed an evaluation against a set of qualifying criteria based on international dietary guidelines. It has two key objectives: 1) to help consumers quickly identify healthy choices at the moment of purchase and 2) to encourage food industries to improve the composition of their products. The programme is increasingly adopted by companies in food industry, retail and catering, including small and medium enterprises.

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