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food labelling logic « Previous | |Next »
September 7, 2011

A core strand of public health policy is directed at the 'development and implementation of cost-effective ways to reduce saturated, transfats, salt and sugar in foods by discouraging the production and marketing of unhealthy foods. The policy proposals aim to achieve smoke-free environments, restrictions on food marketing to children, increased alcohol tax and the promotion of generic medicines.

One proposal is food labelling in the form of front-of-pack ''traffic light'' labels on the food industry's products. This:

categorises the four key nutrients most associated with public health issues – fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt – as high, medium or low compared to the recommended level of intake of these nutrients.These ranks are portrayed as red, amber or green traffic lights on the package. Another light is sometimes included in the signpost for energy content, but it is not a core criterion.

The reason is that there is limited use of nutrition information currently presented on food packages. There is strong support for nutritional information to be placed on the front of food packages, particularly for nutrients that should be consumed in limited amounts, such as saturated fat, sugar, total fat and sodium. There are strong health arguments in favour of raising consumer awareness--informed consumer--- of what is in the food they buy.

The food industry in Australia (the Australian Food and Grocery Council [AFGC]) and elsewhere is strongly opposed to the traffic-light system. They prefer their Daily Intake Guide labelling (DIG), which is complex, difficult to understand and hinders consumers to make quick decisions about which is the healthiest product to buy.

The determination of the Australian food industry to avoid Traffic Lights is probably the surest indicator of their potential impact and we can expect that a big campaign to control public policy to suit their commercial interests. Food labelling is a huge issue for food multinationals – it affects how their products are perceived by the customer, how well they sell. Mandatory labelling could put consumers off the products they sell.

We cannot have consumers overwhelmed with information can we? It would lead to consumer confusion and be a severe burden for manufacturers. So say the industry lobbyists. Any regulation should be industry-related not consumer-related.

Their aim is to occupy the food labelling ground first to show their commitment towards the public health and shape the debate from this position with their DIG scheme. We can expect the free market think tanks to provide the studies to support the food industry's position to reject plans for colour-coded traffic-light warnings. Parliament should obey the food industry's wishes and help block the consumer shift to locally produced and healthy food.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:51 PM | | Comments (1)


The Gillard government had so far not acted on its own preventive health taskforce's calls from two years ago for measures including ''traffic light'' labels to simplify healthy food choices and bans on the advertising of junk food to children.