CHOICE warns over “misleading” low-fat dessert claims

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 6th October 2011

Australian consumer advocacy group CHOICE, today warned that many ready-to-eat desserts with low-fat claims such as ‘fat free’, ‘reduced fat’ and ’97 per cent fat free’ are not always as healthy as their labels suggest.

CHOICE reviewed 31 low-fat desserts found in the fridge and freezer section of Australian supermarkets. According to CHOICE, the review has proven that many so-called ‘low-fat’ products contain high sugar and sodium levels.

CHOICE spokesperson, Ingrid Just said, “Low-fat desserts can be just as high in kilojoules as the full-fat variety. The fat may be removed but to make up for the loss of taste, extra sugars are added and this adds to the overall kilojoule count.”

Under Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) rules, food labelled as ‘low-fat’ cannot contain more than three per cent fat. Foods labelled as ‘fat free’ must not contain more than 0.15 per cent fat. To carry a ‘reduced fat’ claim, FSANZ requires the product to contain at least 25 per cent less fat than the product it is compared to; the label must also detail what that product is. This means one brand’s reduced fat product could still have more fat than another brand’s regular product.

Ms Just said, “CHOICE is calling on Australian governments to put an end to the selective use of nutrition claims by introducing a nutrient profiling system. The system would ensure all products carrying nutrition claims such as ‘low fat’ comply with a specified level of overall healthiness. Nutrient profiling is already in place in the US and is soon to be introduced in Europe; it was one of the recommendations handed down by the Independent Food Labelling Review Panel in January 2010.

“Federal, state and territory governments around Australia have committed to responding to the Panel’s recommendations by December. They have an opportunity right now to make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices,” says Ms Just.

Australian Food News recently reported that CHOICE is also calling on Australians to ‘Shame the Claim’ – to find more examples of misleading food labels and report these to CHOICE which will investigate and publicize them.