Compulsory front of pack food labelling gathers support

Posted by Editorial on 12th June 2008

Parents are unhappy with the current food labeling system in Australia and are calling on the government to take action, according to The Parents Jury.

Results from a national survey released by The Parents Jury, a web based forum with over 3200 members “advocating for the improvement of children’s food and physical activity environments”, revealed that 85 per cent of parents want the government to introduce a compulsory front of pack labeling system. The majority of parents surveyed support the introduction of a traffic light system that clearly shows levels of fats, sugar and sodium at a glance.

The traffic light labeling system, which has been seen in Britain, involves the front of the food package having red, amber and green colours to indicate whether a product has high, medium or low levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. The concept is that it will make it easier for people to choose healthier options. It is also designed to heighten pressure on food manufacturers to boost the health of their products, as a lot of red on the front of their product would not be viewed positively.

Member of The Parents Jury and mother of two Michelle Hebblewhite, says it is becoming increasingly hard for parents to make healthy food choices for their children due to confusing or unclear food labels. “Access to honest and clear ingredient and nutrition information is a basic consumer right,” she said. “Parents need simple, consistent, informative and honest food labels to enable us to make well informed decisions about the food we purchase and eat.”

The survey also revealed that parents usually read a food’s ingredients list and Nutrition Information Panel, but they are less likely to make buying decisions based on front of pack claims and endorsements. When parents do consider claims they are more likely to pay attention to those that indicate a product has ‘wholegrains’, ‘no added sugar’ or is ‘low GI’, rather than claims of ‘low fat’ or ‘added vitamins and minerals’.

The results of this survey follow a study by consumer group CHOICE suggesting 82% of parents support tighter Government regulation of junk food marketing to children. Further, a survey of more than 1000 people by The George Institute for International Health showed that more than three quarters were worried about the amount of salt in their diet. Yet, more than 60 per cent did not understand the relationship between salt and its important component sodium, which is often listed in nutritional panels.

The issue of obesity has stung consumer groups into action and it appears there will be a number of changes with regard to tightening legislation of food packaging and marketing. As to what those changes are will be monitored with interest by marketers, fast food restaurants and food manufacturers alike.