Sanitarium debuts own traffic light labelling system

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 8th April 2011

Woman grocery shoppingHealth food and breakfast cereal giant Sanitarium has announced its own traffic light labelling system, the Healthy Eating System, which it says goes beyond basic traffic light labels to include highlights of positive and negative nutrients and frequency of consumption.

Sanitarium’s Science & Technical Manager, Dr Greg Gambrill, said the aim of any Front-of-Pack Labelling should be to improve eating habits in line with public health policy initiatives as identified in the recent Blewett Food Labelling Law and Policy recommendations.

“We have developed and researched a concept that does that. It goes beyond ranking individual food nutrients and provides additional recommendations on the best way to incorporate food into your overall diet,” said Gambrill.

“The amalgamation of these important elements will enable the Healthy Eating System to more effectively assist in changing eating habits and in turn increase its potential impact on reducing the burden of chronic disease associated with poor eating choices.”

Sanitarium’s Healthy Eating System gives a rating on the positive aspects of a particular food product, for instance the proportion of protein, fibre and wholefood such as fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Like European Traffic Light Labelling, it also rates nutrients associated with chronic disease – namely saturated fat, sodium, total and added sugar.

Unlike the other two systems currently being advocated, the Healthy Eating System advises how often a food should be eaten – ‘Eat Often’, ‘Eat Occasionally’, or ‘Eat Sparingly’ – in line with the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

Sanitarium said it has been working on the system for the last two years, and has released it along with consumer research by The Leading Edge that compares its effectiveness to the European Traffic Light Labelling system, generally preferred by public health advocates, and the Daily Intake Guide, advocated by many in the food industry in Australia and New Zealand.

“According to our research, when presented with all three options, the overwhelming consumer preference was for the new Healthy Eating System, in fact almost two thirds of people preferred it,” Gambrill said.

“Consumers found the Healthy Eating System easier to understand and more useful. Importantly for public health equity, the new system did not appear to be confusing or difficult to understand for high-risk or marginal groups (based on analyses by ancestry, education levels, gender or health levels).”

In releasing the Healthy Eating System research, Sanitarium has called on key stakeholders associated with the issue of food labelling to consider the important design aspects of Front-of-Pack Labelling systems and the clear public health benefits a well-designed and policy-aware system could offer.

Sanitarium said it will retain no intellectual property rights on the Healthy Eating System, and that it has decided to freely share the system in the interests of better public health.

Sanitarium CEO Kevin Jackson said empowering Australians to make informed food choices is consistent with the company’s enduring commitment to health and wellbeing.

“As a major food manufacturer we believe we have a responsibility to work with public health to create a food supply that supports Australians to live healthier lives. The more people understand about the foods they are eating, the more this can drive positive change,” said Jackson.