CHOICE reignites Traffic Light debate – calls for muesli as first cab off rank

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 18th August 2011

Australia’s premier consumer advocacy group CHOICE has reignited the food debate over whether Australia should adopt a traffic light system for front-of-package labelling of packaged foods. CHOICE has called for mandatory front-of-pack Traffic Light labelling on muesli in Australia.

Traffic Light labelling is a system that features red, green, or amber symbols on the label for each of the main nutrients in the product (such as fat, sugars, and salt). The idea behind Traffic Lights is to make it visually easier for consumers to choose a healthier food by comparing these colour codes between products.

“A spoonful of muesli may be a mouthful of sugar and fat,” CHOICE warned, after it tested 159 types of muesli available to consumers in Australia. One brand, The Muesli, was found to contain twice the amount of fat of a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder. Ten brands tested by CHOICE met Australian food regulator FSANZ’s definition of “low fat” (no more than 3% fat) and 11 brands met FSANZ’s definition for “low sugar” (no more than 5% sugars).

Industry approach

The Australian food industry, led by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), has been campaigning for an alternative labelling system known as the Daily Intake Guide (DIG). AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell told Australian Food News today, “Traffic light labels categorise foods as good and bad – but all foods can form part of a balanced diet.

“Industry rejects traffic light labelling on the basis that it’s badly understood by consumers and the system has been rejected by countries around the world including in Europe. The Daily Intake Guide (DIG) is the labelling system preferred by the European Union and Canada.”

DIG labels quote a Daily Intake percentage for each of the nutrients, usually in a thumbnail format on the front. These labels now appear on more than 4,000 supermarket products in Australia and outline the amount of energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in a standard portion of the food and how that translates to average daily intake.

In June 2011, Woolworths announced plans to add DIG information to the front of all of its private label foods.

European rejection of Traffic Lights

In June this year, the European Parliament decided against implementing the traffic light labeling system. The parliamentarians deemed the system to be unclear and called for a system that indicates more clearly how much fat, carbohydrates, and sodium each product in European supermarkets contains.

FoodLegal Bulletin

In its April 2011 Foodlegal Bulletin, food law specialist firm FoodLegal highlighted that sweet cereals might become more vulnerable to targeted regulatory moves, compared with government attempts to impose stricter nutrient profile criteria on all food for which health claims were either expressed or implied.