Dispute heats up over front-of-pack labelling options

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 29th August 2011

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) and consumer advocacy group CHOICE continue to disagree over the choice of different front-of-pack methods for food product labels to display nutritional information about the food.

A Newspoll online survey published this week, commissioned by the AFGC, has found 78 per cent of Australian consumers are familiar with the AFGC-promoted scheme of Daily Intake Guide food labels.

Daily Intake Guide labels use thumbnail symbols that 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. CHOICE is promoting the alternative of a Traffic Light labelling scheme.

The AFGC’s Newspoll survey was conducted online in August 2011 among 1,222 adults aged 18-64 nationally. The survey found that more than half (55 per cent) of Australians believe the Daily Intake Guide labels provide useful nutritional information. Nearly two thirds of people (64 per cent) said they think Daily Intake Guide labels are “easy to read and understand”.

However, the results also showed that nearly half of Australian consumers (45%) have not been using the Daily Intake Guide to help decide whether to buy a particular product. One in four Australians (25%) disagreed that the Daily Intake Guide provides the type of nutritional information they need to help decide whether to buy a product, according to the survey.

CHOICE calling for alternative Traffic Light labelling system

Last week, national consumer advocacy group CHOICE called for mandatory front-of-pack Traffic Light labelling on food products in Australia.

Traffic Light labelling is a different 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). Traffic Light labelling aims to make it visually easier for consumers to choose a healthier food by comparing these colour codes between products.

Based on its own consumer research, CHOICE wants a mandatory, consistent front-of-pack labelling system on all packaged foods, rather than a number of “different voluntary systems that is likely to confuse consumers rather than help them”.

A spokesperson for CHOICE said, “Traffic lights provide factual, ‘at a glance’ information to help shoppers quickly compare products which may appear identical or tout persuasive health claims.”

Most food companies and representatives of the food industry are saying that traffic lights are too simplistic.

“No sanity” in changing to Traffic Light labels

Referring to the Newspoll survey, AFGC Chief Executive Kate Carnell said, “Contrary to some criticism that Daily Intake Guide is difficult to understand, it’s encouraging to see a considerable number of consumers are using the labelling system when choosing foods and drinks and find them easy to understand.

“Changing food labels is expensive for industry and consumers – there’s no sanity for changing to traffic light labels over a system that’s already working, especially at a time when industry is under immense pressure from challenges right across the supply chain.”

Dairy Industry

The dairy industry is concerned that under a Traffic Lights scheme, a basic product such as milk will not attract any ‘green’ colour symbols of approval because the over-simplified traffic light label categorizes milk as being moderately high in sugars (albeit as lactose) and fats (albeit as natural cream). By contrast, the dairy industry is concerned that popular soft drinks can attract a ‘green’ colour of approval identifying their ‘low fat’ content. The dairy industry is arguing that a soft drink that consists of sugar should not attract a healthy ‘green’ symbol on any part of the label. The argument is that the traffic light green for fat on a soft drinks label is misleading because sugar can be metabolized into fat within the human body.