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Food labelling failing healthy eating

Plain English Campaign wants to lift the lid on food labelling that can be dangerously confusing. The Campaign feels that regulatory bodies and manufacturers in the UK have lost the plot when it comes to food labelling. Tiny text with figures and words from a science laboratory can drive customers away from the supermarket shelves, instead of increasing sales and helping the customer.

A typical pot of cottage cheese can bombard shoppers with information that can be unclear and unhelpful in making healthy choices. Foodstuff measurements alone come in all forms and combinations - percentages, fractions, kcal, kJ, and g, and don’t forget your GDA and RDA.

As well as the numbers and calculations, the shopper has to deal with scientific terms and industry abbreviations that could add to your weight, as well as your frustration.

For example, shoppers hoping to reduce their sugar intake will need to look for the right type of sugar, and all its various forms. Just because the ingredients don’t list the word ‘sugar’, doesn’t mean to say there won’t be sugar somewhere in there – glucose, fructose, syrups, concentrates. And these might be noted under the ‘nutrition information’ rather than in the list of ingredients.

Chrissie Maher, founder of Plain English Campaign, has been fighting for clear public information for over 40 years and challenges the supermarket giants to lead the way.

“Give us plain English information in food labeling. It’s all well-intentioned and clever stuff, but how many customers really understand the information plastered over these packs and pots?

Apart from needing a magnifying glass to read it in the first place, shoppers are faced with doing calculations in the supermarket aisles. I would feel much happier with my cottage cheese if I could find a mention of tablespoons and teaspoons, something we’re all used to.

My worst nightmare is when these measurements are given ‘per portion’ - Is that my child size portion or some muscle-bound builder’s serving?

I’ll take responsibility for eating healthily, but the food manufacturers need to give us information we can digest without getting heartburn!”

The Campaign echoes the sentiments of the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) who have recently issued warning letters to food manufacturers for review of their current labeling.

In the US, under leadership of Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret Hamburg M.D., reliable nutrition labeling of food products is a top priority for the FDA.

Dr Hamburg said in a letter to the industry,
“Today, ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important, given the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases in the United States.”

In England, the 2011 NHS report on obesity states,
“… in 2009, almost a quarter of adults (22% of men and 24% of women aged 16 or over) in England were classified as obese (BMI 30kg/m2)”. These figures are rising.

Plain English Campaign are making 2012 a ‘Healthy, happy year’ for public communications with a dedicated action team set up to watch out for confusing food labeling.

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