Thursday, February 21, 2008

Labelling - 'preventing deception and fraud'

Sweeteners are just one of the products which have highlighted the importance of food labelling.'Labelling' refers to any information printed on food packaging, particularly the nature and quantity of the ingredients used. Along with the current interest in nutrition, healthy eating, food additives and 'naturalness', there has been a remarkable growth in the number of products claiming to have a variety of nutritional benefits. These include the use of less fat, sugar or salt, enrichment with fibre, vitamins, minerals or calcium, freedom from additives, and so on.

Diet Start

Sometimes, these claims are used to imply health benefits which are not based on proven fact. Any manufacturer who makes a claim of this nature must therefore be prepared to substantiate it or face the immediate withdrawal of his product from the shop shelves. Interestingly, in recent years the labelling of numerous 'health' foods has had to undergo dramatic changes to comply with legislation which has been introduced to protect consumers against spurious claims.

Reputable food manufacturers are just as concerned as consumer organisations that different sectors of the food industry have responded differently to customer demands for more information about the foods we eat. There is a distinct need for a consistent policy across the whole spectrum of products to cover such aspects as technical terminology and nutrition claims on labels and in advertising. In fact food labelling, particularly with regard to the use of nutrition and health claims, is potentially the most significant food policy issue of the future. However, it must be stressed that simply printing information on a package label is useless if that information means little or nothing to the consumer. To be effective, any system of labelling should act as the cornerstone of a public education policy.

As has already happened in the USA, manufacturers have to accept that they could in future face legal claims as a result of both compulsory and voluntary information printed on labels. Although South Africa is somewhat behind countries such as America and the United Kingdom in this area, the next few years will undoubtedly see the introduction of stricter labelling laws in this country. Any information printed on a label will have to be capable of being substantiated under existing legislation.

This is another area in which consumer involvement can pay dividends and help to 'make things happen'. If you have queries, complaints or even suspicions about the contents of food products or information given on labels, try contacting manufacturers and discussing these with them - you will find that most have a surprisingly positive approach to constructive consumer criticism and interest!

... andjoyohoxing