NZ Initiative on food labelling

Brigitte Masters at the writes:

Last week, the government proposed changing the way food manufacturers label their products. Manufacturers will no longer make health claims unless backed with scientific evidence. For example, food producers will no longer be able to say ‘good for bones’ when there is only an insignificant amount of calcium in their product. This will cover more than 200 pre-approved food health claims.

Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye told TV ONE’s Q+A that the government is putting in a regulation that will mean consumers can have greater confidence in how food is labelled.

It is important that consumers are given good information about the food they are consuming. But is it enough, and are the government being too cautious?

Labelling laws are designed to help consumers make informed choices based on product information. It would therefore come as a surprise to many diligent, health-conscious consumers that food manufacturers do not have to name ingredients that makes up less than 5% of the total product.

Moreover, manufacturers can ‘hide’ certain ingredients – for example, a product that says ‘no sugar’ could very well contain sugar in a compound ingredient. Food Standards Australia New Zealand says when a compound ingredient like tomato paste (containing tomato, olive oil, dried herbs, sugar, salt, corn sugar, and preservatives) is incorporated into a canned meat casserole, the paste needs to be listed but the ingredients of the paste need not be listed.

Is this sufficient information for the end consumer?

I agree that the changes are good, but there is a case for saying more can be done. The more information consumers have, the better decisions they can make. However labelling requirements need to be practical and affordable.

I find the nutrition labels on food pretty good. I’ve become a zealous reader of labels and always check out the calories, carbs, fats and sugars in anything I buy.  Accurate information is key to empowering consumers to make informed choices.

I much prefer initiatives that empower individuals to make informed choices, than nanny state measures such as banning pies from tuck shops or size limits on sodas.

What would be good is if more retail outlets (cafes, restaurants etc) had available nutritional information on their meals. In the Internet age it is very easy for them to go to a website and calculate (approximately) how many calories a meal has.

When I was in Australia, the food outlets at the airport showed the calories on their meals. That was incredibly useful, as you saw (for example) the lasagna was only 650 calories and the fettuccine around 1,100.

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