The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has this morning played down claims that dairy processors could face having to include cigarette-style health warnings on products like cheese and butter.
Press reports suggested the measures would form part of an industry wide solution to encourage responsible consumption of foods high in saturated fats, over concerns regarding possible health implications.
Both cheese and butter, along with a number of other foods contain saturated fat, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
However, a spokesperson for the FSA said that although published research suggested new ways to inform consumers of saturated fat in foods, claims that health warnings similar to those on cigarette packets could be adopted were blown out of proportion.
Nonetheless, the research could still have major implications for the dairy industry in both the UK and Europe, which has stepped up its efforts in recent months to promote its products as a vital part of any healthy diet.
The FSA spokesperson added that the agency hoped to forge partnerships with a number of food industries like dairy manufacturers to share there own experiences in the battle against saturated fats.
To this end, the publication of research into how best to target consumers was used to look at potential ways of tackling fat content in foods.
Fat reduction drive
As part of a programme launched last month, the FSA aims to reduce saturated fat intake from current average levels by people over the age of five years from 13.3 per cent of food energy per day to under 11 per cent by 2010.
The approach involves encouraging further voluntary reformulation of specific food groups to contain less saturated fat and sugar, increasing healthier options, and publishing industry commitments to reformulate.
The spokesperson added that no plans had as yet been finalised regarding the focus, as further research into how best to tackle the issue of labelling and reducing the presence of saturated fats was required.
"Like most campaigns of this kind, a long period of time is needed to fully develop ideas," the spokesperson stated.
The dairy defence
Back in January, a number of leading dairy experts claimed that the industry was being "unfairly" blamed for contributing to the growing worldwide obesity crises, and more must be done to promote the dietary benefits of its products.
The claims, made at conference held by the trade association Dairy UK, were backed by a number of dairy experts like Dr Cindy Schweitzer, technical director for the industry consortium Global Dairy Platform.
"According to over 30 studies, milk products could play a role in losing and maintaining weight," she told delegates at the conference. "In fact, these studies reveal that milk products may help you lose weight as part of a low-calorie diet, or help prevent weight gain."
Saturated fat fears
Saturated fat consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids - that is, fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. Saturated fat tends to be more solid at room temperature, and a diet high in saturated fat has been repeatedly linked to an increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Foods that are high in saturated fat include meat, hard cheese, butter, cream, pastry and cakes.
According to the FSA, UK consumers eat about 20 per cent more saturated fat than they should. It says that sticking to the recommendations could help prevent as many as 3,500 deaths in the UK each year as a result of lifestyle-related diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.