The UK Food and Drink Federation has defended its members' position in response to the recent launch of the National Consumer Council's campaign for clearer labelling of processed and packaged foods.
In the light of growing concerns from the general public over what the organisation terms 'mislabelling', the NCC cited its own official report as proof that many consumers find food labelling confusing and do not fully understand all the terms used.
NCC Chairman, Deirdre Hutton, said: "What people want is clear, accurate and honest information. Consumers have told us that food logos and labels often leave them feeling bombarded and confused. And because of past food health scares, many consumers told us they even felt vulnerable. Our research shows that consumers do not understand what the majority of logos mean. What is needed are credible labelling schemes which have great potential to inform consumers and offer them real choices."
In response to the allegations, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, Martin Patersonyesterday said: "UK food and drink manufacturers rely on the loyalty and trust of their customers and do not set out to mislead. Manufacturers need to be able to differentiate their products from theircompetitors in the marketplace, but do have to try and get across as muchinformation to consumers on what can sometimes be a very small space. Theyagree that marketing claims and labelling should be truthful and notmisleading. Manufacturers are bound by the 1990 Food Safety Act, which protectsconsumers from misleading or false claims.
"FDF will consider the NCCreport and will continue to engage with the FSA on this and other aspectsof its Food Labelling Action Plan. Many manufacturers give on-pack website addresses and care line numbers forconsumers concerned or looking for more details about the information givenon food packaging."
From the response it appears clear that the UK food and drinks industry is prepared to co-operate further with the authorities there, but it has also emphasised the commonly held view that the industry is already doing a great deal to help the consumer to understand labelling. However, it is also apparent that the future holds more regulation and even greater co-operation for the industry, as evinced by the recommendations the NCC has made.Those recommendations include: a tighter code of practise that is more involving for the consumer; a better planned and clearer labelling guide; consistent definitions for food claims.
Rosemary Hignett, Head of Food Labelling at the Food Standards Agency said: "The Food Standards Agency welcomes this report. It shows that the food industry and supermarkets need to do more to help consumers make informed choices. There are too many confusing logos and claims on foods, and too little of the clear factual information consumers want.
"The Agency has an important role here - we have already taken up a number of the recommendations in this report and will be pressing the food industry for further action to improve labels."
Pressure on labelling issues from the powerful NCC lobby group has historically led to a series of changes for the food and drinks industry in the UK, which have often had a knock on effect for manufacturers in the rest of Europe. The current campaign will almost certainly lead to further changes in store.