Food labels need to be better, say UK consumers

Related tags Food Nutrition Leatherhead food international

Food makers need to write clearer food labels so that consumers can
easily understand the ingredients used in the food formulation,
finds a new report released in the UK this week.

A study on adults and children carried out by UK food research body Leatherhead Food International last month found that 41 per cent of consumers thought food labels should contain more information, with only 1 per cent of respondents saying there was more than enough information already present.

"Findings from the study suggest that consumers want to see clearer terms for ingredients,"​ Dr Rachel Adams at Leatherhead Food International and lead author of the study told​.

Progress on food labels has been ongoing as food manufacturers and law makers move in parallel to the demands of society. In April this year, for example, new European rules were enforced for genetically modified ingredients which require strict labelling of GM material in food products. And in November 2004, new rules in the EU mean food makers will have to label 12 potentially allergic ingredients. But according to the UK study, change on the label is still needed.

"Consumers want food makers to be more upfront about what they have in their foods,"​ said Dr. Adams, adding that this does not necessarily mean consumers want manufacturers to change the food products that they sell.

Aside from the food labels, for respondents to the survey (210 people), as well as the four adult focus groups dotted throughout the UK, responsibility for food choice fell firmly on their shoulders, and not on the food makers. Ultimately, 'food manufacturers do not put the food in your mouth', with the study showing that consumers believe in free will and take responsibility for their own actions.

"The study revealed that people felt that they, and their lifestyles, were largely to blame for increasing levels of obesity. These findings are contrary to the negative media coverage blaming the government, food industry and advertising industry for the obesity problem in the UK,"​ reports the Leatherhead study.

With rising levels of affluence and improved availability and food choice, most felt that people could easily follow a healthier diet with a little motivation and effort.

"While respondents felt that food companies should have more of a social conscious and, for instance, be clearer in terms of fat and sugar content, they did not blame the nation's health on the food products available because the food makers are only answering demand,"​ said Dr. Adams.

And contrary to a popular request from consumer associations to impose a 'fat-tax' on fat-laden foods on the supermarket shelves, the study found that the public was not particularly in favour of the idea, with almost half of respondents claiming that a 'fat tax' should not be applied to any food. "They felt that they shouldn't be penalised for wanting a treat,"​ explained Dr. Adams.

"In short, increasing healthy options, affordable exercise, better information on labels and improved information in schools were the key issues revealed by our consumer survey,"​ concluded Dr.Adams.

In addition to the 210 face-to-face interviews carried out with people for the survey, Leatherhead created four adult focus groups (6 to 8 people in each group) of mixed ages and sex plucked from all over the UK and two children's focus groups. In addition, 100 schools ranging in age from 5 to 16 years old responded to a postal survey.

The report​, Consumer Attitudes to Diet, Health and Obesity​, is released this week.

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