Grocery lobby not keen on 'traffic light' labels

A food industry lobbyist has criticised university research which shows the Government should be looking at "traffic light" labels in supermarkets.

Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich, a former MP, said traffic light labels - a new system of food labelling that marks foods red, green or orange depending on salt, fat or sugar content - was the latest idea being promoted by public health activists to counter the nation's obesity problem.

The colours indicate whether a food is healthy (green) or shouldn't be eaten in large quantities (red), but Ms Rich said that New Zealand research was not widely enough based to be meaningful.

Fight the Obesity Epidemic, a charitable trust, has called for a traffic light system to provide shoppers with simple nutritional guides.

And Otago University marketing expert, Professor Janet Hoek, said research showed existing panels of nutrition data simply confused consumers and required mathematical skills most shoppers did not possess. Harassed parents especially wanted to be in and out of shops quickly.

"Policy makers who wish to reduce obesity should ensure that nutrition labels suit consumer needs rather than manufacturers' objectives and recommend they place a priority on public health considerations when evaluating front-of-package labelling options," she said.

The research also found that shoppers needed more education so they could compare similar products and understand labelling that might indicate that although a product was low in fat it was high in sugar.

But food manufacturers have said such a system would be too simple.

Ms Rich said that obesity could not be solved through a product label.

European research showed colour-coded schemes such as traffic lights were well recognised, but many people thought a red light indicated they should avoid eating a product.

The fat in some cheeses and milks, sugars in honey and salt in Marmite could attract "red lights", and Ms Rich said a labelling system which encouraged New Zealanders to avoid these products would not help to promote healthy diets.

An independent review of food labelling is under way with a final report expected to be with the Australian and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council in December.



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