Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The importance of reading the label

Food labelling has been in the news recently, with the European Parliament voting against the traffic-lights system that gives a simple indication of the levels of salt, sugar, fat, and other nutrients in food. This is the system advocated by the UK Food Standards Agency, and British consumers will already be familiar with the red, amber and green traffic-light symbols on some of our supermarkets' own-brand products.

Unfortunately, such a clear and easy to understand labelling system was not favoured by manufacturers who, according to Corporate Europe Observatory, spent more than €1 billion opposing the scheme. That's an awful lot of money to spend making sure consumers can't see at a glance just how unhealthy are the processed foodstuffs they are peddling.

MEPs caved in to this corporate lobbying and voted instead to adopt the more complex Guideline Daily Amount system, which gives the nutritional content as a percentage of the recommended daily amount. They went further and said that countries should not be able to adopt labelling requirements that go beyond the EU regulations - so it's not clear whether or not our traffic-lights system will survive this corporate onslaught.

It wasn't all bad news, though, as MEPs also voted for compulsory labelling of halal and kosher meat products. In the UK, ritual slaughter of animals is exempt from animal welfare legislation, so animals can have their throats slit and be left to bleed to death without pre-stunning. While this exemption might be justified on the grounds of religious freedom, there is nothing stopping meat produced in this way from entering the mainstream food chain without being labelled as such. New EU regulations will require all meat products to be labelled with the country of birth, upbringing, and method of slaughter, so consumers who put animal welfare above primitive superstition will be able to avoid inadvertently supporting this barbaric practice.

On a lighter note, Michael Ruhlman has an interesting blog post about misleading labels. He was bemused when his wife purchased a carton of half-and-half labelled 'Fat Free'. Half-and-half is supposed to be half cream and half milk (something like our single cream), so how can it possibly be fat free? Check out Michael's blog and read the label to find out what the food technologists have really put in the carton.

Even single cream is banned from my kitchen, where the double cream from Riverford Organic reigns supreme - after all, if you need something thinner, you can always let it down with some milk yourself. Riverford's double cream has a 48% fat content and only one ingredient on the label. It is jokingly described by Rob at Ashburton Cookery School as "52% fat free", but I think it would still get a red light from the FSA.

1 comment:

  1. What a coincidence, I have you on my RSS feed and just saw your post after I had finished writing also a post about misleading food labeling (http://gourmetorigins.com/blog/fake-organic-food), actually the whole project I am working on (http://gourmetorigins.com) is based on the idea of tracing foods back to their places of origin and as you might imagine I pay a lot of attention tolabeling. You might also like this other site with whom I do not have any affiliation but that I found also very informative: http://www.honestlabelling.com/
    I think labeling is going to become more and more important going forward!