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Irish like GDAs or traffic lights, but not both

By Jess Halliday , 02-Dec-2009

Irish consumers find GDAs to be a useful tool for judging foods’ nutritional value, but a scheme combining GDA info with colour-coding is not popular, indicates a new FSAI survey.

Food labelling is on the top of food law-makers’ agenda in Brussels, as a new regulation is inching its way through the debating process. To help inform Ireland’s position, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) commissioned an Ipsos Mori survey of 1021 people across the country, conducted through face-to-face interviews.

The researchers found 53 per cent of respondents were liked one of the two Guidance Daily Amount (GDA) labelling schemes they were presented with. GDAs give the proportions of calories, sugar, salt, fat, and saturated fat contained in the food as a percentage of the maximum advised daily intake.

Thirty-nine per cent said they preferred the traffic light labelling scheme, which uses red, amber and green to indicate whether or not foods are high in the same nutrients.

However in contrast to consumers surveyed recently in the United Kingdom, the respondents were not very enthusiastic about a system that combined the features of both systems – colour-coded GDAs.

All the schemes included in the survey are already being used by some food manufacturers and retailers on their food and beverage products on a voluntary basis. The proposed new European legislation would see one system becoming mandatory across the whole EU; at present the preferred scheme included in the draft, under discussion at the European Parliament, is GDAs.

Prof Alan Reilly, chief executive of the FSAI, said: “The outcome of this survey will feed into the Irish position”.

Portions and salt

The survey also threw up some preferences for the terminology used on labels. For instance, respondents said they preferred to see nutritional values displayed per portion, rather than per 100g or per 100ml.
Such preference finds support elsewhere in the EU. Yesterday UK-based IGD published a new set of guidelines for the food industry on how they should communicate portion information on packs. One of the top recommendations was for nutrients by portion, not by 100g/ml.

Irish consumers also showed an awareness of the need to reduce their salt consumption in order to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. But they said it was not helpful when food packs give sodium content rather than salt content. Public health advice puts maximum advised daily salt intake for adults at 6g, and consumers must multiply the sodium by 2.5 to work out salt content.

Nutrition-aware

Prof Reilly said the survey results show Irish people are becoming more aware of nutrition, since the findings were rather different to the last time the survey took place, in 2002.

“The main reasons consumers now read food labelling is to look for nutritional and calorific information, whereas in 2002 the key reason to read a label was to check the best before date. This indicates that people are concerned about healthy eating and want to know more about the nutritional aspects of the food they are buying.”

That said, the respondents still cited the use by or best before date as the single most important piece of information on food labels, followed by the list of ingredients and the name of the food.

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