The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) has released its comments on the revision of European laws on nutrition labelling.
The comments follow last month's request from the Commission for information on proposals to amend directive 90/496/EC.
In its recommendations, the BNF said that there were some foods for which nutrition labelling did not apply, such as spices or very small packages, but it was adamant that clear nutrition labelling must be provided on all foods carrying health claims, or foods with added vitamins or minerals, even when not pre-packaged.
BNF also said that the current list of vitamins and minerals which may be declared in nutrition labelling is not up-to-date and may need to be modified. It suggested that a public health nutrition approach is taken to this review, using the most recent and relevant science.
The charity, which raises funds from the food industry and government among other sources, pointed out that while nutrition labelling is a useful tool for consumers, and can help them to make an informed decision about the food they eat, space on labels has become limited over recent years as more and more information is required, such as country of origin for example.
It also said that information needs to be prioritised but other options for information provision (eg leaflets, websites and call centres) may need to be considered, as it is unlikely that all the information desired by consumers can be included on pack.
BNF believes that nutritional information should not be limited to the nutrients that have been labelled historically. "There may be grounds for considering the inclusion of trans fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids and several minerals, such as selenium and potassium," said the group.
"Additionally, there may be scope for removing some of the nutrients which are currently labelled (for example, research has suggested that many consumers do not find the labelling of protein useful), and/or omitting some in certain circumstances (if no fat is present in the product, there is no need to label individually the amount of saturates also)."
The group also commented on the presentation of labelling, which "while being in a format that consumers can understand, should be based on science".
The recommendations also looked at labelling of salt. "As it is the sodium component of sodium chloride (salt) which is important in terms of hypertension risk, we believe this is the component that should be labelled. Labelling the salt content of foods instead of their sodium content is potentially inaccurate."
The BNF also questioned whether Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), used in the UK on a voluntary basis, are understood by the general public. GDAs are derived from estimated average requirements for energy for men and women aged 19-50 years of normal weight and fitness and so are very approximate estimates when applied to the needs of individuals. Also it may be difficult to agree on GDAs at an EU level, said the organisation.
There also needs to be an appropriate reference quantity for nutritional declaration, according to the BNF. "The provision of nutrition information per 100g/100ml allows consumers to compare different products easily. Information on a per serving basis is also useful for some consumers and ideally both should be provided."
The BNF is also asking for further clarification on fibre, including its energy conversion factor. It pointed out that fibre recommendations in the UK are based on the Englyst method, although the AOAC method is now being recommended.
According to the BNF, about 80 per cent of products in the UK already carry nutrition labelling, mainly on a voluntary basis (following the FSA Food Labelling Review, 2000).