Food makers will fight for labelling rights

Related tags Food Food industry Nutrition

Regulations governing the labelling and marketing of food products
do not go far enough, claimed one anti-obesity group last week. But
pushing through tougher rules will be a hard task, according to
Datamonitor, with the food industry likely to fight tooth and nail.

Calls for even tighter labelling than that to be demanded by new EU regulations are likely to meet with fierce opposition from the food industry. But as market analysts Datamonitor​ point out, manufacturers have a fine line to tread between keeping their customers happy and keeping their shareholders happy.

The London-based International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) last week produced a report​ highlighting the need for the food industry to be "part of the solution" rather than part of the problem when it comes to growing levels of obesity in the US and elsewhere, calling for tougher regulations obliging companies to give accurate and clear information about the nutritional value of foods.

According to Datamonitor, while most consumers have taken on board the anti-obesity message of avoiding fats, sugar and salt, many of them choose to ignore it and continue to eat food which is potentially bad for them, generally for no more profound a reason than because they like it. Food manufacturers are simply catering for this desire.

So persuading consumers to change their eating habits is the key to tackling food-related diseases such as obesity, and the best way to do this, according to the market analysts, is through labelling.

European legislators have already introduced new regulations on food labelling that have given food marketers cause for alarm, but for the IOTF and other campaigners, the EU rules do not go far enough. The IOTF report called for regulations restricting food manufacturers when advertising their products to children and for even tighter labelling restrictions.

For Datamonitor, the irony is that the food industry, often painted as the great evil manipulator, playing with people's health for the sake of increased profits, is happy to cater to growing consumer demand for healthier food for exactly the same reason - manufacturers can sell more of their products and make more money.

But groups such as the IOTF fear that many of the changes the food industry will make of its own accord are simply cosmetic, designed to persuade consumers to buy their products and with little or sometimes no change at all in the amounts of fat, salt and sugar. The only way to ensure that there is a real improvement in the nutritional quality of processed food, according to the IOTF, is for the industry to be more closely regulated.

For campaigners, the regulators must force manufacturers to stop the 'hard sell' of such products, pushing through changes to the labelling laws preventing companies from drawing consumers' attention to the levels of salt, sugar and fat in processed foods. Claims such as '96 per cent fat free', for example, are criticised by campaigners for implying that a product is somehow healthy, when in fact it contains 4 per cent fat - still a very high level.

Instead, manufacturers should concentrate on producing more foods which genuinely contain healthy ingredients, the IOTF argues.

While labelling is the main issue that consumer groups focus on, the report highlights other avenues of approach for the EU, such as using subsidies to reward farmers who grow healthier crops and not, for example, oils and sugars.

However, the view of the EU, as well as pressure groups, is that the fight against rising obesity will be won by converting consumers to a healthier lifestyle. As this begins to happen, food manufacturers are providing healthier products - the apple-flavoured soft drink Appletise, for example, is now proudly free of all added sugars, preservatives or additives. However, this is still very much the exception rather than the rule, according to Datamonitor.

So changing consumers' attitudes is going to be a long, hard task, the market analysts suggest, all the more so because food manufacturers are likely to fight any proposed regulations as much as they can in order to protect their current interests.

Related topics Market Trends

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