FSA issues guidance for clearer labelling
Standards Agency (FSA) to help manufacturers in present vital
product information in a clearer way.
The guidelines focus on recommendations for the presentation of information, focusing on factors such as size, font and layout to ensure optimum visibility. They also recommend front-of-pack nutritional information to help consumers make an informed choice on the food they buy. "The FSA's revised guidance encourages food manufacturers to provide information in a way that is clear and legible," said Stephen Pugh, head of the FSA's food labelling branch. Labelling has been an important issue in Europe recently, as governments and regulators step up efforts to curb rising obesity levels. The revised guidelines come the same time a proposal for EU-wide labelling legislation, aimed at improving clarity and consistency to the sporadic policies currently adopted across Europe, is being debated between the European Council and Parliament. The FSA's new guidelines share similarities with the EU proposals and will set in motion some of the proposals currently being investigated. However, the FSA said the EU proposals did not directly inform UK guidelines. Spokesperson Brad Smythe told FoodNavigator.com: "Guidance is revised periodically. Obviously we had European regulations in mind and made sure there was some consistency with them. The decisions in Europe will have been taken on board in the development of the guidance." FSA's guidelines are only voluntary, with more general labelling requirements are controlled by the Food Labelling Regulations of 1996. However, many manufacturers have been embracing such guidelines to help consumers make healthy choices in the fight against obesity and related diseases. For example, a Food and Drink Federation survey conducted at the end of 2006 found £33billion worth of food and drinks products voluntarily had full nutrition information on the back of their packs. FSA's guidance The agency recommends a minimum print font size of eight point, with black type on a white background, for important information, such as the name of the food, weight, list of ingredients, storage instructions and date mark. Should the contrast, text format and print quality be compromised, then a larger font should be used, it says. Minimal languages should be used to avoid confusion and utilise space, while allergen boxes are also recommended. Another important area covered in the guidelines is nutrition labelling. While this is only required by law when a nutrition or health claim is made, or when vitamins or minerals are voluntarily added to the food, the FSA recommends it to assist consumers to make healthy choices. It says the energy value, protein amounts, carbohydrate, sugars, fats, saturates, fibre and sodium should be given on all pre-packaged foods. Providing the salt content is also recommended to help people wanting to reduce their intake, as consumers remain confused about the differences between salt and sodium. Additionally, the FSA recommends front-of-pack traffic light labelling to provide separate information on fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt per portion. EU labelling proposals Stricter but simpler labelling procedures were proposed by the European Commission in January in a bid to combat the growing problem of obesity across Europe. Over 300m adults are obese worldwide, representing a three-fold increase since the 1980s, according to latest statistics from the WHO and the International Obesity Task Force. In 2006, 30 per cent of European children were estimated to be overweight. The proposed legislation pushes for manufacturers to display nutritional information on the front of the pack. Products would be required to show energy, fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates, with specific reference to sugars and salt content of the product, expressed in terms of per 100ml/100g or per portion. In addition, the amount of these elements in relation to the reference intakes would have to be indicated. Mandatory information must be printed in a minimum size of 3mm, with a significant contrast between the writing and the background, and the country of origin should be determined in accordance with the Community Custom Code.