The guidance daily amount (GDA) scheme was developed by the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA). It gives info on calories, sugars, fat, saturates and sodium content per portion of the food – as well as percentage of the GDA for each for a healthy active adult of normal weight.
GDAs are now used on a broad range of food and beverage products, and the food information legislation proposal, published in January 2008, envisaged making a GDA-like scheme mandatory on packs across the EU.
But the Stop-GDA campaign has swung into action this month, raising questions about whether the system helps consumers make health-conscious choices – or whether it could mislead consumers and actually worsen childhood obesity.
The campaign is calling for GDAs to be removed from the proposal, both as mandatory and voluntary information.
The groups behind the campaign are the Danish Cancer Society, Danish Heart Foundation, the Danish Diabetes Association, the Federation of Retail Grocers of Denmark, the Danish Dairy Board, the Danish Agricultural Council, and the Danish Consumer Council.
It is seen as important that the campaign has health, industry and consumer groups behind it, since it is opposing an industry-developed scheme.
“Our criticism needs to be heard differently. It is not just health people shouting, but people who have commodities,” Morten Meyer of the Danish Cancer Society told FoodNavigator.com.
Amongst the issues the campaign is flagging up is the exclusion of positive nutrients from the GDA scheme, such as the spectrum of vitamins, calcium, folate, and fatty acids. Information on salt, fat, saturates, calories and salt only could give the impression that a canned soft drink with few positive nutrients is healthier than a glass of milk that has many, they say. In fact the opposite is more likely.
The groups also question the portrayal of GDAs by portion size, claiming that the sizes given are smaller than what most people would eat, and therefore making foods look better.
The guidance daily amounts are given for an adult. The guidance of 2000 calories would be suitable for a 40-year old moderately-active woman. However a child should have considerably fewer calories and lower amounts of the other nutrients listed, however, and this is not made clear.
In addition, the campaigners criticise the reference to sugar, since it bundles natural and added sugar together, setting a GDA of 90g. The World Health Organisation, on the other hand, gives a limit of 50g of added sugar.
The full arguments against GDAs are give on the campaign’s website at http://stopgda.eu.
A CIAA spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com: “CIAA appreciates that these Danish consumer associations are highly interested in the whole area of nutrition labelling – as is CIAA.
We do not however agree with the arguments presented in their campaign.
We welcome a dialogue to discuss this important consumer issue with us.”
While a detailed response is expected next week, the spokesperson stressed three points: That the scheme “is based on internationally accepted and scientifically derived GDAs”; that “consumers use and understand GDAs, as shown by an increasing number of studies in countries using the scheme”; and that “GDAs are non-judgemental and deliver simple, at-a-glance, objective information that enable the consumer to make a nutritionally informed choice”.
The opposition to GDAs comes at a crucial time in the debate, as MEPs are due to discuss the amendments tabled to the proposal at an meeting of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee on Monday. A vote could take place at the end of this month, or may be postponed until after the parliamentary elections in June.
The campaign is aimed primarily at politicians. A political effort is being made in Denmark, where agriculture minister is broadly in favour of the scheme, despite having some issues with the details, such as sugar and portion size.
Next week the campaign will be holding a press event where a lunch will be served that adheres strictly to the portion sizes as decreed by food companies.
The campaign will also be lobbying at a European level. It will be sending information to Envi committee members, and has started a petition which it plans to send out just before the vote.
Asked why the campaign has swung into action at a relatively late stage in the debating of the proposal, given that it was published in January 2008, Meyer said: “Yes, it's late, but not too late”.
The CIAA’s website on GDAs is at http://gda.ciaa.eu