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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 February 2007, 12:19 GMT
Food labels branded 'misleading'
Shoppers in supermarket
Rival supermarkets are using different labelling methods
The food industry is misleading consumers with its new food labelling system, a report claims.

The National Heart Forum says the scheme, adopted by at least 21 leading food companies, makes food look healthier than it actually is.

The labels show percentages of guideline daily amounts (GDA) of sugar, salt, fat and calories per serving.

This is in opposition to the government-backed traffic light labelling system.

The Food Standards Association's traffic light system uses red, amber and green labels - where green is good and red warns not to consume too much.

The GDA campaign is supported by a coalition of the UK's biggest food and drink manufacturers as well as supermarkets Tesco, Somerfield and Morrison.

The GDA scheme is too complex to be used quickly and easily by consumers
Jane Landon, deputy chief executive for the NHF

Members of the GDA group say consumers find the percentages of GDAs easier to understand than the FSA's "traffic light" system.

But supporters of the FSA's traffic light system - used by firms including Sainsbury's, Waitrose, the Co-Op, Marks and Spencer and Asda - say the GDA system is flawed because many consumers do not understand percentages.

The NHF report criticises some companies for misleading consumers by presenting nutritional information in an "overly complex" way.

Tesco's GDA labelling
GDA labelling shows percentages of guideline daily amounts per serving

Jane Landon, deputy chief executive for the NHF, said: "We believe that the GDA scheme is too complex to be used quickly and easily by consumers across all social and ethnic groups.

"With as little as four seconds for each purchase, what consumers need to be able to see 'at a glance' on the front of the pack is whether a product is high, medium or low in key nutrients.

"Guideline Daily Amounts represent population goals for particular nutrients.

"Presenting these as percentages on the front of food packaging suggests to the consumer that these are daily targets.

Food Standards Agency's traffic light label
There are claims that the traffic light system is easier to use

"Without reading the small print on the back of the packet it is not clear that for fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt these figures represent limits rather than targets."

The report suggests some food giants appeared to be manipulating the front-of-pack label to promote their products rather than to inform their customers.

It says that in cases of products clearly targeted at children, such as some cereals, the GDAs used on the packs are for adults.

Kellogg's communications director Chris Wermann said: "We are looking to see whether we can provide children's GDAs too, but have to bear in mind that 65% of Frosties, for example, are eaten by men over 18."

Tesco defended the GDA scheme saying there was compelling research that customers find GDAs helpful.

A spokesman said: "We refute the idea that the GDA labelling scheme is complex and misleading.

"They are helping customers to make healthier choices because they are easy to understand and by giving the actual data rather than just a colour customers are able to make informed decisions.

"The criticisms raised by NHF are wrong - arguably traffic light alternatives are more misleading as the colours are based on portion sizes of 100g/100ml's regardless of the portion size."


GUIDELINE DAILY AMOUNTS
Women Men
Energy (Calories) 2,000 2,500
Protein 45g 55g
Carbohydrate 230g 300g
of which sugars 90g 120g
Fat 70g 95g
of which saturates 20g 30g
Fibre 24g 24g
Sodium 2.4g 2.4g
Equivalent as salt 6g 6g
Source: Institute of Grocery Distribution


TRAFFIC LIGHT LABELLING
Low
Per 100g
Medium
Per 100g
High
Per 100g
Fat 0-3g Between 3g
and 20g
20g and over
Saturated fat 0-1.5g Between 1.5g
and 5g
5g and over
Total sugars 0-5g Between 5g
and 15g
15g and over
Salt 0-0.3g Between 0.3g
and 1.5g
1.5g and over
Source: Food Standards Agency




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