Tuesday, 2 September 2008

I’m a label lovin’ lefty!

Further to my recent post on food labeling, I decided to have a quick look at a couple of labels on products in Tescos this morning (yes, I know it’s deeply sad).

One was a container of pâté which the label said contained 33% of the guideline daily amount (GDA) for saturates, and 24% of the GDA for fat. Except that was per 50g, rather than the 170g in the packet. It was a similar story on some of the packets of meat. One of them actually described the GDAs as referring to a ‘serving’ of 50g rather than the total contents of the packet.

There’s a reasonable point struggling to get out here – obviously most of us aren’t going to scoff an entire tub of pâté in one go. However how do you decide what proportion of the total contents amounts to a reasonable ‘serving’ to be represented as a percentage of the GDA? And does that actually help you understand whether the product itself is unhealthy? And are you sad enough to check the label that closely in any case?

Finally I picked up a bottle of soft drink where the GDA percentages referred to half the amount in the bottle itself. Presumably this is based on the assumption that people only drink half of what they buy and tip the rest away, so it’s a totally reasonable and honest way to label the product.


Mrs Blogs said...

I was looking at Lansley's speech ...in the bit where he champions the GDA system he said this..

"Why on earth have consumers no single system to help them? Why can they see taxpayer-funded traffic light adverts on the side of a bus, and then not find them in their shop? Why push a system that only tells people a fraction of what they need to know?"

His questions do not necessarily lead logically to the GDA system as he does.

The traffic lights system at least as used in Sainsbury's is accompanied by all the numbers the GDA system uses elsewhere on the pack. If anything the traffic lights system adds an extra layer of information and extra choice as you can either take the colour coding as a guide or fiddle around with the numbers if you want when you are shopping.

Its odd that in one of Cameron's speeches he said that:

"Policy-making must always take into account how people actually behave"

Well research with consumers has favoured the traffic lights approach. You only have to think yourself about how you do your shopping to know what actually might help.

Check out the blog of Andrew Wadge FSA chief scientist at least he was when he blogged about traffic light labelling last January. As he said in reply to some comments the simple solution to those who like the info of the GDA system is to just add the traffic light colours. Best of both worlds. Lansley's argument about not having a single system so we must stop the traffic light one is disingenuous. Asda, Marks & Sparks Sainsbury's, The Co-operative Group, Waitrose, McCain, New Covent Garden Food Co, Budgens/Londis, Avondale, Moy Park, Bombay Halwa, Brittania and S&B Herba have already agreed to use the traffic lights system so what's the problem for the others?

It would also give a nudge to manufacturers to clean up their products.

As for Lansleys argument about not being able to find products labelled thusly in the shops ...well make 'em! Consumers like the labelling so just who is the label for?

Also track down Felicity Lawrence's article in the Guardian 'why kellogs saw red over labelling scheme' on industry lobbying

Tom P said...

thanks Mrs Blogs - will plug the links

mike said...

love to see this discussion! It’s great to see you all working through the issues and also, it’s great to see recommendations for testing. In the end, it’s what your actual users do and prefer that should be your biggest driver in making these decisions.

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