19 February 2007, 19:11 PM
  • According to The National Heart Forum the food industry's scheme, in opposition to the Government-backed Food Standards Agency's "traffic light" proposal, is "fundamentally flawed" and makes food look healthier than it actually is.

Food giants such as Nestlé, Kellogg’s and Tesco for many of its own-brand goods, have adopted the industry plan, which display a product’s nutritional values as percentages of Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs). However, the NHF report says such labels can “mislead” consumers trying to choose healthier products.

The FSA’s scheme uses a traffic light system, alongside a product’s nutritional values, to show consumers whether a product has low or high levels of components such as fats, sugar or salt. The NHF report criticised some food companies for misleading consumers in the way data under the industry-backed scheme was presented. It says that in products clearly targeted at children, such as Kellogg’s Ricicles, Nestlé Shreddies and KP Space Raiders, the GDAs on the packs are for adults.

Jane Landon, deputy chief executive of the National Heart Forum, criticised the industry’s scheme warning many consumers were not aware that GDAs were a “limit, not a target.” She said, “This report shows some manufacturers and retailers are failing their customers by using nutritional food labels that are overly complex and misleading.

“GDAs 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. 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. We believe that the GDA scheme is too complex to be used quickly and easily by consumers.”

She also stated that, “Nutrition labels should not widen dietary inequalities by being useful only to nutritionally and numerically literate consumers. The proper place for regulated GDA information is on the back of pack.”

A spokesperson for Tesco said, “We have compelling research over a ten-month period that our customers find GDAs helpful.” While 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.”

Richard Watts, campaign coordinator for the Children’s Food Campaign, said later. “The case for supporting traffic light food labelling has now become overwhelming.”

Jane Holdsworth, director of the GDA campaign, said, “Consumers are very positive about the GDA scheme and tell us that they find it easy to use and understand. We’re extremely surprised and disappointed that the National Heart Forum is publishing separate research into labelling when it has agreed to be part of a joint, independent research partnership with the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health, and other NGOs, retailers and manufacturers to assess GDA labels alongside others in market.

“This work will provide definitive evidence about which schemes are truly making a difference to driving healthier choices and we firmly believe the GDA scheme will be proven to be effective.”

Other companies which support GDA labels include Birds Eye, Cadbury Schweppes, Danone and Sunny Delight.