A team of Oxford University experts has shown that proposed new European Union legislation could mean that 93% of foods will claim to be ‘nutritious’.
The proposals, which go before the European Commission next month, suggest a limit of 8mg of saturated fat per 100g for bakery products. A Tesco jam doughnut contains 5.7mg. Under these criteria, Oxford researchers have concluded that just 7 per cent of foods in the average UK diet will be prevented from claiming to be nutritious, while 60 per cent could be marketed as ‘healthy.’
According to Which?, the consumer group who commissioned the survey, doughnuts could soon be advertised as ‘low fat,’ and foods such as custard tarts, pork sausages and ready salted crisps could carry health and nutrition claims.
Which? along with health charities the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, have written to Health Secretary Alan Johnson asking the British Government to reject the proposals.
Colin Walker, Which? spokeasperson, said the new rules would “weaken the fight against obesity and poor diets, doing far more harm than good.”
Walker continued, “Jam doughnuts and crisps being allowed to make nutrition claims would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. The goalposts have been widened to the point that no one remembers why they were put there in the first place.”
Some Oxford students voiced support for Walker’s views, with one saying “everyone knows that things like doughnuts aren’t actually nutritious – classifying them as such will just undermine the whole system of food labelling.”
With almost one in four adults in the UK classified as obese, there are fears that poor food labelling could add to the problem and its related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
However, some students said they felt that the proposed changes would have a limited effect. “People aren’t stupid,” said Wadham college student Andrew Wilkinson, “they know what’s good for them, even if they then go and ignore it. Classifications are a bit unnecessary, especially if foods continue to have their GDA information. If something is ‘low fat’ but contains 90% of your daily allowance of sugar, it’s fairly obvious that the food is unhealthy.”
The Food Standards Agency has also considered the issue, with a spokesman saying, “we must ensure that health claims do not mislead consumers. The Agency understands Which?’s position and shares some of its concerns. Labelling must help people make healthier choices and we would oppose any moves that might encourage consumers to eat more fatty, sugary and salty foods.”