Labels ‘make fizzy healthier than milk’
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A traffic light labelling system for food and beverages championed by Professor Doug Sellman will make fizzy soft drinks look like a healthier choice than milk, the Food & Grocery Council says.
Prof Sellman, who is director of the National Addiction Centre at the University of Otago, Christchurch, has used the death of an Invercargill woman from excessive consumption of Coca-Cola to promote a traffic light system.
This involves a red, amber or green indication for four components – fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt – on the front of supermarket products.
FGC chief executive Katherine Rich says such a scheme has some fundamental flaws.
“The example of fizzy drinks, the platform for Professor Sellman’s arguments, is ironically one of the clearest examples of how such a simplistic labelling system can lead to confusing messages for consumers and unintended consequences,” she says.
“Using his proposed scheme, soft drinks, both full sugar and diet options, end up with a colour rating that ‘at a glance’ looks healthier than milk and a range of other foods that are important to a healthy and balanced diet.
“Full-sugar soft drinks would score three green lights because they have zero fat, zero saturated fat, and are low in sodium. They would score just one red light – for sugar content. Artificially sweetened soft drinks would score the maximum four green lights.
“Milk, on the other hand, would score three orange lights and one green light.”
Ms Rich says other important parts of a healthy diet, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, all look like less healthy choices, while the extension to alcoholic beverages is also misleading.
"Spirits such as vodka, gin and whiskey will attract the maximum number of four green lights because they contain zero fat, no saturated fat, no salt and no sugar.
“European research concludes that people generally interpret a red label as ‘stop’ and a green label as ‘go’ – so in instances such as these a traffic light system can again work against messages about the importance of a healthy and balanced diet,” Ms Rich says.
“Milk, cheese, honey, raisins and breakfast spreads such as Vegemite and Marmite will all most likely attract a red label, but each of these foods is important to a balanced diet.
“Rather than ‘commercial activity’ walking over health concerns, as Professor Sellman claims, commerce has actually helped New Zealand consumers dodge an overly simplistic and misleading labelling system and its unacceptable unintended consequences.”
The council says ministers in New Zealand and Australia dismissed the classic traffic light labelling system for food and beverages partly because of the potential for confusing messages. They called for the development of some other labelling system to promote healthier choices, a move the industry supports.