Is traffic light labelling the answer to Australia’s obesity crisis?

The Gillard Government is expected to pass the controversial traffic light food labelling scheme in parliament this week.

In the midst of an obesity crisis so huge experts believe today’s children will be the first to not outlive their parents, suggestions about how to combat the issue are wide and varied.

Many are calling for food manufacturers to have more responsibility in the health of their products, by using less salt, fat and chemicals and more fresh ingredients.

If the traffic light labelling bill is passed, the packaging sector will no doubt be impacted too, as designs would be affected by the compulsory front of pack traffic light labelling.

Consumer watchdog CHOICE has been calling for mandatory front-of-pack traffic light labelling for most of the year, in an effort to solve Australia’s health problems.

Currently one in three people is overweight and one in six obese.

The government may not pass the traffic light scheme exactly, but will almost definitely implement something similar, where information is shown in a glance for consumers.

The glance is exactly the problem the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) have had with the traffic light system since it was first suggested.

Under the system, where products would be given a red, amber or green light for sodium, fat and sugar content, items such as raw almonds or cashews would receive a red light, despite their health benefits.

“Traffic light labels categorise foods as good and bad – but all foods can form part of a balanced diet," AFGC chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“Industry rejects traffic light labelling on the basis that it’s badly understood by consumers and the system has been rejected by countries around the world including in Europe."

The AFGC is adamant the Daily Intake Guides are the best solution, but critics argue they are more confusing than informative, especially when in a hurry, and they don’t use them to make more informed decisions.

In the midst of the debate between the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) and Choice over the labelling of foods, a smartphone application with the controversial traffic light system was released by the Obesity Policy Coalition in September.

It is expected that Victoria may be the most outwardly opposed to the traffic light labelling.

As the biggest food manufacturer in the country, the state government is no doubt concerned about the impact the new labelling would have on profits for the sector.

A product with red lights displayed on the front would make consumers think twice about purchasing it; that is the point, after all.

But with the food manufacturing sector already on struggle street due to the high Australian dollar and dominance of supermarket’s private labels, some companies are concerned they would not survive through traffic light labelling.

Those in favour of the traffic light labelling believe it would be positive if companies making unhealthy products didn’t survive the scheme, because it would mean less unhealthy foods on shelves, less pester power and hopefully less chronic conditions and injuries associated with excess weight.

The Australian Medical Association wants a ban on advertising to children, the Cancer Council wants to outlaw cartoons in junk food advertising,the Greens want junk food ads banned from the internet and there have even been suggestions Australia needs a “fat tax” similar to Denmark.

Wherever people sit in the issue, one thing is clear: something has to be done about health and obesity in Australia.

Who do you think is to blame for the obesity crisis? And how can it be solved?


Send this to a friend