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 has been released by the Obesity Policy Coalition.
Choice has been calling for mandatory front-of-pack traffic light labelling on all foods sold in Australia to allow consumers to see at a glance whether the food they’re purchasing is high in fats, sugars or sodium.
Minister for Corrections and Consumer Protection, Nick McKim has welcomed the Traffic Light Food Tracker App.
“Giving information to consumers in the supermarket aisle is the best way for consumers to make healthy eating choices,” he said.
“I support the introduction of traffic light labelling for fats, salt and sugar on food products, however, in the absence of the labelling the App will be invaluable to consumers.
“By downloading the Traffic Light Food Tracker App Consumers will have access to an easy-to-interpret, at-your-fingertips traffic light rating of red (high), amber (medium) or green (low) for the amount of salt, sugar, total fat and saturated fat per 100g in processed foods.”
He said the Traffic Light Food Tracker is the first smart phone application of its kind in Australia.
“It allows consumers to easily identify and compare the nutritional content of foods and to start reducing the number of ‘red lights’ in their shopping trolley by replacing them with similar, healthier, green or amber options," he said.
”The new App will allow consumers to cut through the confusing and potentially misleading nutritional claims on packaged foods; for example, the labelling of something as ‘fat-free’ or ‘high in protein’ when in fact the product is high in sugar or salt and therefore not an overall healthy option."
“I welcome the launch of the App as one of the first steps in a major push by the Obesity Policy Coalition to have the Australian Government legislate for a traffic light labelling system on all processed foods."
But the AFGC says the system is too simplistic and doesn’t consider factors such as good fats and natural sugars.
AFGC chief executive Kate Carnell told Food Magazine the system is too simplistic and can be misleading.
“Some foods should be eaten in moderation while others can be eaten more regularly.
"The problem with traffic lights is people interpret red as stop – or don’t eat – and green as go – or eat as much as you like – neither is correct.
“For example, some dairy products and avocado would receive red traffic lights but they are important part of a nutritious, balanced diet.
“Traffic light labels categorise foods as good and bad – but all foods can form part of a balanced diet.”
“Changing food labels is expensive for industry and consumers – there’s no sanity for changing to traffic light labels over a system that’s already working, especially at a time when industry is under immense pressure from challenges right across the supply chain.”
The Obesity Policy Coaliton says its research has shown almost 90 per cent of shoppers want clearer nutrition labelling on food, particularly packaged foods.
Just like the traffic light system being promoted by Choice, the smartphone application will have a red signal for foods that should be avoided or eaten very occasionally, amber will advise shoppers to proceed with caution and green will be those foods safe to eat often.
The Coalition’s senior policy advisor, Jane Martin, says consumers are tired of confusing and misleading nutritional claims, including ‘fat-free’, ‘light, and ‘low fat’.
"Our research shows consumers want to know how much salt, sugar, saturated fat and total fat is in the products they buy," she said.
"Traffic light labels provide this information at a glance, and help shoppers sort fat from fiction."
From today the application which allows the user to insert the values of total fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium for an immediate red, amber or green rating will be available for iPhone and Android smartphones.
The Coalition’s advocacy campaign has joined Choice in pushing for traffic light labelling to be mandatory on all packaged food products sold in Australia.
The former federal health minister Neal Blewett last year led an independent review of food-labelling law and policy, which recommended that the traffic light labelling system be implemented on front of packaged foods.
But producers argues that the 100 gram serving used in the assessment is usually considerably larger than the recommended serving size.
The AGGC says the Daily Intake Recommendation Guide gives a far more descriptive summary of the contents of foods, and a survey commissioned by the council found almost 80 per cent of consumers understand the mandatory panel on foods.
But late last week it was found that while most people understand the guide, few use it to help them make healthier food choices.
Image: WA Today