Buried inside a media release about innovative health food claims from Kate Wilkinson’s office late on Friday was the news that National has, predictably, let industry interests trump public health on the issue of front-of-pack food labelling.
With obesity and diabetes being the most pressing health challenges New Zealand (like other developed nations) is facing, helping people take better control of their own nutrition is absolutely vital.
Choice is important and there is no point in sanctimoniously dictating to people what they should and should not eat, but we can provide simple information and signals to help people make informed decisions.
The right thing to do is establish a universal and simple-to-read ‘traffic light’ type system that people can easily interpret whilst doing their shopping.
What was announced was not a new system but a report prepared by an advisory group consisting of both industry and health representatives. (Oddly the Health Promotion Agency and its predecessor the Health Sponsorship Council are not represented. Perhaps Kate Wilkinson thought Katherine Rich could wear both her conflicting hats at the same time while she represented the Food and Grocery Council).
Kate Wilkinson says the report identifies a set of principles that will provide a useful guide to food businesses that want to adopt front of pack labelling.
So it’s voluntary which means the manufacturers of those foods that people need to eat sparingly will avoid it like the plague.
It’s also complicated with foods to be compared within categories, not with all other foods and using a points system rather than the simple traffic light system. In a win for the PC brigade, negative labels will not be used, only varying degrees of positive labels.
Incredibly, it suggests that the really bad foods, the ones with no positive nutritional value should have no label at all.
By the the time I finished reading it I was surprised the group hadn’t recommended shoppers use the Duckworth-Lewis method to determine what foods they should buy.
Predictable but nevertheless disappointing. Once again National shows it has no concept of public health and is happy to keep pouring money into the treatments it chooses and putting more strain on the health system in the future.
I think that the best system is this one developed by Sanitarium. It combines individual nutrient ratings with an overall rating while still retaining the simple traffic light approach. This is what we should be pursuing.