#socialvoices

Traffic light labelling is a no go

Food labelling systems will never work argues #socialvoices writer Bibi Lynch

By Sarah Hecks 23/07/2012 13:44

Now this is scary. Too much salt in our diets can lead to high blood pressure, osteoporosis, kidney disease, heart disease and strokes. And research just out from the World Cancer Research Fund says one in seven cases of stomach cancer could be avoided by cutting salt intake.

 

Rex Features

 

Wow. Then thank God the charity has also suggested a standardised form of ‘traffic light’ labelling on foods (green if the item is low in salt, amber if medium content and red for very salty) — so we can better control the amount of salt (and sugar and fat) we consume.

 

Hmmm...

 

I hate to say it, but these systems (these no doubt expensive to implement systems) just don’t work. Are we seriously saying we don’t have a good idea of what’s healthy and what’s unhealthy to eat?

 

Sure, we’ve all seen those TV programmes, set in a shopping centre, where members of the public are asked to rate meals in terms of most/least calories/fat/salt etc… And there’s always a cheeky chicken Caesar salad that ASTOUNDS us all because it has more calories than a Greggs pasty, for example.

 

If we’re that concerned about our diet, we research it. The internet isn’t just for looking at photos of the Australian swimming team.

 

But that’s exactly the point: we’ve all seen these shows and we know that some foods can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We also know that some foods have hidden ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’. And we know how to find out what is good or bad. If we’re that concerned about our diet, we research it. The internet isn’t just for looking at photos of the Australian swimming team.

 

Labelling on foods won’t work because the people who are most concerned about their salt intake very probably wouldn’t buy processed food anyway — and the rest of us, even if the labelling screams ‘red for danger!’, won’t not buy the food because that’s not how we purchase or eat: we eat what we eat out of habit or comfort or for financial reasons. You have £1 to buy a meal? You don’t buy vegetables. You buy cakes so you can comfort yourself because you only had £1 to buy a meal. Food has too many emotional associations for a label to sway us away from what we need or want.

 

Could manufacturers be forced to slash the salt levels in their food?

 

My mum died from stomach cancer. So I cannot tell you how much I would love to see something that would reduce such deaths. But I don’t think it’s this. Could manufacturers be forced to slash the salt levels in their food? Could the money spent on the ‘traffic light’ system go to Cancer Research instead? I don’t know what the answer is — but it’s not telling us the food is bad. Put it this way: do you think anyone that smokes doesn’t know smoking will most probably kill them?

 

Bibi Lynch is a columnist, writer and broadcaster (for many publications/stations, including: The Guardian, Grazia and BBC London radio). Londoner. Short.

Follow Bibi on Twitter @bibilynch

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