Thursday, November 08, 2007

Germany's New Food Labels

Germany kind of gets it.

While much of Europe uses the traffic light means of food labeling, Germany has opted not to discuss food as good or bad, but rather in terms of energy.

One of my regular lines on this blog and in my practice is that healthy eating and weight management are two separate, important determinants of health. Healthy eating involves the foods you choose and weight management the calories.

Up until now it seemed that the world felt that healthy eating was more important and the focus has been on describing a food in terms of its health benefits (with front of box labels screaming out, "zero trans-fat", "low-carb" and "low-sodium) all the while pretty much ignoring the calorie side of the equation.

The new German labels will follow the "1 plus 4" approach with extra focus on calories. On the front of the label will be the calories per serving in the package along with how that number translates into average total daily calories. The back will detail fat, salt and sugar, leaving out all the micronutrients that tend to serve to confuse consumers and in some cases give false impressions of healthy contents.

Here's Germany's Director General of Food and Safety,

"We do not want to say there are good products and bad products. We think showing the calorie intake is the best way to inform consumers. When we launched the product at the food fair in Cologne, people were surprised to see that a glass of lemonade provided a quarter of the daily need for sugar"
But don't get too excited yet.

The new plan in Germany is being launched as voluntary and my experience certainly tells me that high calorie food manufacturers are not likely to opt in. Also, the labels may well highlight calories per serving, but they don't necessarily highlight how much constitutes a serving.

Me - I'd like to see labeling like this become mandatory, but instead of Calories per serving listed on the front, I'd like to see Calories per package, as most consumers do not weigh or measure their servings, nor follow the rather arbitrary serving size guidelines.

At least it's a step forward rather than the perpetual side-steps these shores have seen.

[For those of you who might have missed last night's CBC Marketplace on restaurant calories you can watch it online. It was a great show and truly highlights the need for point of sale labeling of calories in restaurants]