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Quickies: food marketing and health claims

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save your life, for only $7.63/litre

Grocery industries and food marketers are at loggerheads with consumer groups and health standards authorities at the moment over food labelling. Surprise surprise. Basically it’s about tightening up on truth-in-advertising where health products [or sometimes ‘health products’] are concerned. Plans to do this, and plans to combat this, have been ongoing for decades.

The peak body for the no-change-to-the current-system lobby, which of course advocates ‘self-regulation’, is the Australian Food and Grocery Council, while organisations such as the consumer group Choice, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and the Public Health Association of Australia favour a tighter, more robust form of scrutiny. Earlier this year it looked like both sides were starting to converge towards an agreement on new standards and closer scrutiny, but a draft proposal in February for independent pre-approval of food packaging was later slammed by the Council, who put a new proposal quite recently. It turned out to be self-regulation with a little bit of post-hoc scrutiny – which is already allowed for.

The grocers’ and marketers’ groups claim that scrutiny followed by rejection of particular packaging would result in prohibitively expensive repackaging costs. Duh, I wonder why they didn’t think of that when they wrote bullshit on their packages. If you tell lies or get things wrong you need to correct it. Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about such things and are demanding more accurate information and less spin [well I hope so anyway].

Particular products have been mentioned as being in the firing line. They include probiotic juices, breads advertised as ‘for women’s well-being’ and protein-added milk which ‘builds muscles’. I suppose that as long as the claims are kept sufficiently vague there won’t be a problem. It’s the specific claims that are the problem – and packagers should know that, and have only themselves to blame if they get them wrong.

In any case the depressing truth seems to be that the food industry is too powerful to be forced into a tougher regulatory regime in the near future. There seems at present to be nothing for it but to negotiate a ‘least worst option’ for consumers.

If you’re wondering about probiotics – I barely knew anything about them until today – this post at science-based medicine, though more than 3 years old, is excellently comprehensive. This quote will give you a good idea about the short-comings of this particular fad:

The raison d’être for probiotics is inherently questionable: Normal bacteria gone, depleted, tuckered out? Take some extra bacteria and replete your ecosystem. Compared to the complexity of the GI [gastro-intestinal] micro environment, probiotics contain just a few bacteria, and not even the most common bowel organisms. It is safe to say that the “good’ bacteria so highly touted in probiotics are but a minor constituent of a complex flora.

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Written by stewart henderson

July 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm

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