The Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) will discuss international labeling guidelines amid increasing consumer awareness of the food they eat, a trend that mounts pressure on the industry.
Labeling has become an ever-important issue in the food industry as current trends lean towards natural and organic and health and wellness products.
The topic is a significant one for Codex, which establishes food standards on behalf of the UN and World Health Organization, as obesity continues to be a serious global problem, influenced by one's diet.
Over 300m adults are obese worldwide, representing a three-fold increase since the 1980s, according to latest statistics from the WHO and the International Obesity Task Force.
This will be the committee's 36th session and it will be held 28 April to 2 May in Canada. On the agenda is:
- Consideration of labeling provisions in draft Codex standards
- Implementation of the WHO Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health
- Guidelines for the production, processing, labeling and marketing of organically produced foods
- Labeling of foods and food ingredients obtained through techniques of genetic modification/genetic engineering
- General standard for the labeling of prepackaged foods (quantitative declaration of ingredients)
- Discussion paper on advertising in relation to nutrition and health claims
- Modified standardized common names
Although any decisions made by Codex would not have statutory force, an increasing number of countries align their food standards with Codex following WHO agreements that say that Codex standards are favored in international trade disputes.
Labeling in America
Last December, the Hartman Group published Label Reading from a Consumer Perspective, which revealed that American consumers are increasingly reading product labels as part of a general lifestyle move towards health.
Out of the 16 label components tested, the group found that the expiration or 'sell by' date of products was the most frequently checked component of a product label, checked by 60 percent of consumers.
The nutrition facts panel, which lists a products' nutritional components such as calories and fat, is checked by 50 percent of Americans as the health and wellness trend continues to grow.
Freshness dates and ingredients lists are checked by 49 percent and 47 percent of people respectively, according to the study.
However, despite this obvious growing interest to understand label information, consumers often find the task confusing.
Efforts are rife in the industry to present nutritional highlights to customers. Last month, food company ConAgra has decided to launch its own nutrition labeling system in a bid to make it easier for consumers to get useful advice about the food they eat.
The company believes that the MyPyramid system run by the US Department of Agriculture is difficult to follow.
Situation in Europe
The labeling issue has caused ongoing debate in Europe, with industry and regulators calling for a standardized format to prevent confusion and inconsistency between member states. Like America, there is currently no standardized format throughout Europe, with individual countries and companies adopting different methods.
The European Commission announced at the end of January it had finalized proposals for modernizing and reforming EU labeling requirements for food and drink.
The most controversial proposal was the introduction of front-of-pack labeling of six key nutrients, adopting the 'guideline daily amounts' (GDA) approach rather than a 'traffic light' approach favored by the UK's Food Standards Agency.
Products would be required to show energy, fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates, with specific reference to sugars and salt content of the product, expressed in terms of per 100ml/100g or per portion. In addition, the amount of these elements in relation to the reference intakes would have to be indicated.