Our latest report on unhealthy breakfast cereals raises questions about food standards after we leave the EU. Are you concerned?
Our new research looked at adult cereals – from crunchy nut cornflakes to granola. We applied traffic lights to 31 adult cereals to see which were high, medium or low in sugar, fat and salt and found 30% of them came out as red (or high). One had even more sugar than when we last looked in 2011.
This wouldn’t be so bad if you were warned of the high sugar content at the point of purchase – if the cereal clearly displayed a red label under the traffic light system. But disappointingly, some manufacturers are still refusing to apply the traffic light labelling scheme to their products.
As others do, we have a situation where products can sit side by side, often with the own brand showing the traffic lights and the branded equivalent failing to do so.
It’s encouraging that Nestle recently announced it would be using the scheme on its products – but still disappointing that other big brands, such as Kellogg’s don’t. Although we didn’t look at them this time, it’s even worse when they are often marketing these sugary cereals as for children.
This confusing situation has arisen because traffic light nutrition labelling on the front of pack is only voluntary. EU rules agreed in 2011, allowed EU Member states to adopt these types of schemes – but not make them a requirement. Which? has long campaigned for the scheme because our research has shown consumers find it useful.
The Department of Health published guidance on a common scheme in 2013 following a lot of consultation and most retailers (with the exception of Iceland) and some leading manufacturers have adopted the scheme. But other big players did not. It’s estimated that traffic lights are on around two-thirds of food products overall.
To make matters worse, some of these manufacturers are also trying to promote a rival scheme that would be more favourable to their products compared to the one advocated by the Department of Health and consumer and public interest groups.
A legal requirement
Traffic light nutrition labelling has always been a highly contentious issue among some EU countries – particularly where they produce traditional foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt. However, we think it is important that we maintain the same approach to food legislation and therefore food standards during and after our leaving the EU.
Legislation on food labelling has evolved in areas – such as control over health and nutrition claims – and works well. But this is one area where the government and devolved administrations – food labelling being devolved – should seize the opportunity to go further, ensuring that consumers can easily make informed choices across the board.
There’s also an opportunity to make sure that the criteria underpinning the scheme reflect current dietary recommendations. The sugar criteria, which despite so many cereals coming out as high in our study, are too generous.
In the meantime, it would be great if the food manufacturers who have so far refused to adopt our national scheme finally did the right thing and applied traffic lights.
Are you concerned about ‘hidden’ sugar in products which don’t carry traffic light labelling? Are you worried about food standards post-Brexit?