FSA research shows health claims on food labels confuse consumers

Health claims on food labels confuse consumers, leaving them unclear of the properties of the product, according to new research commissioned by the Food Standards Agency.

The FSA also finds that the categories proposed by the European Commission are at odds with the way consumers view health claims, raising questions over whether the categories will have to be revised.

The research throws a spanner into attempts by the European Union to harmonise the rules on the regulation of health claims on food labelling. Currently, controls on health claims for food labelling and advertising are not harmonised at EU level.

Despite health claims being of “interest and relevance” to consumers, their understanding is often more partial and confused than they themselves believe it to be. Researchers found that consumers “rarely, if ever” grouped health claims, according to the proposed EC categories, such as “functional” and “health enhanced”.

The research comments little on marketing, but does say that it “further manipulates the boundary between understanding and belief, taking consumers beyond a purely rational response to a product’s characteristics”.

In a separate move this week, the EC agreed to extend the requirements for food labelling to ensure that all ingredients are listed – so preventing allergens from being hidden. The directive is expected to come into force next year.

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