R146: Shooting itself in the foot over nutritional declarations

R146, the new food labelling legislation, now nearly three weeks ‘live’, made some headlines again this week. Top labelling consultants were quoted in several mainstream media that, as it stands, R146’s stringent approach to nutritional labelling and declarations will have the unintended consequence of leaving consumers with even less information on food products.

Nigel SunleyNigel Sunley (right) was quoted as saying that the nutritional aspect of the new food law has “backfired” and that the Department of Health did not think carefully about the “implications of the wording”.

The issue revolves around the nutrition table, a declaration that is only required if a product is making a claim – at odds with this era of information and consumer empowerment. That’s one issue, but the crux of the current matter is that the processes legislated to determine and analyse a food’s nutritional content are so “complex and expensive” that Sunley maintains that it’s cheaper and easier for companies not to volunteer any breakdown of nutritional information at all.

As his colleague and compatriot, dietician Jane Badham added: “Companies will withdraw the nutritional information and this hampers consumer nutrition and education.” This, ironically, is the very opposite of what R146 was intended to achieve.

FOODStuff SA got some further comment the duo on this: “This is all about the hassle factor of having to determine nutritional information for voluntary declaration purposes, even though the requirement to determine glycaemic carbohydrate is no longer an issue,” says Sunley.

“It is still a major performance to obtain the voluntary nutritional info, as manufacturers either have to still do analysis or they can use calculated values, but these must, in turn, be based on analysed values for all the individual ingredients which is an administrative nightmare. It is a major hassle for companies, hence many of them are dropping voluntary nutritional information.”

Badham strongly believes that if the Dept of Health really wanted to use the regulations to empower consumers to make healthier choices then it should have made the provision of nutritional information mandatory but have kept it basic and simple.

“Isn’t it interesting that DoH now looking at setting maximum limits on sodium in products but nutritional info is not even available on all food products (unless a claim is made). So much for consumers being able to look at and assess the sodium content of the foods they buy – the cart before the horse yet again!” she exclaims.

Sunley believes that the only way this issue can be resolved is if the DoH’s Directorate of Food Control is prepared to “actually sit down and consult PROPERLY with the people who have to implement the regulations in practice”, something he says that is has shown little or no inclination to do in the past and which has given rise to this conundrum.

“What we really need, as Jane has rightly pointed out, is compulsory nutritional information for all foods but with a much simplified process for obtaining it. We live in hope!” he says.

He adds that as the actual implementation of R146 is ‘hot off the press’, he doesn’t see much likelihood of any significant further changes until such time as Phase 2 comes into existence, at which time, he feels that some other changes to R146 could be introduced.

The DoH has as yet made no apparent public comment on these issues.