Ten of the world's biggest food companies have launched Guideline Daily Allowance (GDA) labelling in France with other European countries likely to follow. The multinationals — including Nestlé, Coca Cola, PepsiCo and Unilever — said they would employ GDA labelling on French products during the coming year. The scheme controversially debuted in the UK against regulator wishes in 2006, and is backed by Europe's biggest food industry body, the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries in the EU (CIAA).
"We expect more of our members to follow suit in the near future," said CIAA president Jean Martin in a recent speech commemorating the second EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. "The GDA labelling scheme, in combination with other educational efforts undertaken by the CIAA and its members, clearly demonstrates the important catalyst function of Europe's food and drink industry in combating obesity by translating public-policy goals into concrete action."
The CIAA had committed "significant resources" to the "promotion and voluntary adoption of GDAs," Martin stated.
The GDA expresses foodstuff ingredients such as salt, sugar, fat and fibre as well as calories as percentages of recommended daily intakes.
The voluntary implementation of the GDA concerns some European regulators who are considering options for a food-labelling scheme to be introduced across all 27 Member States under the EU Nutrition and Health Claims regulation by decade's end.
In many quarters, a traffic-light labelling scheme is preferred, such as the one recommended by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) last year after it conducted extensive consumer, NGO, health professional and industry research over more than two years. Such a system would colour-code products according to whether they were high, moderate or low in salt, sugar, saturated fat and fat, whereas the GDA labelling is monochrome.
A similar consortium of companies as well as retailers including the UK's biggest — Tesco — rejected that recommendation and have now established the GDA labelling in the UK on thousands of products worth about $30 billion, according to the UK Food and Drink Federation. More than $8 million was spent promoting the scheme although many retailers including Sainsbury, Asda and Waitrose, the Co-Op, and Marks and Spencer opted for the FSA-backed traffic-light system.
The UK GDA initiative has continued to draw criticism from consumer, government and health groups in the UK and elsewhere, that believe the GDA labelling doesn't signpost the healthiness of foods as readily as a traffic-light system does. Sterner critics say the GDA labelling is a cynical move by the food industry to ward off a scheme that will blatantly reveal the unhealthiness of many of its products. 'Guideline Daily Amounts represent population goals for particular nutrients,' the UK National Heart Forum stated in its report, 'Misconceptions and misinformation: the problems with Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs).' "Presenting these as percentages on the front of food packaging suggests to the consumer that these are daily targets. Without reading the small print on the back of the packet it is not clear that for fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt these figures represent limits rather than targets. With as little as four seconds for each purchase, what consumers need to be able to see 'at a glance' on the front of the pack is whether a product is high, medium or low in key nutrients."
The GDA advocates counter that traffic-lighting foods is overly simplistic and incapable of representing the overall nutritional profile of a food or beverage. For instance, they say, does a probiotic yoghurt product attract a red sticker because it is relatively high in fat? Or a vitamin-laden breakfast cereal that may marginally cross the sugar threshold?
The CIAA has established a website (http://gda.ciaa.eu/asp/welcome.asp) to promote GDA labelling and educate both consumers and industry about how it works in all EU languages.
The other companies in the French consortium are Danone, Kellogg's, Masterfoods, Kraft, Cadbury Schweppes and the Campbell Soup Company.