Added Extras May Not Add Up
By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network
Most food manufacturers and retailers know they must choose their words carefully. Making unproven claims is neither permissible legally, nor accepted by consumers. Conditions must apply. They can say that something may be good for you or may possibly, perhaps, reduce the likelihood of some dire consequence. They must not be assertive or too positive. Benefit by implication must suffice.
But–and there is always a but–there has as yet been little or no explicit link between saying that an ingredient may be good for you and how much of it you need to consume in order to achieve that possible benefit. Which?, the U.K. consumer advocacy group formerly known as the Consumers’ Association, has now gone on the attack for precisely that reason. According to The Telegraph, Which? maintains that products containing Omega 3 are making “baffling” health claims.
Omega 3, one of the most highly regarded ingredients at the moment, is a fatty acid naturally occurring in oily fish and some plants. It has variously been linked to potential reduction in heart disease and some cancers as well as potential increase in cognitive function.
According to the consumer group, however, “more than half the products on supermarket shelves which claimed to include Omega 3 had negligible health benefits, because they either contained so little or the wrong sort of the acid. Sliced bread, yogurts, fruit juices and milk were all found to exaggerate the amount or type of Omega 3 that was included in the food.”
Experts maintain that the vegetarian form of Omega 3 found in plants is not nearly as beneficial as the variety occurring in fish. Dr. Alex Richardson told The Telegraph, “Some food labels are muddling together things that have different biological effects. Omega 3 from vegetarian sources is very different and does not have the same health benefits.” But the Which? report points out that labels listing Omega 3 as an ingredient do not make the differences clear.
The Which? report is among several recent complaints over misleading claims from the food industry.
Sense About Science, a charitable trust that works with 3,000 young UK-based researchers, criticized 11 companies for making ‘pseudo-scientific’ claims in a report entitled, ‘There Goes the Science Bit.’ Nestle’s claims for its Ski Activ8 yogurt were also publicly questioned. Ensuring that information on labels is true does not necessarily indicate that there are sufficient amounts of each ingredient to actually achieve the implied benefits.
Discussion questions: Are manufacturers getting overzealous with their health claims? How far should they promote products that have only minimal benefit?
- Supermarkets ‘mislead with omega 3 claims’ – The Telegraph
- Omega-3 to cut colon cancer: meta-analysis – Food and Drink Europe
- Researchers name and shame 11 companies for making ‘false health claims’ – The Daily Mail