Full story on food

Yesterday’s Herald editorial implied that former Green MP Sue Kedgley would be completely happy with new labelling laws and that I should be uncritically supporting them. This totally flies in the face of all that Sue worked for as an MP, which I am continuing to work on, to achieve the food labelling that people actually want.

The Green Party have always called for good food information for consumers to help them make informed choices.  We believe that you have a right to know what is in your food and if it is healthy or not.

Of course we believe that any health claims have to be truthful – which they will now finally be – but equally importantly we believe that unhealthy foods should be labelled as such. Why is that second part so important? Because it works, and because shoppers want to be able to see at a quick glance which foods are healthy and which foods should be eaten only sparingly.

Anyone trying to claim that there is no need for labelling unhealthy foods is ignoring the truth about shopping for food in today’s environment. People have limited time to become detectives in the supermarket isles and there is a huge amount of misinformation and confusing messages out there.

Opponents to full labelling assume that everyone has a nutritionist’s level of knowledge, and that they know all of the foods and ingredients that lead to ill health and how much unhealthy stuff is a safe amount to eat. But that’s just not the reality of our world. Many people, including me, are shocked to see how much sugar is in a fizzy drink and are unaware that some cereals contain so much sugar they should be classified as confectionary.

I don’t know about you, but when I am shopping I don’t have time to check the nutritional content of every product, count all of the calories, and the calories my kids are eating, and do the maths to make those decisions. I want labelling that is simple to understand, truthful, and tells the full story not just the good news. I think many New Zealanders agree with me on that front.

For people to be able to make stress free decisions about what to eat and what to feed their kids, our labelling system needs to identify unhealthy foods that should only be eaten infrequently, not just the good foods.

Industry resists any scheme that identifies foods that are bad for people’s health, because that’s bad for sales. But our Government is not in the food retail business. It has responsibility for managing our public health service and so if we want to get real about improving public health outcomes we need to provide real information.

When the editor at the Herald says that we shouldn’t label for unhealthy foods is he really saying that New Zealanders don’t want good information? Is he saying that people don’t want to know about what they are eating?  Is he saying that everyone knows which foods should only be eaten infrequently? That’s not my experience, it’s not backed by the evidence, and it’s not what people tell me.

So yes, we are congratulating the Government on their first step. I am also really looking forward to congratulating them on finishing the job and will keep pushing until that is done.

14 thoughts on “Full story on food

  1. You say “there is a huge amount of misinformation and confusing messages out there.”

    Yes, and you are perpetrating it. With just one or two exceptions, there is no such thing as an inherently unhealthy food. You can certainly have an unhealthy diet, or an unhealthy lifestyle, but not an unhealthy food.

    It’s all about context and educating people about the way they treat their bodies. Your attempt to divide foods into “healthy” and “unhealthy” is not only ridiculous, but will cause people to lose the last remnants of their critical thinking faculties.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 10 (-5)

  2. How would you label milk, Mojo? Cream? Butter? Cheese? Salt? Sugar? Ice cream? Tonic water? Bacon? Ham?

    “Healthy” and “unhealthy” doesn’t work. Those items could be labelled “unhealthy” or “healthy” depending on the quantity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4 (+1)

  3. Mojo’s right – unhealthy foods should be labled. Not labled “unhealthy”, as the thin-thinkers assume, but labled in such a way that potential purchasers can make reasoned judgments about what they are considering buying. There certainly are unhealthy foods. Warnings about processed meats have long been ringing through the scientific community. Eating those is a threat to your wellbeing, and therefore they are unhealthy foods. Organically-grown apples, otoh, are very health-giving and should be labled as such. You unhealthy lable-deniers do your wurst, I’m eating healthy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3 (+6)

  4. Anyone trying to claim that there is no need for labelling unhealthy foods is ignoring the truth about shopping for food in today’s environment. People have limited time to become detectives in the supermarket isles and there is a huge amount of misinformation and confusing messages out there.

    The truth is people don’t need to be detectives, nor do they need to perform ridiculous calorie counting or any other convoluted mathematics when shopping, they just need a functioning brain.

    Step 1) Get hold of something like this:

    hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid/

    Step 2) Stick to it

    The answer is basic education. If people can’t understand such food charts, they’re unlikely to understand or take heed of labels, either. I’m surprised such people, if they do exist, could find the door of the supermarket. The term “door” might be confusing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2 (0)

  5. Eating those is a threat to your wellbeing, and therefore they are unhealthy foods. Organically-grown apples, otoh, are very health-giving and should be labled as such.

    And to think – you worked that out without a label.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2 (-1)

  6. Because I grow them myself. A customer in a supermarket aisle hasn’t the same advantage. They deserve to have their potential purchases labled so that they can chose intelligently. You do favour choice, Arana? You can’t chose intelligently without information. Why do you seek to deny customers the information they need in order to choose intelligently?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1 (+3)

  7. Because I grow them myself.

    So, if you didn’t, that knowledge would evaporate and you wouldn’t be able to tell if an apple was healthier than a jar full of duck fat?

    Why do you seek to deny customers the information they need in order to choose intelligently?

    Because there are a number of ways to solve a problem. The problem is “some people eat too much food that is bad for them”.

    Is the solution “increase the amount of information on a label”? I don’t think so. It assumes people look at each label and use that as the basis for their diet. The type of people paying that much attention to labels now aren’t your problem.

    The type of information that should be increased is education, such as the Harvard chart above. It would be cheap, there would be no added bureaucracy, no added costs to consumers, and more effective as it is easily understood and followed.

    Keep it simple, focused, and high level. Repeat often.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2 (-1)

  8. Hi Arana.

    You’re right, the food pyramid or healthy eating plate is based on sound public health principles and there is more that could be done to promote this. A labelling method based on similar principles would complement that, not conflict with it. Using a simple method such as traffic light labelling has the specific advantage of being able to reach out to at risk people, such as those with low literacy (which can be for any number of reasons). We need to bridge the gap between the food pyramid information available on websites, and the realities of making decisions in the supermarket isle, such as selecting a healthy breakfast cereal. It is great that you are confident to make these decisions for yourself, but we cannot assume that everyone is in the same position.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1 (+2)

  9. greenfly says “unhealthy foods should be labled. Not labled “unhealthy”, as the thin-thinkers assume, but labled in such a way that potential purchasers can make reasoned judgments about what they are considering buying. ”

    Agree completely.

    I think the public should be given as much info about their food as is practical, and excuses of difficulty and cost from some manufacturers are largely nonsense.

    And Arana is also right about more education.

    Although I suspect many lazy fat slobs do actually know that chips and coke every day is bad for them, and neither education nor labels would make the slightest difference to their eating habits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1 (+2)

  10. Hi Mojo

    Yes, I could see how the two could be linked.

    I think the term “traffic light” might be a problem, and producers will likely oppose it as red means “stop”. No producer wants to tell their customers to “stop”.

    Perhaps “food class” – or some catchier, positive name – might be more agreeable? i.e. grains are colour-coded brown, fish coded orange, etc, to align with the chart? Foods that don’t fall into those categories aren’t coded.

    So, in order to eat well, stick to the colour codes.

    In combination, that’s a high level, simple system that is pretty cheap to implement, and I doubt producers would oppose, as no producer is being negatively labelled – just some aren’t being labelled as being included in that system.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 (+1)

  11. Using a simple method such as traffic light labelling has the specific advantage of being able to reach out to at risk people, such as those with low literacy (which can be for any number of reasons).

    I’d like to know how many people are in this group.

    How many people are:

    a) not bright enough to understand the healthy plate diagram
    b) illiterate and – presumably – unable to understand the healthy plate diagram, even if someone showed them how it works, or told them how it works

    Another problem is that many people will still go for unhealthy food because that is what they *like* to eat. They know it’s unhealthy, they just don’t care. How do you change the habits of such people? It’s unlikely a sticker is going to make any difference to their buying habits.

    This means the cost of classification may quickly outweigh (heh) the benefit.

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  12. So who is the ‘expert’ that will define what is ‘healthy’? At the moment, low fat and high carbohydrate is the fashion of the moment. Fats have become the evil, and I’ve seen over my lifetime other foods become evil and then become good again. The ‘big tick’ given by the Heart Foundation is supportive of low fat and the high carb choice, yet many know that fat is not the ‘evil’ and but high carb, in particular foods with a high glycaemic index which cause diabeties. I’m sorry but I think it is naive to put ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ as a label on foods. Hamburgers can be healthy – a good meat pattie, salad and whole grain bread is fabulous, and actually no different to the sandwich you had for lunch, but everyone has a belief ‘hamburgers are unhealthy because if you eat them for every meal you get fat’!! Diet and ‘healthy’ choices are so fraught with argument that I think it is better to educate everyone about nutrition and get them to make the choice that is right for them. I did Nutrition at school because I was too ‘dumb’ for physics, yet it should be compulsory on the curriculum for EVERYONE!

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  13. The absence of unhealthy ingredients does not make something healthy. Let’s stop the fat obsession, and categorise things by whether there is any form of nutrition in them, beyond energy, and whether it is in a natural form that your body would recognise.
    Then let’s make it easier for people to eat healthy, by promoting fruit, veges and good sources of energy and protein. And stop promoting crap.

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  14. I don’t think the real food should be called “bio”… there is something wrong with that. We have come so far that we have to separate all these unhealthy ingredients in our food from what is real and giving the name “bio” it seems useless. Dreamwell

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