Smart Consumer: You are what you eat, but do you ever really know what that is?
Published 08/09/2011 | 05:00
If you want to cut down on the amount of salt you're eating or the number of calories you are consuming, how can you tell which snack is the best choice?
How can you know where the meat you just bought comes from?
It isn't always that easy.
Yet there is no shortage of reports warning us of what not to eat and of how important origin is.
For example, this week a survey published by Guaranteed Irish found that 86% of consumers want companies to highlight the fact that their products or services are Irish.
Last week, a UK report found that one-in-four loaves of bread contains as much salt as a packet of crisps!
And in an effort to remind us that losing just an inch or two from a thickening waist can make a big difference to our health, Safefood's Stop the Spread campaign is being rolled out again at the end of this month.
But you'll be none the wiser unless you're told where your apples, your meat and your baked beans are from and also what nutritional values your pre-packed food contains.
But right now what we mainly have to rely on are companies and supermarkets volunteering to present this information to us.
That is because the legal labeling requirements are badly out of date; products must include a list of ingredients, but are not required to include nutritional information unless a nutritional claim is made.
Country of origin is mandatory only when it comes to fruit and veg, honey, raw beef and veal and raw chicken from a non-EU country.
Thankfully, the European Parliament realises it is time for improvement and in July they voted to accept new food labeling rules, finally updating the existing legislation that dates from 1978 and 1990.
Under the new rules, showing nutritional information will be mandatory and there will also be a minimum font size for mandatory information, so that we should be able to read it without having to get the magnifying glass out.
Rules relating to compulsory country-of-origin labeling are to be extended to include pig, sheep and goat meat.
As with most legislation, the outcome was a compromise and the European Commission expressed disappointment that the rules don't go far enough in some areas, such as their proposal to put nutritional labeling on the front of packages.
Nonetheless, it's a step in the right direction. But don't get too excited as it will take a further three years for these new rules to come into effect across Europe.
In the meantime here are three things to bear in mind:
•Many manufacturers realise we want to know how much fat or salt a food product contains and so the nutritional values will be given.
Get used to always reading them and compare the values of similar products before you buy.
•In relation to origin, if you're buying fresh produce and there is no indication where the product is from, ask. Then inform the seller you would prefer to see a country of origin on everything.
•Look out for the various 'Buy Irish' labels. Many supermarkets have their own, but you should also check for the Guaranteed Irish symbol, Love Irish Food, An Bord Bia quality mark and that of the National Dairy Council.