Do you have one particular deal-breaking criterion when you buy food? When you scan food labels, what do your eyes go first? In the fresh food section, what labels are you reading to understand if food is in season or not? Is the Heart Foundation Tick crucial when you buy meat? Some might feel Country of Origin is key. Food allergists go straight to the “MAY CONTAIN...” wording. Others might be looking for the presence of artificial sweeteners. Eliminating certain fats and oils might be your personal fatwa.
Certain food labelling is compulsory (and very important) under Australian Consumer Law. All foods must carry labels outlining the following:
Health Star ratings came into play in 2014 to help consumers determine if a product was a healthy choice according to a star rating system, which is graphically similar to energy ratings for appliances. This one has already been dogged by a fair bit of controversy as processed foods seem to score very highly on the scale and that seems to defy logic in many cases. This image below, created by nutritionist Ross Walter is just one of many calling out high ratings for heavily processed foods.
Last year The Australasian Recycling Label was introduced – an initiative spearheaded by Planet Ark – which shows consumers exactly what parts of the food packaging are recyclable, and where and what parts will ultimately end up in landfill.Planet Ark really have done a pile of excellent work to get this label up. It's sorely needed and at least starts to put pressure on manufacturers to declare recycling capacity of packaging in particular.
Labelling relating to certifications or other individual quality claims seem never-ending. Organic, biodynamic, free-range, pasture-fed, grain-fed, Fair Trade, dolphin friendly, drift-net free, certified sustainable palm oil, vegan, halal, kosher … its an ever-growing list and needs to be because different people are interested in different things.
Irrespective of your focal point, the fact of the matter is labelling is exposing so many aspects of your food, but it does make me wonder why, in 2019, why aren’t we exposing one of the biggest ways food affects everyone - its carbon footprint - as well?
While all these labels hold important roles, it feels like we are sidling up to information overload. One thing is for certain – the world of food labelling is numerically burdened. The Nutrition Information Panel is a maths lesson in itself. The industry has cottoned onto the power of infographics to quickly inform the consumer but have we reached saturation point with those as well?
We under appreciate how fortunate we are to have food labelling laws. They are an essential source of information and education for consumers. Perhaps one of their greatest under-recognised aspects is their entertainment value. The best joke ever is reading there are 20 serves in a 500g bag of kettle chips. We all know there is only one serve, enjoyed over a span of approximately 2 hours, give or take. But imagine a world without labels, if all the labels disappeared tomorrow. If consumers are already becoming label-fatigued, where’s the wiggle-room to introduce new labelling initiatives that specifically address climate change criteria, such as reducing carbon emissions through food choices?