Confusing cereals? UK consumer group calls for clearer labeling post Brexit

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20 Jun 2018 --- A Which? investigation into the sugar content of “adult” breakfast cereals has unveiled high sugar levels and ignited calls for the UK Government to make traffic light labeling mandatory after Brexit, when EU laws are transferred to British law.

“It is clear that the current, non-standardized food labeling system is at best confusing and at worst misleading. Helping people to compare at a glance how much sugar, salt and fat a product contains has proven to be an effective way of helping them to make healthier food choices. The Government must not miss this opportunity to use Brexit to make traffic light labeling a legal requirement, so consumers finally have clear information to make better and more informed choices,” says Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services.

Current European Union rules posit traffic light labeling as voluntary, so many manufacturers do not use it. This, Which? claims, leaves consumers to face a “bewildering range of information about nutrition and portion sizes.”

The consumer group is calling for traffic light labeling on food and drink that shows the nutritional information for 100g of a product, making it easier for consumers to compare between products and make an informed, fair choice.

Furthermore, the implementation of new laws after Brexit must fix the fact that many manufacturers supply the “percentage of your daily allowance” of sugar in terms of the old regulations. Often, when the sugar content is given, it is based on the 90g pre-2015 allowance, not the new 30g one. This is because the original allowance is set in the Food Information Regulations and until these are updated manufacturers must legally stick to using them.

High sugar levels
This bewildering information is particularly significant in light of the findings from Which? that revealed that there could be more than three-quarters of the recommended daily maximum of sugars in just one portion of cereal.

Of the cereals looked at, the worst breakfast offender was Mornflake Golden Syrup Top Porridge Pot, which contains 28.6g of sugar per 100g. In contrast, McVities Digestive Biscuits contain 16.6g of sugar per 100g.

Sugar was the second- or third-highest ingredient in seven out of 10 flaked cereals looked at. Nestlé Oats & More Almond cereal contains 25g of sugar per 100g, and the ingredients list has six different forms of sugar, including sugar, glucose syrup and honey.

Interestingly, even cereals that are perceived as the “healthy” choice were found to contain surprising sugar levels, such as Kellogg’s All Bran, which was found to contain two teaspoons of sugar in a 40g portion.

Not only were sugar levels found to be confusing, but also the portion sizes. For example, most Kellogg’s cereals recommend a portion size of 30g, whereas Nestlé’s portion sizes vary from 30g to 45g. Varying portion sizes can lead to consumers ingesting far higher amounts of sugar than they realize. 

Which? hopes that a standardized portion size, adherence to the new sugar intake guidelines and a clear, traffic light system will help consumers to make healthier and more informed choices.

The lobby groups findings are released as Action on Salt similarly unveiled extremely high levels of salt in UK high street salads.

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