Co-op calls for 'misleading' nutrition labels to be taken off supermarkets' shelves

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Food labels claiming products have "added vitamins and minerals" often disguise high levels of fat and sugar, the Co-op supermarket will say today as it calls for a tightening of government regulations.

Food labels claiming products have "added vitamins and minerals" often disguise high levels of fat and sugar, the Co-op supermarket will say today as it calls for a tightening of government regulations.

Companies are using misleading labels to hide the real nutritional value of their products, it says.

In a new report, the Co-op – in conjunction with Sustain, a research body – will call for better and clearer labelling on all foods, especially of the amount of fat, sugar and salt in the diet. The report identifies many products that it says make inaccurate claims. "The time has come to sweep dishonest labels off the shelf once and for all," it says.

Wendy Wrigley, the general manager of retail brands at the Co-operative Group, says: "We think it is misleading to claim a product has a health or nutritional benefit when in fact its contribution to a healthy diet is negligible or worse." For example, the Co-op and Sustain said, St Ivel Gold spread contains 38 per cent fat, yet claims to be low fat. The company replied that anything below 50 per cent fat could officially be labelled "low fat" – although nutritionists usually say the figure should be 5 per cent.

Dairylea cheese slices claim to be a "good source of calcium" but have a fat content of 22 per cent. Kraft, the makers, said the figure compared well with cheddar, which typically contained 34 per cent fat.

The criticisms echo those made earlier this year by the Consumers' Association, which accused manufacturers of "obeying the spirit but not the letter of the law" on labelling.

Representatives of food manufacturers claimed they were trying to get across "as much information" to consumers as possible "in what can be a very small space".

At the moment, companies are not obliged by law to include nutritional information on their product labelling except if they are making a nutrition claim.

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