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'Sugar bombs and fat traps' lurking in foods

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'Sugar bombs and fat traps' lurking in foods
Photo: DPA
17:03 CEST+02:00
A new study shows that German food companies often misrepresent the sugar and fat content of their unhealthiest products, according to the country's consumer protection agencies.

The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZVB) examined more than 3,500 products from some 50 companies in August 2009 and found that almost half neglected to include all of the “Big 8” nutritional values. Meanwhile 33 of the 50 companies were found to have “unsatisfactory” labels.

Milk, meat and sweet products were most likely to avoid including all of these eight nutritional indicators – calories, protein, carbohydrates, sugar, fat, saturated fats, fibre, and sodium.

“These labels conceal important information like sugar or saturated fats and are insufficient for consumers,” the VZVB study said. “Almost 15 percent of the food products examined had information of any kind regarding calorie content or nutrition, because there is still no legal obligation to print nutritional values on food product packages.”

Products from candy manufacturers Haribo, Ferrero, Storck and Ritter Sport were among the worst offenders. Only one of 36 products the VZVB tested from Ferrero included the food’s sugar content, while none of Ritter Sport’s candy labels revealed how much sweet stuff their customers were ingesting.

The unhealthiest products were most likely to have opaque labelling. For example, liverwurst did not show a fat content while low fat ham was clearly labelled.

The best solution for better labelling is the introduction of the obligatory “traffic light labelling,” VZVB said, referring to a programme started by the British Food Standards Agency (FSA) featuring familiar colours to help consumers to maintain a healthy diet. This strategy marks nutritional values in green, yellow or red depending on whether they contain healthy amounts of the key nutritional indicators.

“This way consumers can quickly and simply recognise sugar bombs and fat traps,” the study said.

Berlin-based consumer rights group Foodwatch told The Local that the VZBV study proved Germany needs a law to regulate food labelling.

“This has made it very clear that allowing food companies to label their own food has failed,” spokesman Martin Rücker said, adding that the organisation agrees Germany needs to institute the traffic light system.

“It’s the simplest way for consumers to understand, and it’s a matter of civil rights,” he said.

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