New Report Published Evaluating the Use of Nutrition Labels on Breakfast Cereals for Monitoring Reformulation
Wednesday, 29 September 2021
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today published a new report evaluating the use of declared nutrition labels on breakfast cereals to see whether labelled nutritional values can be used to monitor food reformulation of food sold on the Irish market. The report, Reformulation of breakfast cereals: The accuracy of nutrition declaration on food labels for the monitoring of food reformulation in Ireland, reveals that breakfast cereal nutrition labels cannot be totally relied upon to indicate true food composition, and that they may not reflect food reformulation efforts. The findings of the study of 200 breakfast cereals on the Irish market indicate that labelled nutrition information needs to be ‘fact checked’ regularly.
Food reformulation is the reduction of nutrients, such as fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt, in processed and packaged food in order to improve its nutrient quality and health profile. Reformulation of processed foods, including breakfast cereals, is seen as offering a cost-effective opportunity to combat obesity which affects over half of the population in Ireland. Under the Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 – 2025, voluntary food industry reformulation targets for energy, saturated fat, sugar and salt are to be agreed by the Obesity Policy Implementation Oversight Group. The Group was also tasked with developing a monitoring approach to measure progress towards achieving the agreed targets. The monitoring of food reformulation is a complex process that has been approached in different ways by different countries. A common approach is the use of declared nutrition labels to monitor nutrient content changes in foods over time.
The FSAI examined a cross section of breakfast cereals (n=200) to determine the accuracy of the nutrition labels in line with EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances. The study found declared nutrition labels were mostly in line with EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances for saturated fat, sugar and salt content of breakfast cereals. However, 14.1% (n=28) of breakfast cereals were outside EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances for total fat. The study observed no systematic bias for placing breakfast cereals on the market with higher nutrient content than that shown on the label. The findings of this study indicate that declared nutrition labels may not reflect food reformulation efforts.
Based on the findings of this study, the following recommendations are made:
- When EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances are accounted for, it is possible that declared nutrition labels may not reflect food reformulation efforts. This finding needs to be considered when developing a reformulation monitoring programme.
- The nutrient content of a serving of breakfast cereals containing nuts and fruit depends on the distribution of nuts and fruit in the cereal. This needs to be accounted for when undertaking nutrition verification studies.
- There are numerous factors which influence variations in declared and analysed nutrient content of breakfast cereals, and this requires further investigation with the food industry as it could affect reformulation monitoring.
- Based on the findings of this study and a previous study which applied the same methodology to yogurts, reformulation monitoring programmes using declared nutrition labels need to be ‘fact checked’ at regular intervals using nutrition label verification.
Reformulation of breakfast cereals: The accuracy of nutrition declaration on food labels for the monitoring of food reformulation in Ireland