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FSAI Publishes New Report Evaluating the Use of Nutrition Labels on Yogurt for Monitoring Reformulation

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) today published a new report evaluating the use of declared nutrition labels of yogurt in monitoring food reformulation sold on the Irish market. The report, Reformulation of yogurt: The accuracy of nutrition declaration on food labels for the monitoring of food reformulation in Ireland, reveals that nutrition labels cannot be totally relied upon, as they may not reflect true food reformulation efforts. The findings of the study of 200 yogurts on the Irish market indicate that programmes relying on labelled nutrition information need to be ‘fact checked’ regularly. Reformulation of processed foods, including yogurts, 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 with progress reviewed regularly. 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 yogurts to determine the accuracy of the nutrition labels in line with EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances¹. Declared nutrient values on labels were mostly in line with the guidelines for total fat and saturated fat content. However, 17% (n=33) of yogurts were outside EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances for sugar. While the analysed content was usually lower for sugar and saturated fat than the declared value, this was not the case for fat.

With obesity levels doubling in Ireland over the last 40 years, Dr Pamela Byrne, CEO, FSAI stated that reducing fat and sugar in food products will positively contribute to a healthier population.

    “Reformulation of foods is proven to have a positive impact on the quality of the diet therefore, it is essential that a true baseline is established, and progress is measured accurately to ensure that the roadmap and targets set out in the Government’s obesity policy and action plan are being met and on time,” said Dr Byrne.

The recommendations in the report include:

  • when EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances are accounted for, it is possible that declared nutrition labels may not reflect the true food reformulation efforts. This finding needs to be considered when developing a reformulation monitoring programme.
  • reformulation monitoring programmes relying on labelled nutrition information need to be ‘fact checked’ at regular intervals using a nutrition label verification method.
  • innovative food categories, such as yogurts, require regular monitoring to understand reformulation efforts in these food categories.
  • there are numerous factors which influence variations in labelled and analysed nutrient content of yogurts, and this requires further investigation with the food industry as it could affect reformulation monitoring.
  • additional food categories should be investigated using the same methodology in order to determine if the findings of this study apply to other food categories. 

-ENDS-

Note to Editors:
Nutrition labelling rules require declaration of average nutrient content of food which can be based on analysis or generally accepted data. For this and many other technical reasons the nutrient content of individual products vary around this average. ¹EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances sets out the variability that is tolerable for the declared nutritional content on a food label versus its analysed nutrient content. The range of what is tolerable depends on the type of food, the type and amount of nutrient and whether a claim is made on the food. Consequently, it is acceptable for the actual nutrient value of a food item to differ from its labelled value, provided it is within the guideline tolerance range which can be quite broad in some cases. For example: EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances for total fat is defined as; <10 g of fat per 100 g ±1.5 g, and 10–40 g of fat per 100 g ±20%.

Reformulation of yogurt: The accuracy of nutrition declaration on food labels for the monitoring of food reformulation in Ireland