JOINT FAO/WHO FOOD STANDARDS PROGRAMME
CODEX COMMITTEE ON FOOD LABELLING
OTTAWA, CANADA, APRIL 28 – MAY 2, 2003
PROPOSED DRAFT AMENDMENT TO THE GENERAL STANDARD FOR THE LABELLING OF PREPACKAGED FOODS:
QUANTITATIVE INGREDIENT DECLARATIONS (QUID)
Agenda Item 9, CX/FL 03/11
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CONSUMER FOOD ORGANIZATIONS (IACFO)
(at Step 3)
The International Association of Consumer Food Organizations (IACFO) is encouraged by the analysis brought to bear on the issue of QUID by members of the inter-session electronic working group. An expanded Codex QUID standard (also called percentage ingredient labelling) helps to fulfil both aspects of Codex’s mandate: "protecting the health of the consumer and ensuring fair practices in the food trade."
1. Health Factors
Recent research by IACFO members reveals the continuing need for QUID requirements to fulfil the twin missions of Codex. For example, a recently purchased American brand of jelly-like fruit preserves called "Smucker’s Simply 100% . . . Strawberry Spreadable Fruit" actually contains much less strawberries (only 30%) than "Smucker’s Strawberry Preserves" (which contains 51%) even though the first product claims on the label to be "100% Fruit." Both of these American brand name products are sold throughout the world, but only in countries like Thailand, which have comprehensive QUID requirements in force, is the consumer informed in the ingredient list that the "Strawberry Preserves" product contains more fruit than the "100% Fruit" product.
Similarly, a recent IACFO product survey in Australia revealed that Birds Eye, (a widely recognized US brand name food distributed throughout the world) "Lightly Battered Fillets of Ocean Hake" fish fillets contained only 55% fish while a competing local Australian store brand product called "Coles Lite Fish Fillets" contained 70% fish. While consumers in Australia could see that the US brand name product had a minimum amount of fish (as a result of their national QUID law), consumers in nations that do not maintain QUID requirements are likely being deceived when purchasing processed frozen fish products that have less fish than implied on the front label.
It should be noted that IACFO representatives called these and other companies to ask for QUID information. In all cases, the companies refused to provide any information regarding ingredient composition.
Both fruit and fish are types of foods that the World Health Organization (WHO) has encouraged consumers around the globe to increase their consumption of in order to reduce the incidence of diet-related disease. However, it is difficult for consumers to follow this advice in nations that do not have QUID requirements in place. Thus, the expansion of a Codex standard for QUID is completely consistent – indeed such action is mandated – by Codex’s mission of "protecting the health of consumers."
2. Other Policy Concerns
IACFO is hopeful that the CCFL can revise and expand the current standard in such a way that enables national authorities to establish truly useful QUID requirements for food labels. An expanded Codex QUID standard would also safeguard national percentage ingredient labelling requirements already in place in many countries. Major multinational companies, as well as smaller domestic firms, already comply with percentage ingredient declaration requirements in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand. In January of this year, Canada also proposed a national QUID requirement that is currently subject to national public consultations.
The existing and proposed national QUID standards in these countries are evidence that QUID is important to enhance the health of consumers and prevent economic fraud. Also, the prevalence of national QUID standards is evidence that implementation challenges (such as the calculation of moisture weights in ingredients, the establishment of rounding rules for percentages, enforcement, and conflicts with laws protecting trade secrets) can be overcome by national governments despite comments to the contrary by some member countries and food industry INGOs.
B. Specific Recommended Amendments to the Proposed Draft Standard for QUID
1. Ingredients Known to Impact the Risk of Chronic Disease
We propose that proposed section 5.1.1 (f) be modified in the following way:
f) the disclosure of which is deemed, by national authorities, to be necessary to enhance the health of consumers (including, but not limited to, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or added sugars ) or prevent deception.
We urge the Committee to stipulate that national authorities may require QUID disclosure for specific classes of ingredients that are widely recognized to be of particular public health significance (primarily fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and added sugars) whenever they are present in a food and regardless of whether the label bears a claim about the amount of those ingredients. In its current form, the Working Group proposal would limit the capacity of national governments to ensure that consumers have this information, which is necessary to reduce their risk of diet-related disease.
The importance of providing nutrition-related label information to consumers has been recognized by several countries that have established general mandatory nutrition labelling disclosure requirements, regardless of whether nutrition claims are made. These countries include the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Israel, and Canada. However, the World Health Organization, a parent organization of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, in its March 2003 report entitled, Diet, nutrition, and the prevention of chronic disease, noted that many foods contribute protective or causative effects on chronic disease risk that cannot yet be reduced to the metabolic effects of particular nutrients. Thus, it is essential that food labels provide QUID information, even if they already display nutrition labels.
Proposed article 5.1.1 (f) of the current QUID proposal acknowledges the importance of this principle. However, the WHO report has already identified several types of foods that are often used as ingredients in processed products and play important roles (protective or causative) in the development of non-communicable chronic diseases. In addition to the appropriate consumption of certain nutrients, the WHO report determined that there is convincing or probable evidence of links between cardiovascular disease, cancer, or type II diabetes and the following ingredients:
- protective: fruits; vegetables (excluding tubers); whole grain cereals; legumes; fish and fish oils; unsalted nuts (provided caloric intake is not exceeded); and
- causative: foods and drinks rich in added (free) sugars, unfiltered boiled coffee; some forms of salted or fermented fish; high temperature foods; preserved meats (such as sausage, salami, bacon, and ham); and salted meats, pickles, and other foods,
IACFO urges the committee to recognize the significance of the conclusions reached by WHO and specify in article 5.1.1 that the amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, and added sugars should always be subject to QUID requirements (regardless of whether an explicit or implicit claim is made).
Finally, IACFO agrees with France and Sweden that requiring manufacturers to report the total amount of the class of ingredients (such as vegetables, not including tubers), rather than the amounts of, for instance, individual vegetables, would satisfy this health requirement, provided that the percentage by weight of any particular vegetable that is highlighted by a marketing claim is also reported.
2. Relevance of Claims for Triggering QUID Disclosures
We recommend that proposed section 5.1.1 be revised by adding the following aftersubsection 5.1.1 (f):
(g) comprise the first and second most prevalent ingredients, by weight, in the product.
and re-designating subsections (g), (h), and (i) accordingly as (h), (i), and (j).
The current draft QUID proposal improves upon the existing Codex QUID standard by recognizing the need to furnish QUID when consumers have expectations (cultural or otherwise) of the prevalence of certain ingredients even when the manufacturer has not made an explicit or implicit claim about ingredient contents. This is an important improvement to the current Codex standard. However, in many cases, determining the ingredients that are the subject of consumer expectations may become the matter of a dispute between manufacturers and regulators. For instance, if only 45% percent of people purchasing a product called "Beef Stew" expected the product to have a high amount of vegetables, should that relieve the manufacturer of the duty to disclose the vegetable content of those ingredients? In other words, is it acceptable that a significant minority of consumers be deceived? Also, in many cases, consumers may not have specific expectations about the prevalence of, for example, water or refined flour in a product but they might be surprised to discover the extent to which a food is economically adulterated by the addition of these filler ingredients.
A clear, easily applied method for ensuring that consumers are provided at least a modicum of ingredient content information is to enable national authorities to, as France noted, require QUID for the top two or three ingredients of multi-ingredient products. The approach also addresses problems caused by manufacturers who use low quality or undesirable "filler" ingredients (such as water or refined flour) that may be relevant to consumers’ product choices but would not trigger a QUID disclosure requirement under the proposed standard, because those ingredients would certainly not be the subject of a marketing claim or qualify for any other triggering condition listed in paragraphs 5.1.1 (a) though (f).
A QUID requirement to display the percentages of the top two or three ingredients would not compel the disclosure of trade secrets because it would not reveal the formula or method of preparation of the product. Furthermore, this type of QUID requirement would not normally require the disclosure of proprietary information such as the amounts of spices and flavourings that are used in a product.
Rather than giving away trade secrets, QUID will increase marketplace competition by facilitating consumer choice and providing market incentives for producing foods that, for instance, have higher amounts of fruits and vegetables. Contrary to Japan’s submission, IACFO believes that a general requirement to report the percentages of the top two or three ingredients would not inflate food prices. By analogy, the United States requirement that labels for nearly all foods report the amounts of over ten nutrients did not inflate food prices when that requirement was put in place nearly a decade ago.
3. Ingredient Claims
We recommend that proposed section 5.1.3 be revised in the following way:
If the quantity of any ingredient is emphasized on the label by words or pictures, or an express or implied claim is made about the presence of any fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or added sugars, the ingoing percentage, by weight, of each such ingredient or class of ingredients shall be reported on the label either:
(a) in close proximity to the words or images emphasizing the particular ingredient, or
(b) beside the common name of the food
in lettering that is at least 50% as large as the common name.
Manufacturers who make explicit claims (using words or pictures) about ingredient composition, should be required to prominently display the amounts of the emphasized ingredients beside the claims in print no smaller than half the size of the claim, or if the claim is in the form of a picture, no smaller than half the size of the common name of the product. Similarly, manufacturers who make explicit or implicit marketing claims about ingredients that have a key bearing on health should be required to prominently display the quantities of those ingredients in conjunction with the claim. Such manufacturers should not be permitted to bury information in the ingredient list that may refute those claims. (Ideally, unsubstantiated claims should be prohibited completely, but enforcement by national regulators has been lax throughout most parts of the world). For non health-related ingredients subject to QUID requirements that are not also highlighted by a marketing claim, reporting the amount of the ingredient in the ingredient list alone is acceptable.