Monday, 22 September 2014

Coca Cola’s label move is only ‘inch-by-inch’ progress


Even when fizzy drinks giant Coke improves its labelling, it only serves to underline the need for a much tougher regulatory environment,  argues CI's Head of Campaigns Justin Macmullan. 

Last week, Coca Cola announced that it would introduce traffic light nutrition labels on the products that it sells in the UK.

It’s good news for UK consumers trying to choose a healthier diet, but this inch-by-inch approach underlines the need for a global agreement to protect and promote healthy diets.

These labels use red, amber and green to clearly signal to consumers whether the product contains high, medium or low levels of salt, sugar and fat.

This development is certainly good news for the nutrition labelling scheme in the UK. Many UK retailers have signed up to the scheme and with manufacturers also joining, the UK is now moving towards one widely used and understood labelling system.

But it is obvious that more needs to be done.

Dragging their feet

Of course it isn’t the responsibility of Coke to introduce national nutrition labelling schemes, but Coke and other multinational food companies can certainly help by not dragging their feet or lobbying against their use.

The traffic light labelling scheme has been around in the UK for several years and Coke only announced their intention to join last week having shunned it in the past.

Will other countries have to go through years of campaigning for their consumers to get the same deal as UK consumers?

Read the label 

In the same week as Coke’s labelling announcement, I noticed large posters outside my local supermarket advertising one litre bottles of Coke on special offer. It's not an uncommon sight in the UK.

Similarly Coke is one of the world’s biggest spenders when it comes to marketing. Take for example their investment in the football World Cup, when they linked their high fat sugar products to one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

And just yesterday it was announced Coke will sponsor the London Eye – a major UK tourist attraction.

It is hard not to conclude that Coke and other major food companies are only making small changes when they feel there is no other option, but failing to take the action that is really needed to tackle rates of obesity around the world.

Just one can of regular Coke has 35g of sugar and exceeds recent WHO recommendations for the amount of calories that an adult of normal weight should get from sugar in a day.

According to Coca-Cola’s annual report, Great Britain consumed 200 of the company’s beverages per person in 2012.

The same figure for Mexico was 745, equal to more than two drinks per day, whilst US citizens on average consumed just over 400 beverages per year. Not all of these beverages will be regular Coke.

A global convention 

Obesity and diet related diseases such as diabetes, and heart disease are a public health disaster in many countries and tackling the causes requires a comprehensive global approach. CI is calling on governments to support our proposal for a global convention to protect and promote healthy diets.

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