Israeli food manufacturers have announced their opposition to a bill drafted by the Health Ministry that would require them to put nutritional information on the front of packages. They described the proposal as excessive regulation that would result in higher retail prices for their products.
The Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee has approved the bill, one of a number of measures being introduced by the Health Ministry to combat Israel's rising obesity rates and to promote healthy consumer choices. It is expected to go to the Knesset for approval in the current legislative session.
The Health Ministry says the goal of its front-of-package labeling initiative is to ensure that consumers are aware of the nutritional content of the food they buy, including calorie counts as well as sugar, sodium and saturated fat content.
The food industry takes seriously its cooperation with the government on legislative matters and education campaigns to change eating culture and combat increasing obesity, said Itzhak Tamir, the chairman of the Food Industries Association within the Manufacturers Association of Israel. He added, however, that the method being proposed by the Health Ministry is "questionable.
Members of the Manufacturers Association of Israel account for more than 95% of industrial production in the state.
Tamir, who is also CEO of the Central Bottling Company (Coca-Cola Israel), said that a study conducted by Britain's Leatherhead Food Research for the Food Industries Association of 100 countries, including all the developed nations, found that none of them used binding legislation to implement front-of-package labeling. Only in Thailand was F-o-P package mandatory, and even there only in specific circumstances.
Tamir noted that the bill would result in the same nutritional information appearing on both the front and back labels of products and suggested that labeling requirement be changed no more frequently than every three years, to give manufacturers sufficient lead time.
In the U.S. high hopes were pinned on product labeling as part of the struggle against the obesity problem, but the reality was disappointing, said the executive director of the Food Industries Association, Ornit Raz. In the professional literature, labeling was found to have a negligible effect on consumer behavior.
She added that a study of 1,121 restaurant diners conducted by Carnegie Mellon University found that knowledge of the caloric value of their order did not necessarily cause diners to reduce the size of the portions they ordered.
In a response, the Health Ministry said: When balancing the public's right to know what it is eating to preserve their bodies and health and the inconvenience manufacturers would face from the implementation of minor changes to the front of packages there is no doubt that the public's right to know takes precedence," adding that the draft law is a test of food manufacturers' genuine desire to contribute to promoting public health and access to information. "It appears that their health slogans are just marketing and an effort to adapt to the trend and not real concern.