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01/11/2014

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Shorts: June 2010

Food labelling: UK gets a taste

New research shows that understanding and use of nutritional information on food is significantly higher in the UK than in other European countries, while controversy over variations in UK labelling practices continues.

New research shows that understanding and use of nutritional information on food is significantly higher in the UK than in other European countries, while controversy over variations in UK labelling practices continues.

The researchers watched supermarket shoppers in the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Hungary and Poland. `We did this for selected product categories, where we knew that nutritional labels are usually or often present,’ Professor Klaus Grunert, Director of the Centre for Research on Customer Relations in the Food Sector (MAPP) at Aarhus University in Denmark, told People & Science.

`We watched people at the shelf where these products were and recorded how much time they spent, whether they looked at the product in any detail before putting it into the trolley… When they had chosen at least one product from the particular shelf there, we contacted them and asked… some questions.’ Following the in-store interview, the shoppers were given a longer questionnaire including questions on understanding labelling systems.

There has been substantial debate over the merits of different labelling systems. Recently the Food Standards Agency announced that its voluntary front-of-pack food labelling scheme would advocate showing levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt using three standard `interpretive elements’: per cent Guideline Daily Amount (%GDA), text (high/medium/low) and traffic light colours (red/amber/green).

Clare Boville of the UK Food Standards Agency told People & Science, `Some businesses are only providing %GDA and we are very clear that %GDA on its own is not sufficient. So we’re encouraging them to add to what they are already doing, on a voluntary basis. We see that very much as an interim step. We want to see businesses applying all three elements.’

However, Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive of the campaigning consumer group Which? wants all businesses to use all three elements now. He says, `When all the evidence shows that a single combined nutrition labelling scheme works best for consumers, it seems ludicrous to… [allow] companies to persist with their own different schemes.’

`The UK leads on all the indicators [in our research],’ says Grunert. `I believe… controversy [in the UK] about traffic lights and GDA… has resulted in a lot more awareness and interest. It probably shows what can be done over a series of years when one puts this topic on the public agenda in a way that people also find interesting.

Grunert notes, however, that use is lower than understanding. He says, `Of course [making labels easy to understand] is important, but actually, maybe [it is] more important to think about ways to encourage consumers actually to use the information.’

Climate science survey shock

A Science Museum poll on climate change has produced uncomfortable results for climate scientists. 

Visitors to the Prove it! gallery and website last autumn were given information about the science of climate change and the UN conference in Copenhagen last December and asked to count in or out to the statement: `I want the UK Government to prove they’re serious about tackling climate change by negotiating a strong, effective and fair deal at Copenhagen.’

A Science Museum poll on climate change has produced uncomfortable results for climate scientists. 

Visitors to the Prove it! gallery and website last autumn were given information about the science of climate change and the UN conference in Copenhagen last December and asked to count in or out to the statement: `I want the UK Government to prove they’re serious about tackling climate change by negotiating a strong, effective and fair deal at Copenhagen.’

Vicky Carroll, project leader at the Science Museum, gave People & Science the figures.  Overall, 6,058 visitors counted in and 8,238 visitors counted out.  The results were very different in the gallery and on the web:  3,408 gallery visitors counted in and 626 out, but online 2,650 counted in and 7,612 counted out.

`There’s a risk of bias with online polls,’ said Sarah Hards, author of a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology briefing on Climate Change: Engagement and Behaviour. `I actually found it very hard to get conclusive data on whether people are really getting more concerned or more sceptical,’ she went on. 

Hards also looked at lessons for effective communication.  `It’s about tailoring your approach to different groups.  You can look at people’s values and priorities, or at what they are currently doing to judge their level of involvement and what drivers and barriers are affecting them,’ she says.

The 10:10 campaign aims to persuade organisations and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint by 10 per cent in a period of twelve months starting in 2010.  `10:10 deals in the realities of people’s lives... in a timeframe I can think about, Eugenie Harvey, the Director of 10:10 UK, told People & Science.  `Most of us can’t get our heads round make massive reductions of 80 per cent by 2050.’ 

The campaign is targeting new audiences.  `We have to pull on the levers of popular culture to meet people where they are, not where we think they should be,’ Harvey says.

The Science Museum, a founding signatory to 10:10, will open a major new £4million climate science gallery in the autumn.  Carroll told People & Science::  `The most important thing we learnt [from Prove it!] is that… we need to directly engage and welcome all visitors, including those who are unconvinced about climate change, rather than focusing on the audiences who are already bought in… That’s something we’ll be taking forward in the new project.’

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Dr Joanna Carpenter
Dr Joanna Carpenter is the Shorts Editor
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