Scientific Evidence

Food labelling and health claims

Health claims and other claims on foods we buy in the supermarket such as ‘free from additives’ , ‘preservatives’ etc are valuable tools for both the consumer and the manufacturer . The consumer sees them as a quick way of deciding if a food is what they require without reading the ingredient list and as a sale tool for the manufacturer. What goes on a food label however is highly regulated, but can still be misleading to the consumer.

Vitamin C, may be classed as an ingredient, such as when its added as a nutrient to a drink. A popular children’s drink has this added and the only additives declared on the label is sweeteners. However when it’s added to apple juice as an Antioxidant (Ascorbic Acid E300), for its technological function – The ascorbic acid allows certain oxidation reactions to happen in the juice which develop its flavour, but it prevents the browning of the tannins which make it look unsightly and lead to sedimentation – It’s then classed as an additive and the fruit juice can not be labelled additive free.

Health conscious consumers like to purchase food products that are ‘additive free’, and producers will use this label as a selling point. A high profile case1 concerned the addition of ‘ fermented vegetable broth’ being added to sausages and other cured meats as a way of preserving the meat and the colour, this meat was then labelled additive free. The fermented vegetable broth was high in nitrates, which is normally added to commercially produced cured meats, it was judged to be added solely for the purpose as an additive (as a technological function) and therefore illegal to label the food as additive free.

Label’s such as ‘natural’ there is no legal definition of natural on food labels, and while research shows that consumers believe that food labeled “natural,” according to the does not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives and the ingredients are only minimally processed. However foods labelled ‘natural’ may contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and other similar chemicals, and they do not have to be ‘healthy’.

There is more to a product that what the label may tell us.