The ethics behind food labelling may be more complex than what I first imagined. Given the amount of attention this topic has generated during recent years, it makes me wonder whether this sudden trend is enforced by companies wanting to express Corporate Social Responsibility to their consumers, or if there are other hidden agendas.
In the UK, companies will find strict guidelines as to how their products need be labelled, however with a constant increase in obesity rates, initiatives such as the traffic light system which you can read more about in the entry “to be or not to be, moral VS profit-driven”, have been introduced.
One might think that by listing all the potential risks on the front of a package, the consumer is presented with a choice, whereas others find that it does the opposite, namely prevent the consumer from making an individual choice. The issue I would like to raise is whether producers, resellers and marketeers are raising awareness of informational purchasing or whether it is their way of ridding themselves from the responsibilities of a product. With the argument that a potential recall of a product could be damaging to the image of the seller or label, companies often have to make choices weighing whether the well-being of their image or their consumers is more important. It makes we wonder what the intensions of a food label then is; perhaps an easy way for the organization to rid themselves of the potential risks of a product, simply by listing them?
Lets say the government and the supermarkets introduced food labels to inform the public of potential risks associated with the product or to enforce consumers to make healthier choices, is labelling food then the ethically correct method? If so, why are sweets and fast food then still presented at the counters and in the eye line of children? Ethical or not, food labels seem to me like an excuse for organisations to rid themselves of the responsibility of their products. If this trend continues, I am afraid that I will for one, loose trust in the way food is produced. How far can companies go if a simple warning written in size 10 is enough to free themselves of the responsibility; does increasing food information labelling lead to less legal rights for us consumers? If we purchase a product, which ends up harming us in some way, will the food label then work in favour of the producer in case of a trial?
While I am not against food labelling as a concept, I find it interesting to follow the development and what seems like sudden obsession with labelling products.
The journal “Agricultural Economics“ published an article, which emphasizes the demographics of the people who read food labels. The study showed that the majority are upper class, urban, white women with an average BMI. Not surprisingly, smokers tend not to read the labels and the reason is considered to be that people who lead a life with unhealthy habits tend to care less. This information is ironic considering that i.e. the traffic light food label and nutrition labelling is meant for the part of society that leads an unhealthy lifestyle.
Treehugger posted an article about the conflicts people in the UK face when reading these labels and highlights the issues connected to the transmitting of messages as it seems consumers find it difficult to understand the information written on the packaging. – Could this issue not easily be avoided simply by applying a language which is written in laymen’s terms?
Is food labelling the right way of fighting obesity? Are there other hidden agendas behind labelling foods?
What do you think?