Sydney, Sept 26: Research has revealed that food product labels on online stores of major Australian supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, lack crucial information, posing potential health and safety risks for consumers.
The study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, analyzed over 22,000 products and found that almost all of them lacked important details like ingredient lists and allergy warnings, which are mandatory for physical products in stores. While physical stores are required to adhere to food labeling regulations in Australia, online stores are not explicitly obligated to meet these standards.
The absence of complete food product labels in online supermarkets is concerning, as it hinders consumers’ ability to make informed choices about the products they purchase. Information such as nutrition facts, ingredient lists, allergen declarations, and Health Star Ratings (HSRs) are crucial for consumers’ dietary and health decisions. This gap in online food labeling not only affects consumer choice but also poses immediate and long-term health and safety risks, particularly for individuals with allergies and those looking to make healthier food choices.
The study found that only around half of the online food products had allergen labeling and nutrition information panels (NIPs), and even fewer had ingredient lists. Health Star Ratings (HSRs), which provide a quick summary of a product’s healthiness, were rarely displayed and seemed to be selectively applied to higher-scoring products. The study also revealed inconsistencies in the visibility of food labeling on product pages, with Coles generally making labels more visible than Woolworths.
To address these issues, the researchers recommended that supermarkets apply all relevant mandatory labels to eligible products online and adhere to their commitments to display HSRs on private-label products. They also called for consistent and explicit government-mandated standards for online retail food environments to ensure that consumers have access to essential product information before making a purchase.
The lack of comprehensive food labeling on online supermarket platforms highlights the need to update regulations to include online settings and ensure that consumers can make informed choices about the food they buy. Additionally, the study suggests that making the Health Star Rating system mandatory for all packaged products, both online and in-store, could help consumers make healthier choices and compare products more effectively.
In a related context, concerns have been raised about the declining nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables due to soil degradation caused by modern farming practices and chemical fertilizers. Scientific studies have shown reductions in essential nutrients like protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C in today’s produce compared to crops grown decades ago.
Meanwhile, Mark Gabsch, CEO of Bactivate and an AgTech specialist, emphasizes the need for a labelling system that reveals the true nutritional content of fruits and vegetables. Such a system could help consumers make informed choices about the nutritional value of the food they purchase. By increasing awareness and demand for nutrient-rich produce, it could also incentivize farmers to adopt regenerative farming practices that improve soil health and crop nutrition.
Gabsch highlights that the decline in nutritional quality is largely due to the introduction of synthetic fertilizers in the 1960s, which interfered with nutrient absorption by plants. This trend could have significant implications for public health, especially for those adopting plant-based diets.
Improving soil quality offers numerous benefits, including increased crop yields, nutrient-rich produce, enhanced flavor and quality, reduced environmental impact, and resilience to climate change. Scientific studies have shown declines in key nutrients across various garden crops, further emphasizing the need to address soil health.
In conclusion, addressing the decline in nutritional quality of produce and ensuring comprehensive food labeling in online supermarkets are essential steps toward promoting healthier food choices and safeguarding consumer health. Both initiatives aim to empower consumers with the information they need to make informed decisions about the food they buy, whether in physical stores or online.
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