IRELAND – The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has revealed that consumers cannot be dependent on breakfast cereal nutrition labels to indicate true food composition and should be regularly verified.

The report was carried out to assess the use of nutrition labels on breakfast cereals to see whether they can be relied upon to monitor food reformulation of food sold on the Irish market. Food reformulation is when producers reduce ingredients such as fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in processed and packaged food in order to improve its nutrient quality and health profile.

The process is seen as offering a cost-effective opportunity to combat obesity, which affects more than half of the population in Ireland. The report, which analyzed the contents of about 200 cereals, concluded that their labels “may not reflect” this process and that those on the Irish market need to be fact-checked regularly.

The FSAI examined the cross section of breakfast cereals to determine the accuracy of the nutrition labels in line with European Commission (EC) guideline nutrition labelling tolerances, i.e. acceptable levels of deviation from stated levels.

The study exposed that analyzed content of fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt “was lower than was stated on the label in 68.3 per cent of the analyzed breakfast cereals that were found to be outside of EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances. While this is a potential non-conformance with the labelling tolerance guidance, it is one that favors the consumer in terms of a healthier nutrient profile for breakfast cereals on the market, The Irish Times reports.

The study found declared nutrition labels were mostly in line with EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances for saturated fat, sugar and salt content of breakfast cereals. However, 14.1 per cent of breakfast cereals were outside EC guideline nutrition labelling tolerances for total fat.

While the study observed no systematic bias for placing breakfast cereals on the market with higher nutrient content than that shown on the label, it suggested that declared nutrition labels may not reflect food reformulation efforts.

Based on the findings of the study, the FSAI recommended that the contents of the report be taken into account by a working group on obesity that is tasked with developing a reformulation monitoring programme.

“There are numerous factors which influence variations in declared and analyzed nutrient content of breakfast cereals, and this requires further investigation with the food industry as it could affect reformulation monitoring,” it said.

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