Categories: Health

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Monday March 3,2008

Ian Fletcher

DAIRY foods like cheese and butter could soon have to carry cigarette-style warnings in a bid to slash Britain’s soaring levels of obesity and heart disease.

The Government’s Food Standards Agency is said to be considering using shock tactics to persuade Britons to cut down on their consumption of saturated fats.

Any crackdown could target a wide range of regular snack staples, such as cheese sandwiches and buttered toast, which the watchdogs warn are high in the fats.

A consumer study conducted for the agency by CMI Research found that graphic images of fat – the kind shown on popular TV shows about food and health – had a big impact on viewers.

Researchers said: “Dram­atising the amount of saturated fat in foods in an unexpected and unappetising way proved effective, as almost all were repulsed by the idea of eating lard. Furthermore, it created a strong emotional res­ponse via the shocking visual images and so acted as a wake-up call to many.”

The FSA, which presented the findings to food firm bosses last week, insisted any plans for a campaign were at “an early stage”.

An agency spokesman told the industry trade magazine The Grocer: “Any activity in this area is not due until 2009.

“The FSA is likely to undertake further research and discussions with a wide pool of food industry chiefs to explore how best to proceed.

“It is too early to speculate about the form such activity may take.”

However, The Grocer says it is thought the agency is set to test messages de­signed to reveal that everyday foods – primarily meat, dairy, snacks and confectionery – are much higher in saturated fats than people may realise.

These include the claim that two slices of buttered toast contain more saturated fat than four doughnuts and that one cheese sandwich contains more than half an individual’s guideline daily amounts of the fat.

The Food Standards Agency is also to consider messages that illustrate the damaging effect saturated fat can have on the body.

But reports that the FSA is contemplating such a high-profile approach has caused consternation among suppliers of dairy products, with fears that their sales would be hit.

Ed Komorowski, the tech­nical director of Dairy UK, told The Grocer: “Tactics designed to shock people could actually mislead them.

“Comparing the saturated fat content of buttered toast with doughnuts is not giving the full picture of the nutritional qualities of these products.”

Clare Cheney, the director general of the Provision Trade Federation, told The Grocer: “Diet is a complex thing. It’s not like cigarettes, where you either smoke or you don’t and if you do it’s bad for you.

“With diet, it’s about eating a combination of different things in different quantities.”

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