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Waving the flag

MagazineNovember 1997 (Vol. 8 Issue 8)Waving the flag

Has it ever worried you that you haven't the slightest idea what you are eating? Whether animals on your plate were fed antibiotics? Which pesticides were sprayed on your fruit and vegetables? Whether your soy milk derived from genetically engineered

Has it ever worried you that you haven't the slightest idea what you are eating? Whether animals on your plate were fed antibiotics? Which pesticides were sprayed on your fruit and vegetables? Whether your soy milk derived from genetically engineered

If it has, sharpen up your pencils again for another letter writing campaign.

Under the current woefully inadequate food labelling regulations, no food manufacturer or shop is obliged to tell you any of this information. You can also be duped by a great deal of labelling. For instance, if a product contains the name of a substance followed by the word "flavour", the food doesn't have to contain any of that ingredient. Hence why many "fruit drinks" with "orange flavour", don't actually contain any orange. Baby foods are exempt from the regulations specifying how much meat must be contained in it to call itself "meat meal", so that a "turkey dinner" can contain 8 per cent meat or even less.

Ingredients don't have to be listed if they are part of any other ingredient which represents less than 25 per cent of the final product, or can be referred to by their technical names (ie, sodium for salt), in the hope that the consumer doesn't notice. And of course no one needs to tell you whether their foods have been sprayed with pesticides, irradiated, genetically engineered or in any other way interfered with.

The Guild of Health Writers (of which I am a member) would like to change all this. Recently, 400 members of the Guild (and the Guild of Food Writers) banded together to create Flag (the Food Labelling AGenda), a consumer pressure group campaigning for the right to know what is really in our food.

FLAG aims, it says, to provide clear, comprehensive and meaningful labelling on all food and food products and also the origins of foods. Specifically, they'd like to ensure that:

all animal feeds are fully labelled and available to concerned consumers.

consumers are informed about the origins of foods, and whether animals have been grown in an environmentally friendly way.

all foods treated with agrochemicals have this stated clearly at point of sale. A "P" numbering system, similar to the "E" number system, could be employed.

all irradiated food is so labelled.

any ingredient, no matter how small the amount, must be labelled on food, to prevent potentially fatal allergenic reactions.

the fat, sugar and salt content is clearly described.

any claims made on food be supported by scientific research.

all labelling of dietary supplements be standardized with full ingredients and listing of contra indications.

all ingredients used in baby food be declared on the label.

all alcoholic beverages carry full mandatory ingredients labelling.

all restaurants and catering be legally obliged to provide details of ingredients for those customers who ask for them.

FLAG's aim is to get a million names on a petition demanding clear labelling on all food and to then present it to Tony Blair in January 1998. This aim requires every interested party to support them.

If you agree with their worthy cause, simply write a short letter to the FLAG administrator (PO Box 105 Hampton, Middlesex TW12 3TL) saying you support their aims, and your letter will be included in the million name petition. Canvas your friends, your local school and community, to do the same. (Send in a self addressed envelope for a batch of their excellent leaflets to pass around; for the full report, send lb2.)

There is no debatable issue here. We have a right to know what's in our food. Let's all make it happen.

Lynne McTaggart


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