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Protecting your right to clear and meaningful labels.

PEOPLE have a basic right to clear and accurate labels so they know what they are buying.

The Food Standards Agency believes that goes to the very heart of consumer choice and is leading the movement for improvements in food labelling.

We do this by negotiating for the UK in the international organisations that set most of the rules on food composition, labelling and advertising. Legislation takes time, so we also work with manufacturers and retailers who can make changes on a voluntary basis.

A recent report by the agency's Food Advisory Committee suggested about 75pc of consumers find terms such as "fresh", "pure" and "natural" misleading.

The average label will allow you to establish the pack weight, so you can decide whether it is value for money. It should also show how much of an ingredient is in a food - ingredients are listed in the order of weight, with the largest amount first. Most products also label the amount of calories, fat, sugars, fibre and sodium on them and this can help you if you need to follow a low-fat or low-sodium diet. However, you need to be aware of items that claim to be "fat free" or "low sodium". Although the law states these claims should not be misleading, there are no legal definitions for what "low" actually is.

Pictures and descriptions on food labels and packets can influence choice, so it's important that consumers understand what they are buying. If you buy a strawberry yoghurt that has strawberry flavouring in it rather than real strawberries, it's illegal to have a picture of a strawberry on the pot.

Finally, it's important that manufacturers make "use by" and food preparation information easy to read, and consumers should help themselves by ensuring they follow these instructions carefully.

"Use by" and "best before" have different meanings - "use by" is used for products that can go off within a few days. These items should be eaten by the "use by" date and consuming beyond that date could lead to food poisoning.

It's illegal to sell food past its "use by" date.

"Best before" is for foods that can be stored for a week or more.

These include fresh foods such as bread and eggs, tinned, packet and frozen foods. These foods are considered at their best before the date specified.

You should try to eat them within that date, as they will taste far better.
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 13, 2002
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