Deadly health alarm over slack supermarket labelling

Coles and Woolworths have been given the academic equivalent of a rap on the knuckles over their subpar online product labelling, but the consequences could be catastrophic.

The UNSW Sydney has found that nearly all food products in the chains’ online stores contained errors or omissions that may pose a health and safety risk for customers.

A study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, found that of 22,000 products examined, the vast majority did not display at least one type of product information.

Perhaps the most disturbing is that only 53 per cent display allergens, which could have fatal outcomes.

“Traditionally, shoppers could simply pick up a product to find relevant information. However, there are no requirements to provide the same information to online shoppers before they decide to commit their cash,” says Damian Maganja, lead author of the study.

“It’s not surprising to see a huge gap in how the major supermarkets provide product information in their online grocery stores, which might not be deliberate or malicious but does fail to help people with choosing products that meet their dietary or health needs.”

The study found many products also did not display health star ratings (HSR) and nutrition information panels (NIP). While not as potentially dangerous as allergens, they could also have considerable health impacts.

The study said NIPs and HSRs were “crucial tools” for reducing the risk of major chronic diseases such as heart attacks and diabetes.

And it’s not as if they can’t do it properly. The study found supermarkets labelled country of origin correctly almost 93 per cent of the time. The difference is, that’s a legal requirement. It seems the supermarkets are more concerned about falling foul of legislation than ensuring consumers can make safe purchasing decisions.

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Do you check the labelling when you shop online? Do you think the supermarkets provide enough detail? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: Something fishy about seafood labelling

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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