Professor backs coded food labels

16:00, Feb 13 2013
Doug Sellman
DOUG SELLMAN: The National Addiction Centre professor wants to see a "traffic light" food labelling system introduced in New Zealand after the death of Invercargill's Natasha Harris, who drank 10 litres of Coca-Cola a day.

A professor at the National Addiction Centre is calling for a major overhaul of food labelling in New Zealand following the tragic death of Invercargill woman Natasha Harris.

A coroner this week found that Ms Harris died from drinking too much Coca-Cola. She consumed up to 10 litres a day, the equivalent of a 1 kilogram bag of sugar.

Professor Doug Sellman said the tragedy was a reminder of the potential dangers of over-consuming certain foods stocked on the supermarket shelves.

He has come out in support of Southland/Otago coroner David Crerar who has recommended the Government consider imposing warning labels on soft drinks such as Coke.

Professor Sellman said he believed a "traffic light" food labelling system should be introduced in New Zealand.

The labels would tell the public what foods were healthy and what were not, he said.


Under the system there would be red-light foods, orange-light foods and green-light foods.

"Coke would be a red-light food. It should have a red label on it saying 'don't use daily, not good for your health if used often'."

He also believed the Government should tax red-light foods so they were more expensive for consumers and ban the marketing of red-light foods.

Putting a tax on those foods would reduce the amount eaten and give the Government revenue to deal with the health problems associated with those foods, he said.

There were a range of foods that could spark compulsive addictive behaviour and the public needed to be warned about them, he said.

The "traffic light" food labelling idea has been talked about by health professionals around the world for more than a decade, but Professor Sellman said he did not believe it had yet been adopted in any country.

"That's because the food industry is so against it, because it will be so clear to the public what are healthy foods and what aren't."

If New Zealand wanted a healthier society it had to limit the marketing of non-essential foods that caused the likes of obesity and teeth decay if over used, he said.

Coca-Cola Oceania spokesman Josh Gold declined to comment yesterday.

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the Food and Grocery Council which represents the manufacturers and suppliers behind New Zealand's food, beverage, and grocery brands, said her organisation did not support either Mr Crerar's recommendations for putting warning labels on Coke bottles or the traffic light food labelling.

There was not a food labelling system in the world that would would prevent excessive consumption, she said.

The food and grocery council supported New Zealanders making healthy food choices and the key was to eat in moderation.

"I don't think this tragic case [of Ms Harris] is a very strong platform to argue for regulatory change because the consumption was so excessive ... no regulatory system can legislate for such extreme cases."

John McDowell, New Zealand Dental Association Southland branch manager, said anyone who drank 10 litres of Coke a day could expect to have brown stumps for teeth.

He frequently saw patients with lots of decay where the teeth met the gums and those patients often drank lots of fizzy drink and sugary sports drinks, he said.

"There are obviously kids that drink more Coke than milk, and their teeth aren't going to be that flash."


Examples of "red-light foods": Alcohol, biscuits, chips, flavoured milk, hot chips, icecream, muesli bars, pies, soft drinks, takeaways

Examples of "orange-light foods" which give nutrition and high energy but pose problems if over-eaten because of the fat content: Cheese, whole milk.

Examples of green-light foods: Fruit, vegetables.

Source: Professor Doug Sellman

The Southland Times