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Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2002;11(2):S68-71.

Nutrition labelling: purpose, scientific issues and challenges.

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  • 1FAO Regional Office for Asia and Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand.


Nutrition labels describe the nutrient content of a food and are intended to guide the consumer in food selection. The nutrition information provided must be selected on the basis of consistency with dietary recommendations. Selection of the specific nutrients or food components to be listed should further take into account label space, the analytical feasibility of measuring the particular nutritional component within the food matrix, and the relative costs of such analyses. Nutrition information provided on labels should be truthful and not mislead consumers. At the same time, labelling regulations should provide incentives to manufacturers to develop products that promote public health and assist consumers in following dietary recommendations. It is likely that in many countries, there would be some segments of the population that would benefit from information about the composition of foods. In these cases, countries should consider the need to provide for appropriate labelling and its presentation relative to existing guidelines and approaches. As nutrition-labelling efforts have evolved, different approaches and legal requirements have been established. These create difficulties in developing and harmonizing nutrition information listings, which have broad international applications. For these reasons, the Codex Guidelines on Nutrition Labeling play an important role to provide guidance to member countries when they want to develop or update their national regulations and to encourage harmonization of national standards with international standards. These Guidelines are based on the principle that no food should be described or presented in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive. The Guidelines include provisions for voluntary nutrient declaration, calculation and presentation of nutrient information. The Guidelines on Claims establish general principles to be followed and leave the definition of specific claims to national regulations. Definitions are provided for a number of claims (nutrient content, comparative claims, nutrient function claims) as well as general requirements concerning consumer information in relation with claims. Nutrition labelling by itself cannot solve nutrition problems. It should be seen as one of the elements of nutrition policy and should be envisaged in the larger perspective of consumer education, which in its turn is part of an overall development policy. Exchange of information at the regional and subregional level is important, as each country can learn from the experience of others and regional co-ordination and co-operation can be developed.

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