What is allowed on a food label

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) regulates the labelling and advertisements on food products.

A food label refers to any descriptive material comprising words, pictures and diagrams that appear on the package of food products.

The Food Regulations here require all prepacked food products for sale in Singapore to be labelled according to the requirements specified.

These include the name or description of the food, a list of the ingredients and a declaration of food and ingredients known to cause hypersensitivity.

The labelling requirements do not apply under certain conditions, for instance, food weighed, counted or measured in the presence of the buyer.

The general labelling requirements can be found on the AVA website (www.ava.gov.sg/foodsector/foodlabelingadvertisement).

They can also be found in a 44-page booklet, A Guide To Food Labelling And Advertisements, published by the AVA, which can be downloaded from its website.

The guide provides food importers, manufacturers and retailers with information on the permitted and prohibited claims for use in food labels and advertisements.

For instance, nutrition claims such as "low in calories", "sugar-free" and "reduced sodium" are allowed as long as they comply with the Food Regulations and the nutrient claims guidelines in A Handbook On Nutrition Labelling, published by the Health Promotion Board (HPB).

This means, the claim "sugar-free" is allowed only if the product contains 0.5g or less of sugar per 100g.

Health claims, such as claims about the functions of nutrients contained in a product, are allowed if they meet certain criteria.

These include having sufficient scientific evidence to prove the suggested function of the nutrient as claimed.

For instance, manufacturers are allowed to state that protein helps in tissue building and growth, or that calcium helps to build or support the development of strong bones and teeth.

There is also a list of acceptable nutrient function claims specific to infant formula, infant food and food for children up to six years of age.

For example, manufacturers can state that docosahaxaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) are important building blocks for the development of the brain and eyes in infants. This is allowed only in food for children up to three years old.

The AVA also has a list of health claims allowed for four ingredients - probiotics, prebiotics, collagen and plant sterols.

Claims that a nutrient can prevent or treat a disease are not allowed.

But local food manufacturers and importers may apply to the AVA or HPB to use five health claims about how a diet that is rich or low in a specific nutrient can reduce the risk of a certain disease.

For instance, products that are high in calcium may be eligible to carry the claim that a healthy diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D, with regular exercise, helps to achieve strong bones and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

To qualify for this claim, the product has to have at least 50 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium, which is taken as 800mg, for a specified amount of a food product.

It also has to be low in fat (not more than 3g of fat per 100g or 1.5g of fat per 100ml) or fat-free (not more than 0.15g per 100g or 100ml).

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