The Ethics of Menu Labelling

10 January 2017

In this commentary, I explore the ethically relevant dimensions of menu labelling. The evidence that menu labelling changes purchasing or consumption behaviour is contentious and inconclusive; there is some suggestion that menu labelling may preferentially influence the behaviour of healthier and wealthier citizens. Some suggest that menu labelling is unjust, as it fails to direct resources towards those who most need them. An alternative is to see menu labels as just one of a set of strategies that can increase people’s real opportunities to be healthy. Complementing strategies will be necessary to ensure that all citizens can consider and value food choices, which may include becoming a more critical consumer in the food marketplace. Menu labels may also have the potential to (i) shift our attention from people to food, (ii) reallocate (some) responsibility in the food environment and (iii) facilitate structural change. It would be a mistake to expect too much of menu labels alone: rather, they should be integrated into a broader programme that supports health opportunities, especially for the least well off.