Consultation launched on how to label food

Food label The traffic light system labels less health foods red

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Food manufacturers, supermarkets and health experts are to be asked their views on the best way to label the nutritional content of food.

There have been long-running battles over how to label the amount of fat, sugar, salt and calories in food - with several different systems in place.

The government's UK-wide consultation will take place over the next 12 weeks.

The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said getting everyone to use the same system was "common sense".

He said this made it easier for people to make a healthier choice when they were buying food.

Some retailers and manufactures have preferred a "traffic light" system in which the least healthy foods are labelled red and the most healthy are in green.

Others use Guideline Daily Amounts - or GDAs - which give the percentage of recommended intake. Some use both.

'Consistent approach'

European regulations, which were agreed at the end of last year, said nutritional information must be labelled either per portion or per 100g.

Mr Lansley told the BBC it was "not possible" for him or other health ministers to "impose a solution other than the EU solution".

However, he said he was keen to work with businesses to find a "consistent" approach which could be introduced voluntarily across the UK.

He suggested that combining both the traffic light and GDA systems could help consumers.

Start Quote

We're great fans of traffic lights, the simpler the better”

End Quote Dr Vivienne Nathanson British Medical Association

He said he was aiming for a system which "incorporates not only what Europe requires in terms of recommended daily allowance for calories and sugar and salt and saturated fats, but in addition to that to give a means by which consumers can look at a glance, for example, using things like colour coding."

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, told the BBC: "We're great fans of traffic lights, the simpler the better."

But she said the ideal would be to have the colour coding as well as the more detailed GDAs.

Dr Nathanson said everyone using the same system would be "enormously" helpful as people were put off by "having to adjust to a different label every time you look at a different food".

Julia Waltham, from the British Heart Foundation, said: "This isn't about telling people what should or shouldn't be in their baskets.

"The government should strongly recommend that food companies and supermarkets use a consistent food labelling scheme that includes traffic light colours. They all have a responsibility to provide a system that helps shoppers compare products and then easily pick the healthiest option if they want to."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Interesting how Fat & Sugar are present in a lot of continental foods, and yet there is less of a problem with overweight chocolate, beer drinking, chip eating Belgians. Could it be we have less home made food, and the real danger is the junk hidden in the shop stuff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    I grew up in the 60s. there was none of this rubbish and there was not that many overweight people. we walked to school, people also walked or cycled to work . you can put as many labels on food as you want if people go everywhere by car and kids have to driven a few metres to school its no wonder we are getting fatter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    50. diridi
    "If it tastes nice its generally bad for you.
    If it tastes horrible its generally good for you."

    This is a lie! Ask the French, the Italians, even the Greeks. Healthy eating is tasty.
    Good point, I was referring to the rubbish processed ''ding'' food not the good stuff you prepare yourself.

    I had a French partner for many years so I know all about tasty healthy eating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Was it part of the governments healthy food policy to accept £250,000 per shot for Cash for Cameron Dinners from Major MacDonald s and KFC franchise owners?

    I think the message is loud and clear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    As usual a "Consultation" that asks everyone but us the public what we think? Guess the Government still isn't there's a surprise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    That's the culture that should be changed if you want to fight obesity:

    "If it tastes nice its generally bad for you.
    If it tastes horrible its generally good for you."

    This is a lie! Ask the French, the Italians, even the Greeks. Healthy eating is tasty. That is if you know something else than junk food and boiled vegetables (please don't call them "veggies", it just sounds like a medicine).

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    As a colour blind person may I suggest, once a decision is made, the government does not use red and green as the two main colours.

    Blue and yellow could be seen my everyone or even better Black and White which would also save on the cost of labelling for small firms. In addition place GDA's on top of the Black or White vector. Black is bad, White is good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    What again. I thought Tesco had already told them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    curiously the traffic light in the article does not include protein nor unlike the 'analysis' doesn't tell me how much sugar has been added. I want to increase my protein and decrease rotting my teeth. The analysis system helps.

    But the article clearly says 'we' are NOT the people to be consulted.

    Incidentally my random observations show it is men rather than women who read the labels

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Educating stupid people to not base their diet on crisps, beer and chocolate is the real answer. Just go down the isles of ANY supermarket and count how many are reserved for all the unhealthy rubbish and whilst you are at it, see if you can spot the healthy alternatives. the reality for the food industry is PLUMP CUSTOMERS = FAT PROFITS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    We will never get consensus across the industry. Companies that want to sell less healthy foods will want to playdown the high fat, sugar and salt content and will prefer GDAs while companies that want to sell healthy foods will opt for colour coding to highlight the low, sugar fat salt content. There would have to be legislation to have a common approach.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    A few days ago there was a story about McDonalds 1/5 a day Fruity drink having too much sugar (albeit natural sugar from fruit) for children. Sorry, but if parents would even consider a trip to McDonalds would be a benefit to their children's health, I don't see what good changing the labels on food will do, we clearly don't have a clue. Obesity will continue to rise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    People should use their own judgement

    If it tastes nice its generally bad for you.

    If it tastes horrible its generally good for you

    Fruit is the exception.

    A big tax on McDonald's would be a good idea (other suppliers of marketing over content are available).

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I hope this won't be the only required food labelling. A traffic light idea is ok for a quick guide (though who says sugar and salt levels in a pizza are esp healthy!) but I would like to continues to be able to see a complete breakdown. My daughter has an iron deficicency for example so I'd like to see minerals listed.But making people think twice about buying "unhealthy" food, unlikely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    I am diabetic and many food items STILL do not display sugar content (in grams) whatsoever. It's time the government put its foot down and forced the industry to, at the very least, display SUGAR content on all items (including all sweets, desserts, chocolate etc.) with the same traffic light colour coding to avoid confsion. The all blue display is a total waste of time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Diet is a complex subject. The "ideal" diet varies per individual, so the only way to give people the information needed to make an informed choice is to list contents with absolute amounts. "Traffic lights" and similar are by their very nature obfuscations that present a politicised picture.

    In these internet-enabled days all one needs to know is that people in developed countries eat too much!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Bla Bla Bla Never happens because business comes first The customer comes last Will be watered down and in the end supermarkets will win Govts always give in and in the end the public lose Don't believe this will ever happen cos our needs always come last People with diabetes or high blood pressure have to be so careful cos labelling is complicated and sometimes misleading

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I want a per 100 gram breakdown which I can read and a clear per portion breakdown. And I mean per piece or item. It's no good knowing the per 100 gram breakdown if you don't know the weight of the individual item in the package. For example, how many grams are 4 smarties, or 2 crackers etc.....I think a per piece approximate value would be more meaningful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    28. Name Number 6
    Dear Mr. Lansley
    Re. McDonalds--
    I have no particular love of them, but let's set the record straight a Burger and fries as part of a balanced diet is okay. It's how much of these you consume that is the issue, It's this generalising of foods that is not helping the problem here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Healthy and tasty food is a question of culture. Look at the French, they eat lots of fatty (and tasty) food but they have less overweight people and they live longer. They learn in the family since childhood to eat at mealtimes and enjoy cooking and quality eating (so less junk food) instead to stuff themselves at all times. Family courses to learn to enjoy food together is the solution.


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