Food labelling: Consistent system 'to start next year'

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A consistent system of front-of-pack food labelling will be introduced in the UK next year, the government says.

A combination of guideline daily amounts, colour coding and "high, medium or low" wording will be used to show how much fat, salt and sugar and how many calories are in each product.

The scheme will be voluntary, but ministers are confident they have the food industry on board.

Talks will take place later this week over the exact design of the labels.

If those discussions go well it could mark the end of what has been a long-running campaign to introduce front-of-pack labelling.

The issue has been under discussion for the past decade with campaigners seeing it as a way of tackling the rising rates of obesity.

But the introduction of a consistent system has proved difficult, and instead a range of different labels have gradually been introduced over the years.


Despite the government's confident announcement, this is still not quite a done deal.

Within the food industry - and particularly among manufacturers rather than the supermarkets themselves - there are still grumblings about front-of-pack labelling.

But after years of discussions and research and a detailed consultation over the summer, ministers are effectively sticking their necks out to force the sector over the line.

Talks are due to take place on Thursday and by making this announcement now it puts the pressure on industry representatives to sign up.

If a consistent system is not in place by the summer of next year the government will feel it can lay the blame elsewhere.

Some retailers and manufacturers have used "traffic-light" labelling, in which the least healthy foods are labelled red and the most healthy are in green, while others use guideline daily amounts - or GDAs - which give the percentage of recommended intake. Some use both.

There has also been confusion over how a system could be introduced.

To make it mandatory, regulations would have to be agreed on a European level, but agreement between countries has been hard to reach.

The situation meant the UK government sought to introduce a voluntary system.

It carried out a consultation on the issue over the summer, which paved the way for this announcement.

What the new labels might look like

An example of the what the new hybrid food labels might look like. Shows traffic light sytem, %GDA system and high, medium, low system.
  • Consumers prefer the traffic light system because it offers key information 'at a glance', according to a Food Standards Agency study.
  • The GDA system is based on percentages of daily value for fat, sugar, and salt. The study suggests GDA proponents prefer more information over the simplistic colour coding system.
  • For each nutritional category there are specfic high, medium and low ranges that are based on recommended daily values.

Public Health Minister Anna Soubry said: "The UK already has the largest number of products with front-of-pack labels in Europe, but research has shown that consumers get confused by the wide variety of labels used.

"By having a consistent system we will all be able to see, at a glance, what is in our food. This will help us all choose healthier options and control our calorie intake.

"Obesity and poor diet cost the NHS billions of pounds every year. Making small changes to our diet can have a big impact on our health and could stop us getting serious illnesses - such as heart disease - later in life."

She said she expected the new system to be in use by the summer of 2013.

Guideline daily amounts (GDA)

Source: Institute of Grocery Distribution



Children (5-10 years)

Calories (kcal)
























Prof Alan Maryon-Davis, an expert in health promotion from King's College London and a former president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: "This is welcome news - at long last.

"The Food Standards Agency recommended this scheme years ago - but a few big retailers succeeded in blocking it until now.

"This is a triumph for public health and common sense - but just goes to show how the voluntary approach can be so much slower than government regulation."

But Barbara Gallani, of the Food and Drink Federation, said the industry in the UK had "led the way" on the issue.

She added: "Our members are committed to continuing to provide clear nutrition information to consumers and we well be actively engaged in further discussions with the Department of Health following today's announcement."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    I think in some cases the packing mght be more healthy to eat than the contents?

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    I would find it helpful if foods free of unhealthy additives (a definitive list of artificial colourings, trans fats, MSG etc.) had a logo to make them quickly identifyable. I spend a lot of time reading the backs of packaging to see if there's anything nasty inside!

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    Any food in sufficient quanitiy is 'bad'. Reduce the transfats, the quanitiy size in shops, tax the 'fat' content of food to start with. Teaching cooking in schools at secondary level to both sexes may also be good. Shame the UK has so many TV food prgrammes, so many books, yet one of the worst diets in Europe. Information is only of use if people act on it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    @50 Taxing junk food is little more than an exploitative stealth tax. You can't be so naive to think it will encourage people to eat healthy food.
    Fresh ingredients and "health foods" are expensive and with the cost of living increasing beyond the average wage increase, not to mention people working longer hours, it's understandable that they turn to cheaper food with less time and money available

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    The problem with this scheme is that what signifies what is healthy is seriously flawed. Fats, whether saturated, mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated are not unhealthy. Western diets include far too much refined starchy carbohydrate and sugar. The evidence is there to show that people living on high fat, high protein diets have far lower incidence of heart disease, diabetes, cancers and obesity

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    I too am more concerned by the aspartame (and other chemical nasties) that is being added to everything. I would rather my children have sugar and butter than the chemical alternatives. I have a running battle with my 9 yr olds teacher, who keeps recommending diet drinks! Disgraceful.
    Even non diet squashes have aspartme added ON TOP of the sugar! Scary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    O dear.

    'A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.' (Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, epicure and gastronome)

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    More worrying are the sugar based products aimed at kids with such labels as no artificial flavouring or preservatives, implying that that makes them healthy, all the while being loaded with 33% RDA of sucrose. Sucrose should only EVER be consumed with a healthy helping of fibre. you fibre too. The fact that kids are drinking this stuff beggers belief.

  • Comment number 316.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    I can't see how this will work at all. It will make diet food look healthy and good quality cheeses, oils and nuts look unhealthy. People need to be educated and use their common sense and have some self control.
    We should stop being lazy and make time to prepare healthy meals, switch off the TV!

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    290. Sideways Thinking

    I have no issue with people getting rich from success they have achieved themselves. I do however have an issue with people born into wealth telling us all how much hard work they did for it, and attempting to control every facet of our lives whilst condescendingly judging everybody else who wasn't born into wealth as lesser mortals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    Total waste of time and effort.

    Do we all have a GDA calculator/app to keep track of our running totals to inform us what our last meal of the day allows so that we don't break "the rules"? No!

    We buy, we eat, we throw the packaging away.

    Stop treating us like infants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    There are not really any "good" or "bad" foods, rather how much you eat them over a period determines their healthiness. To pick an example, salted butter will I assume be marked as red for fats and salt. But if you only have a small amount of it every now and then what is the problem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 311.

    It's self regulation for the industry not the consumer.
    A fascinating BBC programme called "the men who made us fat" showed how easy it is for us to be seduced by labelling. This whitewash is another step in Government abdicating their responsibility. The multinationals won't take any notice of this, they're far too clever for our Health Ministry. If this move prevents obesity, I'll vote Tory!

  • rate this

    Comment number 310.

    What really amazes me is people who are seriously over/under weight, or run down always having colds etc, is that you REALLY ARE what you eat. Your food intake gives your body the materials it needs to repair and renew. If you eat junk your body's processes can't do their jobs. If you take in toxins they'll destroy your body in the end. Exercise, good breathing, good sleep are just as important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 309.

    People should learn to eat fresh food .... and the goverment should stop patronising !!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 308.

    In my experience some highly educated people such as graduates have no idea about diet. They think that because too much salt is bad, you shouldn't eat any; because too much fat is bad, you shouldn't eat any.
    They simply haven't grasped the concept of a balanced diet. They live on a diet of blueberries and broccali and other "super food" nonsense and needless to say are always unwell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 307.

    "To make it mandatory, regulations would have to be agreed on a European level"

    How and why have we reached the point that we cannot pass a law on a simple matter of food labeling without consent from Brussels?

  • rate this

    Comment number 306.

    Any moves to help consumers identify the nutritional benefit (or detriment) of foods is a good thing. However being red/green colour blind using the existing and proposed traffic light system is an absolute nightmare to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 305.

    3 Hours ago

    What is the problem with the BBC rating system here? I just voted UP for HYS number 1 and it has registered as a DOWN - minus 2 points!
    Or is this all been pre-arranged for us?

    You are forgetting that others are also rating at the same time, so when the page refreshes when you vote, example +3 and -4 =-1


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