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 344.

    There needs to be something done about supermarkets selling food that is about 2 days before they go out of date.

    Another problem is that things in deli counters in sainsburies and their "fresh" bread is neither fresh, nor does it list their ingredients.

    Getting fresh food from UK supermarkets is a real serious problem at the moment, and you would think that the government would step in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    While they are about it, labels should also be consistant in the means of measuring content.

    I was looking at Garlic Mayo the other day, the plastic squeezy bottle was measured in Grams while the glass one was in milliletres.

    Packs are also getting smaller. Cheese and meat products for example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    @330 - "Ban leaflets for fried foods being put through the post and maybe we stand chance against obesity"

    I didn't realise those leaflets also came with a man armed with a gun holding it to your head. Here's my tip for you. Pick up the leaflet and immediately throw it in the bin.

    If more people had a little more self-respect then maybe we stand a chance against obesity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    This is certainly overdue, although I think that looking at the upcoming court case in the USA we need to focus on clear labeling for food & drink as sometimes companies make something appear more healthy by disguising the sugars and fats under other names. Should be brought in on drinks too as some people negate these from their calorie plans and don't realise how unhealthy they are.

  • Comment number 340.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    I moved to Vienna earlier this year and I have to say that they do have many cornet fast food huts that serve hot dogs etc but what they dont have is to many ready meals. Nearly everyone here cooks from scratch everyday. Also all the shops are closed on Sundays meaning that many families spend the day out walking or swimming or other leisure activites. Maybe we need to close the shops on Sundays!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    This is scratching the surface on the food industry. We should be world leaders! We should ensure by regulation that foods like ready meal etc. contain maximum limits of salt, fat and sugar. Meals should really contain balanced nutrition as well. We should have stricter rules on processed meats. And all package should be recyclable and compostable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Can't believe the naivety of people believing that this will make a scrap of difference. It's just yet another example of the politicians trying to justify their existance when the reality is that it's a total waste of time and effort while really important issues are slipped onto the growing "too difficult" pile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    Great in principle but I'm colour blind so it'll be of no help whatsoever to me!

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    My only question is:

    Why has it taken so long?

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    For Type 1 Diabetics having the carbohydrate contents is a matter of life and death, or at least high or low blood sugar, potentially more important than sodium or fat! Get these things right and it'll ave everyone a lot of time and health!

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    To improve health & the quality of food All producers should be made to put a Produced by date on all products. If you know when an apple or banana is picked, milk came from a cow, or a sausage roll was made it would give us a better idea of the quality of the products we buy, the fresher the product the healthier they are therefore the healthier we will all be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Its alright the way global grain and meat supplies are going we will be back on rationing within the decade, coupled with competition from fuel crops driving up prices obesity will soon be the reserve of the rich again. Add in a national energy shortage rendering TVs useless, and vehicles grinding to a halt for want of petrol, before you know it we will have a lean well exercised populous again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.


    The food industry wants to keep people ignorant. How else are they going to sell their junk?

    Spot on.

    It also applies to most other forms of big business and certainly to most governments / regimes. Many people assume that they have perfect information and real choice when making decisions, but in reality they have only mis-information supplied by vested interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    Food labelling will not stop chicken being fried at every street corner. This is quite funny this comes a couple of days after an article on the "food revolution" in the UK and from a government who was keen on criticising the nanny state when in opposition. How stupid are we, really? Ban leaflets for fried foods being put through the post and maybe we stand chance against obesity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    300. The Bloke

    You have me all wrong. I'd rather the scheming government kept their meddling snouts out of my business completely, tbh. This isn't about health, this is about maximising profit at the expense of health.

    PS, from now on I'll use the word "prole" so you don't think I'm attempting to cash in on the "pleb" popularity, ok?

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    The GDA (daily amounts) can give false information, as surely the "right amount" depends on the height of the person in question. A person who is 5' tall will need less food (or calories) than a person who is 6' tall - assuming both are at their ideal weight for their height.

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    What's needed is genuine INFORMATION, not some made-up shorthand relating to the latest fads and fashions from the holier-than-thou brigade.

    If you are interested, learn about foodstuffs for yourself and make intelligent choices. If you cook from fresh ingredients, labels are irrelevant anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    The way Sainsburys label their food already is by far the best method I have seen, utilising a trivial pursuit pie-like symbol divided into the segments which then notify you in terms of amounts and by colour how much salt, protein, sat-fat, carbs etc are in the product. Easy to understand and demonstrated as part of your daily allowance as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    healthy food comes in the skin it was grown in - no label needed


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