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 384.

    Nothing beats home made cooking using fresh ingredients.

    Where you can, make your meals in batches to freeze them then put them in an oven or microwave when you need them.

    It is simple and healthy and tastes better than the ready-meals or something cooked from a jar of sauce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    Who determines what the "traffic lights" mean? Who determines what's bad for us and what's good? As opinion on food is so diverse, this strikes me as the state pandering to the "food" industry.

    If it's generally accepted that dyes, salt, fat etc. in processed foods are bad, why not ban them altogether, or at least the advertising of them - it's what happened for tobacco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    Ready-made food: anything machine can mass produce, we can do better ourselves at home.
    We've handed our lives to corporates now, how we speak to our relatives, how we work, how we live - a lot of us are lacking essential life skills. We can't wait till the day when we wake up & find them try to stick a pipe into our system, parents need to try harder; we need to try harder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    The fact is that the "unhealthy " items are the tastiest.
    Because they are packed with flavourings, colourings, sweeteners, misc chemicals and 10,000 other additives that have suspicious backgrounds and little data on their potential harm. With corruption in corporate business at a pandemic level in our countries, it's astounding that anyone trusts any corporation on the planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Cars, Computers, sedentary jobs, TV with lots of food programs on, fast food outlets everywhere, supermarkets crammed with processed food full of salt and sugar and continual repetitive food advertising. Labelling and people’s will power can do little against that. Better make the pavements bigger because more wide loads are a coming!

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    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!

    Ha ha ha.. you actually think you are the only one voting dont you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    With most food its a no brainer if its good or bad for you, so they should focus on products that arent so obvious about their content.

    Diet coke for example has less than 1 calorie and 0% on all the traffic light system, but is full of chemicals that make you crave carbohydrates, far offsetting any reduction in sugar from regular coke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    Sigh....! Its the way of the world ain't it?
    People do not cook for themselves and eat processed convenvience foods so the state steps in with good intentions but food manufacturers are doing their own thing! useless so much for uniformity and takes years for them to formalise it.
    If we have to follow coloured labels to eat, heaven help us!
    we're all doomed! ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    What we eat is none of the State's business. Whether they actually ban what they laughably call "bad foods" or whether they just bully manufacturers and retailers into changing labelling and ingredients, they are still going way beyond what is acceptable in a free society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    @366. I agree with you up to a point. It's fine for adults, we should all be able to make our own choices. Children can't make those choices for themselves, and more and more junk is being added to food and drink targeted at children. Just look at what goes into cereals, juice/squash etc. Salads, fruit and veg are washed in horrible chemicals. I don't want my children full of these nasties

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    I don't want anyone telling me which foods are bad. All I want to know is what's in them, then I will make up my mind whether I think they are bad or not. All we need is a consistent method of presenting the contents and how much sugar, salt and fat are in the product. A red light on a product makes it feel as if it is toxic and dangerous and should be banned. Totally bonkers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    @9.They would turn in their graves
    Most of it should say "Don't buy this rubbish, go and cook something fresh, it will be cheaper and a lot better"

    Yes, absolutely. We changed our food habits years ago and cook more home made than we buy ready made. You can buy a slow-cooker and make batches of meals which can be frozen so you get several meals cooked in one batch. I thoroughly recommend it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    Surely all this totally misses the point.
    The main culprits are restaurants and takeaways - where do fish & chips and donner kebabs sit in the scheme of things..?

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    So long as it mentions that all the fat they took out got replaced by Sugar, Modified Cornflour, Water and hydrolyzed vegetable fat and actually has a higher calorific value than the real thing I'm ok with any traffic light system. The problem with the current system is that food has been turned into chemical slurry in order to advertise it as fat free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    1800 Kcal for a 5-10 year old. That's far too high surely

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    We already have the most labelling in Europe and highest obesity - doh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    Just wish the Government would finally act to prevent misleading use of the description 'suitable for vegetarians', for which there is currently no legal definition. It is also appalling that there is no legal requirement for ingredients to be printed on the labels for alcoholic beverages, many of which are made using non-vegetarian ingredients. The UK should be leading the world on these issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.


    Everyone knows that packaged ready meals/pizzas etc are unhealthy.
    Except they aren't - many ready meals such as chicken breasts in tomato & basil are perfectly healthy, and there's nothing wrong with many pizzas (once in a while).
    Everyone knows that most opinions on HYS aren't worth much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    We can all eat the most healthy and freshest food that money can buy and we can all drink the purest mineral waters from crystal clear streams of Scandanavia BUT we still won't live forever. Eat what makes you happy, be happy and stop stressing about living a few extra years!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    I would much rather see a labelling system that cites whether ingredients have been genetically modified come into affect, since cancer is a slightly more serious issue than say high cholesterol!


Page 10 of 29


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