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 464.

    This is fundermentally flawed

    It must sport a UK flag if its manufactured and supplied in the UK
    It must be large enough for the visually impaired
    It must be labeled in standard price units
    Date of manufacture

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    Maybe it should read:- FOOD IS BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH!
    After all we do keep hearing the rantings of the 'experts' about how 'bad' this is and that is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    Look I do not want to sound like a right boring “insert word”, but if they are going to do this with our food, then this has to be done with our drink, for example, energy drinks in studies have been shown to be really,really bad for kids, so parents are warned by clear labelling in some countries, equally as a beer drinker I would like to know the Kcals not just the alcoholic volume.

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Is this the same system that would lable "Mothers milk, natural and on draft" as RED because of its high fat content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Has this government really got nothing better to do ?

  • Comment number 459.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    Spending a load of money on a new labelling system, is not going to stop people who normally already buy ready processed food, cakes and biscuits etc. Most shoppers who buy that sort of food, buy it because they like it and don't care whether it is full of sugar, salt and/or fat.

    Yes, the present system is confusing, but so is having some foods priced up as per kilo or per bag, ie bananas!

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    In a large supermarket there was only 1 cereal that didn’t have sugar added and all the museli did! A food marketed as healthy that isn't all it seems. Hope these traffic lights will encourage manufacturers to make products more healthy. Also the marketing sweet cereals and yoghurts to our children, as well as a raft of chocolate at child height by the tills is borderline abusive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    Gee I never realised a burger was less healthy than a salad! Thank you nanny state for saving me from myself yet again.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    @439.Bill Walker
    Double egg, double sausage, double chips and a diet coke please.

    To the NHS - keep a hospital bed free for this man's impending coronary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    Labelling the foods is a small problem, it ignores context - also if it's voluntary, then it's irrelevant. Selling unwashed vegetables loose, so we can buy the right amount, and not throw away the majority as they sprout, would be a bigger step, but that would hit profits. I've started shopping at a Farmers' market, and I'm saving money as I have vastly less waste, and I'm getting better food

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    @439, Bill Walker

    There is nothing wrong with egg, sausage and chips as part of a BALANCED diet, when cooked considerately.

    Will I say no to a Sugar laden drink? Yes. Sugar is the leading cause of obesity in the world, not fats.

    This is the myths which are being propogated..... Fats will kill you - quick fill your body up with our low fat sugar laden treats and snacks.

  • Comment number 452.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    Every time i find something I enjoy, along comes another health warning.

    Smoking, sex, drinking, coal mining, sun bathing .......and now eating.

    We are not babes to be mollycoddled - - Stick your traffic light system, I will only buy food without the damned labels

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    435. Katz_in_Bedford
    I adopted a palaeolithic diet two years ago, and have read extensively around the subject. The majority of evidence against such a diet are based upon the aforementioned industry-lead "studies" which deliberately avoid real double-blind scientific analysis. I suggest you read Gary Taubes' book "Why We Get Fat...", it really will astound you how much you are being mislead!

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    409. fuzzy
    It's only a problem if you buy food in a packet, but who in their right mind would to that? Believe it or not, you can even grow your own food, it's not against the law.


    And what about Mr C. Hav and his wife and kids on the top floor of Nelson Mandela House?

    They won't be able to move for all the hanging baskets full of veg... and as for the cow they're keeping up there...

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    All this would be unecessary if people were taught how to be more critical in knowing what ingredients in food was good for them, and if they didn't have to work such long hours for effectively reduced wages that they hardly had enough time to cook from scratch. But you cannot educate selectively: big business and politicians want uneducated, uncritical beasts who will support their own excesses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    Where is the reference to levels of genetically modified food within the containers?

    Where are the references to the 'cocktail' of pest and preservation chemicals within the containers?

    What's the point if it's voluntary and without legislation?

    We will not be able to compare like with like.

    Flim-flam served up by the industry again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 446.

    "Why isn't the government listening to public opinion and labelling foods Genetically Modified or not? That is what we really want. Not this anodine, INSULTING rubbish."

    Where you can - grow your own and cook your own. Food labelling will always be resisted by the manufactures for fear of loosing big fat juicy profits over your health.

  • rate this

    Comment number 445.

    439.Bill Walker
    "Double egg, double sausage, double chips and a diet coke please."

    No, make that a pint of (local) Real Ale - much healthier ;-)


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