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 504.

    Now all we have to do is stop the fatties shoving it into their fat faces and we'd be set.

  • rate this

    Comment number 503.

    This is a step in the right direction. Consumers need clear, coherent, concise information to help them make healthier lifestyle choices. However, whether this is achieved through FoP labelling or through a wider educational approach remains to be seen. Any measures to regulate food labelling should be based on clear, researched based evidence to prove it will have the desired effect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 502.

    Calorie counting is flawed on many levels. Here's just 2

    1 The human body is not a closed system & there is no 'burning' going on

    2 It assumes that all food eaten is broken down completely into energy, in its entirety & in all circumstances, at all times. This is an absurd notion.

    Any calculation you come to is totally meaningless and says nothing about nutrition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 501.

    What's the betting they won't label what's been killed inhumanely, i.e. ritually? Oh, no: that would upset the religious lobby. We can't have people refusing to buy a pack of beef or lamb because the creature has been killed without prestunning, can we? That would upset not only the religious lobby, but the food industry, which finds it cheaper not to have to distinguish one type from another.

  • rate this

    Comment number 500.

    @93. Exersise might mitigate the calories eaten in a "bad" meal but will do nothing to eliminate the toxins from RBD damaged fats, GM grains in the refined, nutrient depleted bread, pesticide and herbicide sprayed veggies and high fructose corn syrup in the ketchup.

  • rate this

    Comment number 499.

    Why don't people just learn to cook good healthy meals?

    Lord knows we have enough cookery programs on TV!

  • rate this

    Comment number 498.

    I have to laugh at the attitude of some people towards the likes of waitrose... "it's really expensive and for rich people"

    Which translates as "they don't have loads of brightly coloured junk food designed to appeal to children and simpletons"

    Our weekly shop for 2 people - food & household stuff averages around £75 a week
    Cook from scratch with fresh ingredients and your food bill will drop

  • rate this

    Comment number 497.

    It is excess calories that we should focus on to tackle obesity. This is caused by high calorie, poor quality processed foods, often sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which I personally wouldn't feed to a dog, never mind a child. Voluntary labelling shows how weak the government are when it comes to public health, much like they use to be with tobacco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 496.

    @494. scillamctk
    For the same calorie values, it makes a big difference if those calories come from protein, carbohydrates, saturate or unsaturated fat. Calories by themselves won't help you lose weight.
    However, by far the biggest help in losing weight is regular (and lots of) exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 495.

    494.scillamctk: You don't need calorie values to lose weight because you don't need them to eat sensibly and exercise. If you're only eating pre-packaged ready meals occasionally they won't make any difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 494.

    I'm trying to loose weight and its the calorie values I want to see on packaged food. Its easy to work out values of fresh foodstuffs (on-line lists, books) but everyone needs to eat a ready-meal or other packaged food sometimes, and why not? But its their calorie values that interest me. Hope they're not being left out. By the by, dont think pictures on boxes have done much to stop smoking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 493.

    What about information regarding GMO products? It's one thing to be given nutritional information, but I also want to know whether I'm becoming a research guinea pig for Big Pharma when I buy my food. If the government wants to make it 'easier' for people to understand food labels, they should make sure that it's comprehensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 492.

    490. DW
    Odd when you go round Waitrose you see a lot of people reading the labels on food..... and very few fat people.
    The same can't be said for the other supermarkets...where the urban poor shop

    Just saying that's all
    Perhaps the people in Waitrose can't afford books or to heat their mansions..

  • rate this

    Comment number 491.

    Reading through the posts it is easy to see that we all consider different things important.

    GI/GL, GMO, Kosher, Halal, salt etc etc...where to start, where to end.

    It would be ideal if the packaging could cover it all.

    Have to say though in my opinion the traffic light system is too simplistic and deeply flawed. Oily fish for example would have a "red" for fat content.

  • rate this

    Comment number 490.

    Odd when you go round Waitrose you see a lot of people reading the labels on food..... and very few fat people.
    The same can't be said for the other supermarkets...where the urban poor shop

    Just saying that's all

  • rate this

    Comment number 489.

    A rating system assumes that the information is reliable

  • rate this

    Comment number 488.

    "REAL food does not come with labels and its as fresh as nature intended."

    But make sure you check that it is REAL and that your "real" beef, pork and poultry is not pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones. Wonder why they don't tell us about those?

    Absolutely agreed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 487.


    GMO, BPA, MSG, Pesticide, Fluoride, Bleach and Aspartame free!

    ...probably the best food label in the world :0)

  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    483.Some Lingering Fog
    "Myth No 4. HYS is full of wise unprejudiced people."

    Who said that? I think you're myth-taken - or are you just taking the myth?

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    This is a great idea. To all those people who have a problem with it, at least you still get a choice to purchase it or not. Here in the USA, the corporations are trying to fight an initiative to label food made with Genetically modified ingredients, so most consumers right now have no idea what they are buying.

    Give the people information and let them decide for themselves!


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