Food labelling: Consistent system 'to start next year'

Man in a supermarket

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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 564.

    When I look at the salt/sodium content it usually says the amount in sodium then states the rda of salt (6g), giving a confusing message. 6g salt = 2.4g sodium.

  • rate this

    Comment number 563.

    Typical example of relying on 'voluntary' action.
    This basic, commonsense approach has taken YEARS to get to this stage.....
    WHY? ...dithering politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 562.

    Unfortunately the last 20 years of a poor education system has had its toll on society and now everything has to be designed for the morons.

    Not necessarily a poor education system (having experienced it) but poor discipline with the children within it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 561.

    Eat up all your greens or you will not get any pudding.

    Pathetic nannying and waste of money

  • rate this

    Comment number 560.

    I wish they would legislate against those sticky labels on fruit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 559.

    This could be made so much simpler. Introduce a standard of litres/ml only for liquids and kg/g for solid food, to avoid confusion.
    Add a % of GDA labelling PER PACK only on the front, and ingredients and nutritional info on the back.
    People have the capacity to make up their own minds, just give it a rest nanny state and sort the economy out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 558.

    I can see that for prepacked food or even food from a menu (like McDonalds) this will work and I support it. But what about fresh food? My Butcher cuts my meat to my directions, I buy wet fish from my Fishmonger and fresh fruit and vegatables from my Grocer. I don't see how it will help tell me whats good or bad about that purchase?

  • rate this

    Comment number 557.

    I enjoy the very occasional choc bar and the very rare fish and chips and as I am not very tall 5' I also enjoy wine at the weekend and keep my weight to 8 stone. Regardless to some comments most people do not calorie count and do appreciate a little help. If you have the occasional treat you will not harm yourself. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die.

  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    I see the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire has resigned to avoid being sacked and no doubt to protect his gold plated pension. If as he says he innocent of any wrong doing in the Hillsorough disaster why resign?

    How's about opening this up for debate on HYS?

  • Comment number 555.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    Eventually someone will come up with the bright idea of sticking labels on the customer, telling shop assistants what we can and cannot have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    'Walk to the kebab shop' Dont you mean drive :-) .
    I also fresh seafood , organic meat etc and cooking for myself . i like to cook not just buy in
    May i recommend cooking KING PRAWNS In their shells , with lots of chopped up garlic a 1/4 chopped up onions, some cherry tomatoes and chopped up chilli and cooked in butter . Marvelous :-)
    with some bread - awesome.


  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    Utter rubbish - You know its mainly to do with genetics, else why some people heavily smoke and live until they are 100

    genetics are important but all the data shows diet is also hugely important to life expectancy. if you come from a family of 24stone people who all lived to old age you're quite likely to do the same but if you don't then forget paying into that pension

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    How about they just say this food is really bad for you (which 90% of it usually is in the supermarket) or just say this is good for you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    352. Derek
    Until the goverment addresses the cost of healthy food there will be no costs 99p for a burger and £7 for a salad, tell me what the poor are gonna eat....

    It costs 29p for a large tin of baked beans and 60p for a large wholemeal loaf. Cheaper and far better for you than a burger, plus it'll do at least 2 meals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    @452.Higgs bosun
    Sugar, salt and fat are not poisons ..How can you give something a red traffic-light without knowing the age, height and weight of the person who is going to eat it

    For the things above it matters little whether you're a 6ft5 man or an 80 yr old 4ft 6 lady, a sensible intake is around the same, calories are different but even then, some foods are high in calories by any standard

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    546 aduphanel

    "21 Minutes ago Utter rubbish - You know its mainly to do with genetics, else why some people heavily smoke and live until they are 100."

    Save your breath lad, you'll need it to walk to the kebab shop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    Salt is the saltiest thing I know, and my tongue even has special areas devoted to tasting it.
    It makes me laugh to think I`d have to read a label to know if there is too much salt in the food!

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.


    21 Minutes ago Utter rubbish - You know its mainly to do with genetics, else why some people heavily smoke and live until they are 100.

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.


    "Im happily single, 24stone and 6''1 . . ."

    I hope you meant 6'1" unless you actually are 6.1 inches tall! However, if you're happy with it then good on ya: it just goes to show that the Government can't get to everyone (yet)!


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