Traffic light food labelling: government says go
PA Archive, Press Association Images
It’s been a long time coming but today the government will announce that a consistent and easily understood food labelling system will be introduced in the UK next year.
The traffic light system will use a colour code along with the words 'high', 'medium' or 'low' on the front of food packages to let consumers know how much fat, salt, sugar and calories each product contains.
It may come as news to you that this is news. You’ve probably already seen plenty of food packaging that gives exactly this sort of information. What will change, says public health minister Anna Soubry, is that the same labelling will be used across brands and shops.
“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.”
Here’s the skinny (sorry!) on the new system...
Why has it taken so long?
It’s true that governments and health authorities have been discussing the introduction of a consistent food labelling system for the best part of a decade. Until now, nobody has been able to agree on quite what form the voluntary system would take, leading to what Soubry believes is a mish-mash of different labels that have left consumers confused.
Part of the reason behind the delay has been the attitude of some big retailers. While Sainsbury’s, the Co-op, Asda and others all currently use a similar scheme, for years stores like Tesco, Aldi and Morrisons have fought against what they have described as “simplistic” and “unfair” proposals.
They argued that a traffic light system would demonise some foods that are fine to eat in moderation. But all these retailers have now come on board.
An alternative would have been to make the system mandatory, but any legal regulations would need to be agreed at European level, making a compulsory system difficult to implement.
What does the new system hope to achieve?
Quite simply, campaigners hope that a clear and universal labelling system will help tackle rising levels of obesity. By knowing what’s in the food we eat, it’s hoped that we will all reduce the amount of fat, salt, sugar and calories we consume.
“Obesity and poor diet cost the NHS billions of pounds every year,” says Anna Soubry. “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.”
Will it work?
Most experts agree that a consistent traffic light labelling system is certainly a step in the right direction.
“I think more consistent information for consumers can only be a good thing,” says registered nutritionist Dr Carina Norris. “A traffic lights system is easy to understand at a glance, and adding GDAs [guideline daily amounts, or the percentage of your daily allowance the food provides] provides valuable extra information.”
But Dr Norris also worries that the exact make-up of the labels - to be decided over the next few days - will be important. Some information could lead to a false sense of security - or a false sense of danger - if consumers are not quite sure what to look for.
“One potential problem is making sure that people understand whether the colours and GDAs apply to 100g of the food, or a portion - think of foods where you only eat a very small amount, or ready-meals that can weigh several hundred grams.
“This can make a huge difference when judging whether a food is a healthy one that can be enjoyed frequently, or a 'naughtier' treat saved for special occasions.”
Of course it’s also possible that consumers will simply ignore traffic light labelling. At the time of writing, a poll on the MSN homepage suggests a small majority don’t think labelling would affect what they ate.
Who is against it?
As well as the problem of potentially confused consumers, some industry experts still worry that a simple traffic light labelling system will demonise foods that don’t deserve it.
Clare Cheney, director general of The Provision Trade Federation, told Food Manufacturer magazine that, “these labels mean that people will see foods like cheese as having no nutritional benefits at all.”
She said cheese would come to be seen as an indulgent food, only to be eaten as a treat, rather than a valuable part of a balanced diet. “You can eat cheese every day and be fine.”
Farmers, too, worry that foods such as cheese, milk and sausages will come to be seen as unhealthy foods because of fat or salt content, rather than foods that can provide a range of nutrients.
Is it a good idea?
Despite these concerns, it seems that the time has come for consistent and clear food labelling. Public health experts tend to agree that, while it’s no quick fix for rising obesity levels or our over-consumption of salt and sugar, it’s a useful step forward.
And one thing that both health and food industry experts agree on is that the traffic light labels are meant to be seen as a guide, not as an instruction. A red light doesn’t mean don’t touch something at all, but it does mean that we should all be careful about how much of it we eat, and what else should go into a healthy, balanced diet.
related stories on msn
The people it's really aimed at don't take any notice of what's in there TV dinners anyway!
But for the rest of us that like to know what we eat it's a good idea!
i personally think that food labelling will be really good. I lost 2st7llbs on weight watcher from 2008 june and weigh 9st 5ish since Nov 2008. Since then i have carefully chosen all my foods etc from supermarkets. I will always eat healthily. 70% home made food/salads and the rest on ready made foods and sweets n treats.
Food portions and grammage really get on my nerves but you just have to read the small print.. yes... i.e 100g = or 1/4 of packet = etc.. its annoying sometimes but in the long run id rather lead a healthy life than being over weight or obese.
I remember going into my gp to get my bp checked when i was 12st said i was on the verge of a heart attack,,. hmm really???
But it was on my 2 do list to try and get the weight off b4 turning 30.
Weight gain was due to comfort eating altough my food portions were small.. it was the quality!!!
my general guide line is 300 kcal and less than 3g of sat fat.. then i'll buy it.. otherwise i wont bother.
I do believe that cheese, full fat milk should NOT be neglected , and perhaps some sort of vit suppliments should be included.
I drink and i smoke... so in all these years by being over weight it really affected my knees as i have got arthiritis.. which is SO common.
Im still a lazy so and so.. however my palete has changed.. i drink parsley tea, beetroot juice on a reg basis and hot mug of milk with a tsp of honey at night times.
I think this help in the long run but we'll see a lot of people turn down foods that are actully GOOD for us becuase they'll only see a red label and assiociate as BAD! for example fish and peanut butter which will be labelled red for fat but they are healthy fats (essential fats) and foods like rice and pasta will be labelled orange or red for high calories but again they are complex carbs (good carbs)
Is their know aspect of our lives these bloody goverments want to intetervine in? Life is for living enjoy yourself they bang on about smoking drinking and now food .JUST LEAVE PEPOLE ALONE TO LIVE THEIR LIFE.BUTT OUT NANNY STATE YOUR NOSE IN OUR LIVES IS NOT WANTED
I heard people knocking milk and honey lately, but the Bible talks about places being full of 'milk and honey' meaning full of goodness. Now i would think God has a better idea of what's good and what's not. So i think I will stick with drinking milk and the ocasional honey sandwich or sometimes honey in coffee instead of sugar.