Traffic light labellingFSA announces 'traffic light' food labels

09 March 2006

Which? has welcomed today's announcement of a scheme using 'traffic light' colour-coded labels to show the level of fat, salt and sugar in foods.

The Food Standards Agency's (FSA) voluntary scheme uses red, amber and green to show high, medium and low levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. So a food containing a lot of fat would carry a red label for fat.

The labels are designed for the front of packs so shoppers can spot, say, salty foods at a glance. The scheme is intended for processed foods such as ready meals, breakfast cereals, pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, sausages and pies. Rather than proposing one label, the FSA has suggested a set of principles for labels, which manufacturers could adopt to their own style.

However, the scheme is voluntary and only a few supermarkets and manufacturers have said they'll use it; some have already said they won't.

Other retailers urged to follow

Sue Davies, Which? Chief Policy Adviser, said: 'A colour-coded scheme is the best way of helping people to make healthier food choices quickly, easily and accurately. Waitrose and Sainsbury's have already adopted a scheme based on the FSA criteria and we are urging the UK's other large retailers and manufacturers to follow their example.

'The FSA recommendations are flexible enough for all the food industry to adopt. It will help consumers to make more informed choices. However, manufacturers and retailers must use the FSA's nutritional criteria to ensure consumers get consistent information.'

The FSA would like to see the scheme adopted as the industry standard. Manufacturers would be able to adapt their labels to fit their own packaging provided they complied with the FSA's main criteria.

Danone, Kellogg's, Kraft, Nestle and PepsiCo have already rejected the FSA initiative and announced their own labelling scheme focusing on guideline daily amounts (GDAs). Tesco, which also uses GDAs on its own-brand products, has rejected the use of traffic-light colours as 'simplistic', but uses other colours in its own scheme, which could add to confusion.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which speaks for the industry, said it agreed with many of the FSA's suggestions.

FDF Deputy Director General Martin Paterson said: 'We welcome the FSA's recognition of businesses' need to maintain design flexibility. While industry has long made clear its belief that traffic light colour coding is potentially misleading for consumers, we agree with many of the FSA's suggestions on the key elements for a successful front of pack nutrition labelling scheme. These include separate information on fat, saturated fat, total sugars and salt, information on nutrients per portion, and agreed nutritional criteria.

'The FSA has welcomed the industry's approach to base key information on 'Guideline Daily Amounts' (GDAs), originally developed in conjunction with nutritional experts.'