By Sioned Quirke, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association
Traditionally, companies have used different nutrition labelling systems on the front of their packaging, making it difficult for consumers to check and compare products – until now.
From today (19 June), a standardised system will roll out which, although voluntary, is a major step towards helping us make informed choices about the foods we buy.
Consistency is key when comparing any type of information. This new system allows us to check how healthy (or not) a product is in a simple and clear way.
It’s a simple but effective format, using the words "high", "medium" and "low" colour coded respectively in red, amber and green to let people know how much fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories the product contains. Such at-a-glance labelling will make identifying healthy options quicker and easier than the old method of having to fathom the hard-to-read tables on the reverse of a product.
The labels will also provide information on guideline daily amounts (GDAs) for different nutrients, so consumers will have an idea of how that particular product will contribute to their daily diet.
We all have a responsibility to help improve the health of our nation as we see obesity, diabetes and hypertension increase. This step made by the government and the food industry demonstrates a commitment to address these issues. And with the increasing amount of processed and pre-prepared foods we are consuming, this intervention couldn’t come at a better time. This is a voluntary scheme, but we are hopeful more manufacturers will join the standardised labeling movement.
Other reactions to the news:
Anna Soubry, public health minister, says: “The UK already has the largest number of products using a front-of-pack label in Europe, but we know that people get confused by the variety of labels used. Research shows that, of all the current schemes, people like this label the most and they can use the information to make healthier choices. By having all major retailers and manufacturers signed up to the consistent label, we will all be able to see at a glance what is in our food. This is why I want to see more manufacturers signing up and using the label.”
Robin Hewings, head of policy at Diabetes UK, says: “The government’s decision to announce a colour-coded food labelling system is an important step in the effort to reduce the number of people in the UK who are overweight or obese. These people are at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic health conditions, so need easy access to information that can help them lead healthier lives and reduce their risk.
Effective front-of-pack food labelling also helps people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes manage their condition, as a diet high in fat, salt and sugar increases their risk of developing serious complications such as blindness, amputations and stroke. However, EU law requires a voluntary approach, which means there are still large parts of the food market not covered by traffic light labelling. It means we are missing opportunities for people to understand what is in the food they buy. We want to see all retailers and food manufacturers adopting the recommended labelling scheme and actively promoting it as a way for people to make healthier eating choices.”