Consistent Food Labelling – a way forward?

Food labelling: Consistent system ‘to start next year’ By Nick Triggle

food labellingA 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.

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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.

Comment by Kate Cook:  It really does need the food industry to step up to the challenges ahead – Other attempts to engage the food industry have fizzled out in the past without the legislative wellie-boot of force.  Legislation in my opinion is not the way forward as it makes the system inflexible and slow to adapt to change.  It needs the Food Industry to realise that things are changing and consumers are rightly more demanding – if this initiative doesnt deliver then in the future, legislation may well dictate what is allowed on the front of pack.

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