Industry wants stop button pressed on traffic light labels

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrient profiling model Nutrition Food standards agency

Industry wants stop button pressed on traffic light labels
Nutrient profiling dismissed as ill-judged and counter-productive

Nutritionists have launched fresh attacks on the controversial nutrient profiling model which could underpin new food labelling rules. They claim that it could hinder rather than help consumers make healthier choices.

The system, which awards points to foods based on their nutritional merit, would be behind at least two of the suggested labelling systems which the government wants in place by March next year.

At a Leatherhead Food International conference on children's food, Dr Hannah Theobald of the British Nutrition Foundation said the system was ill-judged and counter-productive. She said that its crudity was apparent with products such as white and wholemeal bread, which would both be classed as "intermediate" foods, despite consumers being consistently told that one was better than the other.

"There is also a big problem with fortification," she said. "Products such as fortified cereals or snackbars with omega-3 fatty acids added to them will not be awarded plus points. The use of guideline daily amounts (GDA) is a far more useful means of giving consumers information without classing foods as good or bad."

Bryan Urbick, director of research at KidsLink Research and The Consumer Knowledge Centre, added: "For many children, fortified cereals are their only source of vital nutrients and if you slap a red or amber sticker on these products you could discourage consumption."

At a separate event, Dr Gaynor Bussell, nutrition manager with the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), described a study which showed that cheese, nuts and oils would be labelled red, together with 75% of breakfast cereals and some breads. "You would not get sufficient [nutrients] if you stick to green and amber," she said.

Dr Gill Fine, director of consumer choice and dietary health at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) admitted that more discussion was needed but added that the FSA was not suggesting people should not eat red products. The FSA will publish guidance on a new labelling system in October following consumer research into a simple traffic light system, multiple traffic lights giving red, amber or green ratings to ingredients -- both of which are based on nutrient profiling -- and a GDA-based system. A fourth option might yet be added.

In the meantime, retailers and manufacturers have introduced their own labels.

Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the FDF, said: "We would hope to see the [FSA] research echoing developments by industry in the use of GDAs which provide consumers with a simple ready reckoner ."

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