The opinions of manufacturers, retailers and consumer groups on current front-of-pack nutritional labelling advice are being collected by the devolved governments of the UK before they offer further labelling guidance, said Samantha McKeown, senior policy advisor for nutrition science and policy for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Scotland.
Whitehall wants the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to find a voluntary labelling system that is appealing to manufacturers because it is applicable across a wide range of foods while still being informative to consumers, she told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
“It is an opportunity to take stock of where we are at with front-of-pack labelling and attempt to get consistency for the industry and consumers,” she added.
But the guidance eventually issued by each devolved area of the UK may differ – making it impossible to devise a single, nationwide front-of-pack nutritional labelling scheme.
“It depends on what responses the consultation gets back,” she said. Each government “may highlight different areas from the responses as the ones they consider most important”, she added.
The FSA now has responsibility for nutrition and health only in Scotland and Northern Ireland since the transfer responsibility to the Department of Health in England. The Welsh devolved government has resonsibility in Wales.
Ellaine Donaghy, communications manager for the FSA in Northern Ireland, confirmed that the preference is for one unified guidance scheme across the UK. But there was no guarantee that would be achieved. Currently a number of systems are used, she added.
For example, some manufacturers and retailers prefer using ‘traffic light’ nutritional labelling while most others prefer percentage of guideline daily amount (GDA) labelling. The consultation will help the governments to decide what system, or combination of systems, is most useful to consumers and applicable across the food and drink industry.
“We do not see this as an either-or result. We could arrive at a position where a combination of the existing schemes is the agreed way forward,” she said. “There is no pre-determined outcome.”
The consultation will run till August 6, 2012 but no date has been selected for the publication of labelling guidance. Time is required to collect and review responses from all four UK countries, Donaghy added.
The review was undertaken in preparation for the introduction of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (FIR) in 2016. The FIR makes the labelling of certain nutritional information mandatory.