The new scheme – to be phased in over the next 18 months – will feature front-of-pack (FoP) labelling involving colour coded advice about products’ content of fat, salt, sugar and calories. It aimed to replace competition between rival schemes such as systems based on traffic light labelling and Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs).
Manufacturers that have pledged their support include Premier Foods, Mars UK, Nestlé UK, McCain Foods and PepsiCo UK. They are joined by all the major retailers — including Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, the Co-operative and Waitrose. Other manufacturers, such as Cadbury (Kraft), Coca-Cola and United Biscuits, have not yet done so.
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said its members have voluntarily provided FoP nutrition information for many years and had implemented FoP nutrition labelling consistently across Europe.
‘Clear, factual labels’
“We did it because we wanted to be transparent when it comes to nutrition information on pack, and to provide consumers with clear, factual labels intended to help them put the food they eat in the context of their overall diet,” said Melanie Leech, FDF director general.
Public health minister Anna Soubry said: “People will be able to use the colours to understand the levels of nutrients in the food they are eating. The labels are not designed to demonise foods with lots of reds but to have people consider what they are eating and make sure it's part of a balanced diet.
“People will also, at a glance, be able to compare the same kinds of foods and see if there’s a healthier option — for example, if they are buying a ready meal.”
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “For years Which? has been calling for food companies to use traffic light labels so we welcome this big step forward towards making it easier for consumers to make healthy choices.
‘Levels of obesity’
With levels of obesity and diet-related disease on the increase, it’s vitally important that people know what is in their food, and this labelling scheme will encourage food companies to do more to reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat in popular products.”
“We hope that more food manufacturers will join the scheme so that their labels will be consistent and comparable to those on the front of the retailers' own packs.”
But Professor Simon Capewell of Liverpool University was scathing in his criticism of the new scheme. The new initiative may save a few hundred lives but fell far short of the radical action the government should take to introduce a 20% tax on sugary drinks, remove “industrial transfats” from food and insist on mandatory salt removal, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
More than 20,000 lives a year could saved if such measures were implemented, he said.
“We need a government that is genuinely committed to public health rather than protecting their friends in the food industry,” he said.
Catherine Higgs, food policy manager at the Co-operative, told the programme: “It takes time [to introduce a universal labelling system] and we should be celebrating those retailers and those manufacturers who are committed to it.”
Higgs conceded “it was a pity” some large organisations had chosen not to sign up to the new scheme.
“I’m sure customers of those manufacturers will express their views,” she added.
Meanwhile, ready meal and sandwich manufacturers fear they could be penalised by the new scheme.