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UK aims to standardise front-of-pack nutrition labels

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 24-Oct-2012
Last updated on 15-Nov-2012 at 13:29 GMT

Front-of-pack labels aim to curb consumer confusion
Front-of-pack labels aim to curb consumer confusion

The UK government has said it will roll out a new voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme by next summer to standardise labels across retailers and food manufacturers.

Following a three-month consultation with industry and other partners, the new labels will display guideline daily amounts (GDAs) in conjunction with colour coding and text to indicate high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt, as well as how many calories products contain.

Public Health Minister Anna Soubry: “The UK already has the largest number of products with front of pack labels in Europe but research has shown that consumers get confused by the wide variety of labels used. By having a consistent system we will all be able to see at a glance what is in our food. This will help us all choose healthier options and control our calorie intake.”

Currently, some retailers and manufacturers list GDAs as well as traffic light labels and text, while others only provide GDAs. In addition, the visual presentation of this information varies.

The UK government said that it will work with industry to ensure consistent labelling, although details of how the new scheme will look are not yet available.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) welcomed the announcement.

BDA chairman Helen Davidson said: “The British Dietetic Association wants consumers to have access to clear, consistent, at glance information to help them to make informed choices about the food they buy and eat. Consumers need a quick understanding of the relative healthiness of a product. ... This is a significant step forward.” 

Soubry added that obesity and poor diet cost the NHS billions of pounds each year.

Making small changes to our diet can have a big impact on our health and could stop us getting serious illnesses – such as heart disease – later in life,” she said.

According to a recent survey from market research firm Canadean, nearly three-quarters of UK consumers (73%) support a universal labelling system, while 32% say they prefer to buy foods that carry a traffic light label.

Across Europe, nearly half (48%) of all packaged food products have nutrition information front-of-pack, according to FLABEL (Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life), compared to about 80% in the UK. FLABEL says that GDAs and nutrition claims are the most common forms of front-of-pack nutrition information, both present on about a quarter of European foods.

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