Supermarkets in the UK could be 'forced' to adopt the Food Standards Agency's traffic light labelling scheme, claims newspaper.
The highly visual traffic light labelling scheme, which is based on a nutrient profiling model, was devised to give consumers a way to tell 'at a glance' whether a food product is healthy or not-so-healthy.
It is already being used by some UK manufacturers and supermarkets but, according to The Daily Telegraph, a 'deal' in the works between the FSA, the Department of Health and the EU would make this system mandatory for supermarkets.
The Food Standards Agency had not responded to a request from FoodNavigator.com for more details on the alleged deal prior to publication of this article. The Department of Health declined to comment.
The European Commission published its final proposal on new labelling legislation at the end of January, which is up for discussion by the Parliament and the Council, was more favourable towards an alternative system, known as GDAs.
The monochrome GDA, or Guidance Daily Amount, system gives specific amounts of fat, salt and sugar in a product as a percentage of the advised consumption per day. It has been promoted by the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA), and is now used by more than 50 food manufacturers in Europe.
However the European proposal also left room for the use of national schemes alongside GDAs.
The article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph yesterday claimed: "The EU and European Commission… are said to be close to agreeing that Britain be allowed to pursue its own regime on traffic light labelling so long as it does not conflict with European law or objectives".
It claims this could force retailers to use both GDAs and traffic lights on packaging (as, indeed, supermarket Asda is already doing).
A single scheme for the UK?
As part of a wider-reaching obesity strategy unveiled in January, UK health secretary Alan Johnson came out in favour of a "single, simple and effective" food labelling system that is designed to provide consumers with consistent information.
This idea formed part of a Healthy Food Code of Practice, which is to be developed in partnership with the food industry. The code will lay down a challenge to industry (not just food manufacturers, but also restaurants and other food outlets) to support individuals and families reduce consumption of saturated fat, sugar and salt.
Johnson told the UK Parliament that simple front of pack labelling helps consumers make healthier choices and make a positive contribution to a healthy diet. He said he is "determined" to see the adoption of a single labelling system based on the best available evidence.
The national scheme controversy
Following publication of the EU proposal, some concerned voices were also raised about the sense of allowing for more than one system to be used simultaneously.
"We fear this approach will substantially weaken the single market and consequently the competitiveness of the food and drink industry," said the CIAA in its response to the publication.
While the industry association said it understands the European Commission does not feel it is equipped with sufficient data to back one of the various schemes currently being propounded, it also fears that the national schemes "will lead to consumer confusion rather than consumer information".