Cost and consumer confusion: retail group decries new food label proposal

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags British retail consortium Nutrition Food standards agency

Changing food labels in the UK now 'makes no sense at all', asserts the group that represents food players such as Tesco.

Reacting to a new hybrid approach to front-of-pack labelling recommended by the country's food watchdog, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said it would be 'too soon' to adopt a new UK labelling regime in light of pending EU rules on food labels.

“It makes no sense at all to have new UK regulations for retailers, before regulations are being reviewed by the European Union,”​ a spokesperson for the BRC explained to

With consumer health in sight, earlier this month the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) published a briefing paper on food labels for the country's health ministry. Their single approach label essentially combines three existing systems: traffic light colours, text and percentage GDAs.

Front-of-pack labels

Since 2006 the agency has encouraged food manufacturers to use front-of-pack (FOP) labels to inform the consumer over the levels of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugars in a given food product. At the time, the FSA recommended the traffic light approach that sees high levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt marked with a red mark, medium levels with an amber mark and low levels marked in green.

In addition to the traffic light system, industry participants have plumped for different schemes. The food industry has promoted the guidance daily amount (GDA) scheme which uses recommended percentage amounts. While other products bear the words ‘high’, ‘medium’, and ‘low’ in relation to the nutrients.

Consumer confusion

However, instead of bringing clarity to the consumer, this kaleidescope of schemes has actually confused consumers, claims the FSA. The agency cites a 'robust' study on the varying schemes published in May 2009 that concluded the words ‘high, medium and low’ were understood best. Combining this text with traffic light colours and percentage Guideline Daily Amounts (% GDAs) would enable more people to make “healthier choices easily”, suggested the food watchdog in early March.

But for the BRC, any changes to food labelling rules in the UK should wait until a final decision about FOP labelling is taken at a European level and when the European Union concludes its review.

“Changing and then changing again would just produce extra costs and customer confusion,”​ said Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium food director.

Opie claims it is 'too soon' for the UK to adopt any new regime of its own. Labelling, he continued, is just one aspect of a host of measures required to arrest soaring obesity figures, 'such as public education, exercise and personal responsibility, that must also be given significant attention'.

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