The talks – scheduled to last around three months – could lead to a new ‘common’ system to display health and nutrition information on food packaging. Food manufacturers, retailers and nutrition experts from industry and academia are expected to take part in the 12 week consultation, which was launched by UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.
UK authorities want to see a new system to show on packs the levels of fat, salt, sugar and calories that are contained in foods.
“Offering a single nutrition labelling system makes common sense,” said Lansley. “It would help us all to make healthier choices and keep track of what we eat. Making even small changes to our diet can have a major impact on our health. Cutting our average salt intake by 1.6 grams a day would prevent over 10,000 premature deaths a year.”
However Julia Waltham, advocacy manager at the British Heart Foundation, said any new regulations should not be about telling people what should or shouldn’t be in their baskets: “This is about making healthy choices easy for busy shoppers.”
Waltham added that both the food industry and supermarkets with own label products have a responsibility to provide a system “that helps shoppers compare products and then easily pick the healthiest option if they want to.”
“The government should strongly recommend food companies and supermarkets use a consistent food labelling scheme that includes traffic light colours.
“Front-of-pack labels using traffic light colours, Guideline Daily Amounts [which show percentage recommended intake levels] and the words ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’ will help everyone make more informed choices at a glance, before they head to the till.”
European regulations, which were agreed at the end of last year, said nutritional information must be labelled either per portion or per 100g.
Eighty per cent of food products sold in the UK already have some form of front-of-pack-labelling however retailers and manufacturers currently use different ways of labelling which could be confusing for consumers.
"At the moment we have a lot of different approaches," said Lansley. “But I recognise there are some really big commercial interests here.
“What I want is for people to be able to buy the same shopping basket, but that basket has less saturated fats, fewer sugars and less salt in it... So it is about people changing their behaviour."
Lansley said he thinks it may prove difficult to persuade major manufacturers to agree on a perfect system, but he would trade that aim for consistency.
"Making even small changes to our diet can have a major impact on our health. Cutting our average salt intake by 1.6 grams a day would prevent over 10,000 premature deaths a year,” added the UK Health Secretary.