Experts react to Tesco traffic light move

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Nutritionists, dietitians react to Tesco's traffic light labels
Nutritionists and dietitians had mixed reactions to Tesco’s UK decision to move to nutrition labelling combining Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) with traffic light coding flagging up key nutrients.

The system uses green, amber or red colours to denote rising levels of fat, salt and sugar in products and will be rolled out to all food and drink Tesco sells in the UK market. A Tesco spokesman said the announcement, which was made on Tuesday, was “a statement of intent for the UK”​ and there were no suggestions that it would be applied to products in Tesco stores in other countries at this stage.

Freelance dietitian Gaynor Bussell helped develop GDA labelling while working as nutrition manager at the Food and Drink Federation. The GDA system highlights the amount of nutrients in products as a percentage of the Guideline Daily Amount a person should consume. Bussell told FoodNavigator she believed a traffic light system had shortcomings. “I still don’t believe there are bad foods and traffic lights do lead to food demonisation, even for nutrient dense foods.

“In my capacity as a dietitian, I still prefer GDAs, but do find you have to explain it … when they understand the scheme [GDAs], it is a lot more enlightening for patients to find out about how certain foods can fit into their overall diet.”

However, Dr Judy Buttriss, director general of the British Nutrition Foundation, said: “The combination of traffic lights and GDAs is already being used by some retailers in the UK and came out well in consumer research conducted by the FSA (Food Standards Agency) a few years ago. The hybrid approach captures both of the aspects with which UK consumers are already familiar.”

GDAs "easy to understand"

Meanwhile, Morrisons, the only major UK grocery retailer not to have adopted a traffic light labeling system, said in a statement: “Morrisons displays front of pack nutrition information in the form of %GDAs. We believe this system is easy to understand, comprehensive and objective, allowing customers to achieve a balanced diet.

"As we set out in our response to the recent Government consultation on this issue, we are open-minded about alternative forms of nutrition labelling. We believe greater consistency between retailers and manufacturers is in the consumer interest, but there are a number of issues that need to be addressed before this can be achieved.”

Tesco announced its support for the hybrid labelling system following new customer research indicating that consumers preferred it to either GDAs or pure traffic light labelling. The research indicated shoppers believed the latter did not provide enough information to help them decide what to buy.

“We always listen to our customers and they have told us that by combining our popular GDA labels with traffic light colour coding we can make it even easier to make informed and healthy choices about the food they buy,”​ said Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which? welcomed the news: “Which? has long been campaigning for supermarkets and manufacturers to improve nutritional information on packaging, so this is a positive step from Tesco.”

Related topics: Science, Nutrition labelling

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