The LGA describes itself as a cross-party organisation that aims to influence and set the political agenda on the issues that matter to councils.
Traffic light labelling scores different nutritional content in packaged foods – such as salt, calorie, sugar and fat content – as red for unhealthy, amber for moderate, and green for healthy.
However, the front-of-pack labelling system has been an option for food manufacturers and suppliers selling within the UK since the Department of Health introduced it in 2013.
Traffic light labelling is currently only displayed on two third of UK products, which the UK’s Local Government Association (LGA) claims is not enough.
“Councils, which have responsibility for public health, say steps should be taken to ensure the traffic light system becomes UK law. It would give consumers at-a-glance information that enables them to make healthy choices,” the LGA said in a press statement.
“Shoppers on average take 15 seconds to choose an item in a supermarket. (…) Better labelling would help people to take more responsibility for their health, and tackle conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.”
Yet, to facilitate wider usage, “confusing” guidelines surrounding the traffic light system need to be improved, the LGA – representing more than 370 UK councils – said.
“While many retailers and manufacturers have different methods of displaying nutritional content, this can be confusing,” councillor Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said.
“Consumers need a single, standard and consistent system which should be universally adopted. It needs to be something that they can read and understand quickly and easily.”
Red light for labelling
However, the LGA’s bid could face opposition among some EU and other industry players who accuse traffic light labelling of negatively impacting marketing and of blocking companies’ freedom to find new healthy eating solutions.
“Obligatory symbols or other instructions on packaging should be forbidden as we live in a constant evolving society, and maybe tomorrow we find a better solution,” Lars Wallentin, a packaging industry expert, told FoodNavigator.
Companies should be able to create and develop their own ways to fight obesity, inform shoppers on nutrition and make better back panels as a solution to the issue, he noted.
The EU Commission – prompted by angry member states – has even waded into the debate, launching infraction proceedings over the UK’s traffic light system in October 2014. Member states – including Italy, Portugal and Spain -- claimed the labelling would negatively affect marketing for several products.
The debate was reignited in March this year, when a Commission spokesperson told FoodNavigator the investigation was still ongoing.
Member states argued most meat products would receive a red label and most manufacturers of traditional products would not be able to reformulate products to gain amber or green labels.
Before Brexit became a reality, the European Commission had the final say on whether traffic light labelling in the UK complied with EU regulation.
However, with a final exit on the horizon, the Commission’s jurisdiction over traffic light labels is less certain.