UK food watchdog launches labelling consultation

Related tags Fsa Nutrition

Food industry pressure over nutrition labelling has begun to pay
off as the UK Food Standards Agency launches a consultation for the
final stage in its simple signposting project using guideline daily
amounts as one of two central themes, reports Chris Mercer.

The FSA will consult industry and consumer representatives on four models for a new labelling system on the front of food packs, including a new concept that combines the traffic light idea with a table showing guideline daily amounts (GDA).

The new design will indicate the amount of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar per serving alongside a GDA for that nutrient, but accompanied by the colours red, amber and green to indicate whether the content of each nutrient is high, medium or low respectively.

The inclusion of this model in the four-week consultation, to be followed by a wider public research, signals an initial victory for the food industry, which has lobbied hard for a labelling system based on GDA instead of a straight traffic light design.

Consumers chose a 'multiple traffic light system', simply highlighting whether the content of the four nutrients was high, low or medium, as their favourite design in an FSA consultation last autumn. This has also been included for the final stage of research.

GDA was dismissed in last autumn's consultation, but the FSA agreed to develop the idea after subsequent stakeholder meetings including food industry representatives and consumer groups.

Now, the UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF) is determined to build on this success with members Kellogg and Nestlé already entrenching their stance by launching new labelling systems based on GDA before the FSA has completed its research.

Martin Paterson, FDF deputy director general, said: "We would hope to see the research echoing developments by industry in the use of GDA which provide consumers with a simple ready reckoner in choosing foods to fit their diet."

Paterson, who re-iterated that a traffic light model was over-simplistic, said he would study the FSA consultation report in detail, but that the FDF was "surprised that information on calories does not seem to be included in any of the proposals"​.

Even if the food industry is successful with its push for a labelling system based on GDA, firms will still be under pressure to follow the FSA's chosen limits, which expand on those already provided by the Institute of Grocery Distribution.

For example, the FSA has set preliminary limits of 70g for fat, 20g for saturated fat, 6g for salt and 40g for sugar. The grocery institute provides no GDA for sugar and the FSA's figure already differs from that to be launched by Kellogg on its new labels - where the GDA is recorded as 100g for total sugars.

An FSA spokesperson said that the agency firmly believed its own system would be better and more comprehensive than the alternatives and this would put pressure on companies to follow suit in their search for a publicly responsible image.

He said the agency was looking to have recommendations in place later this year.

The FSA has also said it is keen to encourage voluntary adoption of its' eventual system but legislation has not been ruled out. And Mike O'Neill, senior policy advisor at the National Consumer Council, said the group "would support the FSA if they wanted to move in that direction"​.

The other two systems the FSA is proposing to test in its new consultation are: a 'simple traffic light' model providing an overall (colour coded) rating for the food as a whole and a straight, monochrome GDA table with no colour coding.

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