UK’s FSA agrees single front-of-pack label plan

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 11th March 2010

The UK’s Food Standard Agency this morning (10 March) agreed to the implementation of a single approach to front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labelling.At an open meeting held in Cardiff today, the FSA’s board said food businesses will now be encouraged to use all three elements – traffic light colours (red, amber and green), text (high, medium or low) and percentage Guideline Daily Amounts (% GDAs) – on the front of packaging.

Businesses are also being encouraged to ensure that the information is presented on the packaging in a way that is “clearly visible and prominent”. To avoid consumer confusion, colours other than traffic lights should not be used, the FSA said.

Additionally, the board is recommending that information on portion size should be “realistic and not mislead” and the labels should be used on a wider range of processed packaged foods.

“The board was clear that it wanted a single approach to front of pack labelling that works,” said Jeff Rooker, FSA board chair. “Tremendous progress has been made by industry in taking up front-of-pack labelling but different schemes are causing confusion to consumers. The board is very clear that the framework outlined today is an important step on the way to a single approach.”

In March 2006 the agency recommended a set of principles for FOP labelling that would help consumers easily understand the levels of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugars in food products. Currently, the majority of UK food manufacturers and retailers are voluntarily using some form of FOP labelling.

The various FOP labels currently being used meet some or all of the agency’s existing recommendations, however, some use colours other than the FSA’s recommended ‘traffic lights’ as a design feature or to highlight the different nutrients.

However, Which? said that while it had written to the board urging them to recommend a single front-of-pack labelling scheme, today’s agreement has “weakened” the consumer group’s approach to nutrition labelling by only insisting on the use of two elements.

“When all the evidence shows that a single combined nutrition labelling scheme works best for consumers, it seems ludicrous to give a green light allowing companies to persist with their own different schemes,” said Which? chief executive, Peter Vicary-Smith.

“The FSA was set up to look out for the interests of consumers, but by backing down on labelling, it seems to have lost sight of this.”

A spokesperson for the consumer group added: “Previously the FSA had endorsed that companies use GDA, traffic light labelling and ‘high, medium and low’ on their front of pack labelling. But now the board has retracted that and gone back on their evidence to show that that works best and that in order to get to a single scheme, companies can use just two of those elements, but not all three will be used.

“So now, rather than a system where are three elements of the proposed label, which was widely understood and accepted as the label favoured by consumers, there’ll be lots of different labels,” the spokesperson told just-food.

The FSA said it will advise Ministers of its recommendations before undertaking a four to six week consultation on the technical guidance that will be needed to implement the board’s recommendations.
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