Green light given to contentious UK traffic light labelling scheme

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 29th October 2012

The UK government has officially launched its traffic light labelling system, which has been subject to much debate over the past year.

The red, yellow and green labels have been officially released by UK Public Health Minister Anna Soubry to help consumers make “healthier choices.” The traffic light labels includes the content of fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories are in each product.  The system, which is currently voluntary, will be “fully utilised by the next UK summer.”

The UK Department of Health has said that the traffic light labelling system will “harmonise” the industry, which previously relied on variable private labels.  The Department of Health has offered a three-month consultation period to retailers and manufacturers about what the “consistent, clear front of pack label should look like.”

In spite of UK moves towards a more mandatory traffic light labelling system, many other governments and consumer research groups have expressed criticisms of the system. Research firm, Canadean, recently found that only 32 per cent of consumers would purchase a “traffic label” product. The Canadean survey, reported by Australian Food News earlier this month, said that many UK consumers considered the traffic light label scheme “too confusing.”

The UK supermarket group ASDA has also publicly raised concerns that having a red label on a product would “demonise it.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Food and Grocery Council has been generally critical of traffic light labelling for being “too simplistic to work.” The AFGC and others were reported in a previous Australian Food News article as arguing that the traffic light labelling system “does not provide Australians with the nutritional information they need to make informed choices.”

In November 2011, the Australian Federal Government proposed that work would begin with consumer groups, public health groups and the food industry to develop a single front-of-pack labelling model that can provide consumers with better nutritional information.

However, there is considerable division on the subject within the Australian community. The Blewett Labelling Logic report for the Australian government released in 2011, did not give a definitive recommendation on which system to adopt.