FSA News Item, 10 March 2010
The Agency's Board, at an open meeting held in Cardiff today, agreed to the implementation of a single approach to front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labelling that will best help consumers make healthier choices when they buy food.
Food businesses will be encouraged to use all three elements found by independent research to help UK consumers interpret nutritional information: traffic light colours (red, amber and green), text (high, medium or low) and percentage Guideline Daily Amounts (% GDAs).
The Board's recommendation clearly signals that the Agency does not support FOP labels using only % GDAs, but that % GDAs should be combined with either traffic light colours or text, and should ideally have all three elements.
Businesses are also 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. Additionally, information on portion size should be realistic and not mislead and the labels should be used on a wider range of processed packaged foods.
Jeff Rooker, FSA Board Chair, said: 'The Board was clear that it wanted a single approach to front of pack labelling that works. 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 being used meet some or all of the Agency's existing recommendations. But some use colours other than the Agency's recommended 'traffic lights' as a design feature or to highlight the different nutrients: for example, green for fat and yellow for salt.
An independent evaluation of the effectiveness of these schemes was published in May 2009. This robust study found that the co-existence of different FOP labels confused consumers, particularly the use of different colours. It concluded that the words 'high, medium and low' were understood best, and combining this text with traffic light colours and percentage % GDAs would enable more people to make healthier choices easily. Consumers in 'citizens' forums' subsequently run by the Agency shared this view but particularly liked traffic light colours as an 'at a glance' cue.
In the light of this evidence, together with feedback from a public consultation, the Board agreed today the basis for a single approach to FOP labelling in the UK. The Agency 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.
A copy of the Board Paper which formed the basis of this discussion can be seen on the FSA web site at: http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/board/fsa100307.pdf