‘Traffic light’ food labels in monochrome criticised

Traffic light labelling makes it easier for shoppers to see nutritional values. Picture: Martin Gray
Traffic light labelling makes it easier for shoppers to see nutritional values. Picture: Martin Gray
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IT WAS established to give consumers at-a-glance information about the salt, fat and sugar content of foods using a traffic light colour system.

But now food health campaigners have hit out at manufacturers after it emerged that more companies have started printing their food information labels in black-and-white, making it more difficult for people to quickly identify the healthiest option.

Many of Britain’s major supermarkets have signed up to use traffic light labelling – which marks out in red if a product is high in salt, sugar or fat, amber if it is medium and green if low – on own-brand products, as have many food manufacturers. But individual firms do not have to comply.

Products manufactured by companies including Branston and Birds Eye have been found to display monochrome labels rather than the colour-coded versions created by the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health.

A spokeswoman for Food Standards Scotland said the traffic light scheme was voluntary and manufacturers could not be forced to use colour codes on their labels.

She said the labelling scheme, which builds on mandatory European Union regulations, is intended to provide consumers with at-a-glance information about the levels of fat, saturates, sugars and salt in a product.

She said: “The front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme recommended by UK health ministers uses colour-coding to easily show whether a food or drink has high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

“Government departments across the UK worked with industry stakeholders to develop the scheme and encourage its use on as many products as possible.

“The big supermarkets and many food manufacturers have adopted the recommended scheme, using the colour-coding on the front of many pre-packaged foods and drink.

“However the provision of this ‘front-of-pack’ labelling remains voluntary and is, ultimately, for individual businesses to decide whether to use it or not.”

Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which?, said: “We want all manufacturers to commit to a consistent and comparable traffic light labelling scheme that clearly shows red, amber and green, so shoppers can make an informed and healthier choice at a glance.

“With levels of obesity and diet-related disease on the increase, it’s vitally important that people know what is in their food.”

Sonia Pombo, campaign manager and nutritionist at Consensus Action on Salt and Health, said: “These food companies are clearly hiding behind the monochrome labelling, and it puts the healthiness of their product into question.

“Colour-coded labels should be a key component of all front-of-pack labels as it enables consumers to take greater personal responsibility for their food choices and allows customers to compare like for like.

“Whilst it’s positive to see companies making use of FOP labels, omitting the use of colour codes defeats the point of clear front-of-pack labelling and potentially confuses the customer with meaningless numbers.”

The European Commission intends to review front of pack nutrition schemes in 2017, which means that member states cannot press ahead to make them mandatory before then.

Neither Branston nor Birds Eye would comment.