The British government is on the verge of abandoning a plan for traffic light style health labels on food, according to the London Evening Standard newspaper.

"Ministers hoped the coloured symbols would help consumers choose healthier meals," the paper said. "But food giants insist the scheme is "unscientific" and have launched a huge lobbying offensive to derail the plan."

Health officials had admitted they were considering "other options," for labelling. The traffic light scheme, outlined in a draft public health law would give products high in salt, fat or sugar would carry a red warning symbol, while healthier options would carry green or amber signs.

"However, food giants fear it could trigger a devastating slump in sales of products such as ready meals, pizzas, crisps, cakes and sweets, and have recruited an army of professional lobbyists, scientists and nutritionists to make their case," the paper said.

"The Evening Standard has learned that the powerful Food and Drink Federation is compiling a dossier of evidence challenging the "scientific validity and value" of the traffic light scheme," it said. "They argue that colour coding is misleading and over-simplistic, with high-fat foods such as some cheeses likely to be given a red symbol despite being a valuable source of nutrients such as calcium."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said, "We are talking about a coding system, but it is not necessarily going to be red, yellow and green. We are not saying that is definitely what we are looking at. We have never called it traffic lighting."

Snack, Nut and Crisp Manufacturers' Association director general Steve Chandler said: "Traffic light labelling is not something the industry will sign up to. The idea that you can distil all the nutritional benefits into a single indicator is fundamentally flawed. Even the people who helped come up with this are having second thoughts."