The final part of this month’s management briefing focuses on the nutrition guidelines that form the basis of traffic-light and GDA labelling in the UK, as well as the criteria behind the labels on pack in the US.
Accompanying the reformulation trend and the drive for healthier products with reduced fat, salt and sugar has been the introduction of more precise nutritional labelling.
As well as acting as an important consumer education tool, front-of-pack labelling (FOP) systems also have an impact on reformulation strategies. The precise reduction offered by a reformulated product or purported healthier variant can be quickly assessed by both consumers and others, such as public health bodies and professionals.
For some years there have been a variety of systems being used in the UK, using either ‘traffic lights’ colour coding, guideline daily amounts (GDAs) or a combination of the two.
The ‘traffic lights’ system has the advantage of clarity and simplicity but is accused by its critics of being a blunt instrument.
The GDA system has been developed by the food industry. The GDA approach, where each nutrient is calibrated in terms of the percentage of a recommended daily intake, is a more detailed approach though its opponents suggest that it can confuse consumers. It is backed by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents food manufacturers, and leading food retailer Tesco.
Most of the values used in the GDA system are based on the recommendations of the UK Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA), with the exception of the figures for fibre, where US data was used, and salt, which was based on figures from a report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) in 2003.
It should also be noted that SACN last year raised its Estimated Average Requirements (EARs) by 16%. The move seemed to run counter to attempts to tackle overweight and obesity though the FSA and other public health bodies stressed that it should not be taken to mean that people should raise their calorie intake.
That announcement did, however, create considerable confusion. Indeed, campaigners have consistently called for simple messaging on nutrition. Hence their backing of the ‘traffic lights’ approach.
The Food Standards Agency had consistently supported the universal adoption of the ‘traffic lights’ system. However, in a controversial move earlier this year, the FSA backed a ‘flexible’ approach to front-of-pack labelling, where GDAs would be supported with either text or traffic lights
The nutritional criteria for the three ‘traffic light’ colours, as stipulated by the Food Standards Agency, and the Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), as designated in the UK food industry scheme, are set out below.
|Fat||< 3.0 g/100g||> 3.0 to < 20.0 g/100g||> 20.0 g/100g or > 21.0g/portion|
|Saturates||< 1.5 g/100g||> 1.5 to < 5.0 g/100g||> 5.0 g/100g or > 6.0g/portion|
|Sugars||< 5.0 g/100g||> 5.0 to < 12.5g/100g||> 12.5g/100g or > 15.0g/portion|
|Salt||< 0.30 g/100g||> 0.30 to < 1.50g/100g||> 1.50 g/100g or > 2.40g/portion|
In addition to the per 100g value, the per portion measurement for a red light ensures that any food which contributes more than 30% (40% for salt) of an adult’s recommended daily maximum intake for a particular nutrient is labelled red.
Children (5-10 years)
|Calories||2,000 kcal||2,500 kcal||1,800 kcal|
In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes Daily Values (DVs) for key nutrients and a range of other ingredients as a guide for nutritional labelling. The daily values for certain key food components set out below are based on a total calorie intake of 2,000 calories.
|Food component||Daily Values (DV)|