US fastfood giant McDonald's has announced that nutrition information will now be displayed on the majority of McDonald's product packaging using an icon and bar chart format.

The company said the move was part of its global commitment to promote balanced, active lifestyles.

The new packaging will be rolled out beginning in the first half of 2006 in restaurants in North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America. McDonald's is currently working with its packaging suppliers to ramp up production to meet the demands of this new worldwide packaging programme.

By the end of 2006, McDonald's plans to have nutrition information featured on packaging in more than 20,000 of its restaurants. The remaining restaurants will implement nutrition information on packaging as it becomes locally relevant and commercially feasible. The new packaging will debut at McDonald's restaurants at the Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy in February.

"This initiative makes it easier than ever to understand the quality that goes into our food. We're very confident that the more information people have, the more they will like what they see at McDonald's," said Jim Skinner, McDonald's chief executive officer.

McDonald's said the new format converts scientific information into a customer-friendly snapshot of a product's nutrition value and how it relates to daily nutrient recommendations using bar charts and icons. The icons represent calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates and sodium.

Based on research, concepts were developed and tested in several hundred McDonald's restaurants around the world. Test results in Colombia, Hong Kong, Scotland, Shanghai, Spain and the US indicated that customers liked the approach.

McDonald's said it will continue to work closely with scientists, key government officials and outside experts to ensure the new nutrition information meets local guidelines and is appropriately adapted for local relevance. For example, in the US and Canada, the official Nutrition Facts panel that has appeared on packaged foods for years will also be featured on McDonald's packaging along with the icons and bar chart.

There are a few exceptions: packaging used in short-term promotions, and wrappers and containers used for multiple products will not feature product specific nutrition information. In these instances, customers will be directed to McDonald's website or to in-restaurant materials.

Restaurants in Australia and Brazil already provide a form of nutrition information on their product packaging.

The move was welcomed by the UK's Food and Drink Federation, which represents food and beverage manufacturers.

"UK food and drink manufacturers are committed to providing more informative labelling, including using Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) to provide a simple 'ready reckoner'. McDonald's bold step is a massive and welcome boost to this information revolution," said deputy director general Martin Paterson.