In a response to the Food Standards Agency’s consultation paper, the UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has rejected the government’s “traffic light” food-labelling scheme as simplistic and potentially misleading.

“Any traffic light type labelling scheme aimed at distinguishing certain nutrients in a food as high, medium or low is simplistic and potentially misleading to consumers,” said FDF deputy director general, Martin Paterson. “Such schemes do not offer additional information to consumers about what is in their food nor do they provide a guide to eating a balanced diet.”
Paterson said that the food industry was committed to helping consumers maintain healthy diets by appropriate labelling but that the Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) system was the most efficient way to provide information to consumers.

“As FSA is aware, there is clear agreement across the food industry that Guideline Daily Amounts are the most appropriate basis for providing improved nutrition information to consumers,” Paterson said. “This consensus on the use of GDAs enables companies to develop consistent, complementary approaches to providing prominent on-pack information, including on the front of packaging.”

According to the FDF, the total value of goods bearing GDAs on their packaging will reach GBP15bn by end of 2006.

However, the consensus the FDF claims exists may not be as comprehensive as it suggests. One company that endorsed the traffic lights scheme, saying that it had almost doubled the sales of healthier foods, suggested that the FDF’s criticism was based on protecting the interests of large food companies.

Fresh Italy, a London-based retailer of freshly prepared Italian foods, introduced the traffic light labelling system in January 2005 and recorded a 90% increase in sales of its healthiest dishes over the next few months.

“There is no doubt that customers prefer traffic lights because they are so simple and clear, and there is no doubt people buy more of the healthier food when they see the traffic lights,” said Fresh Italy founder Tom Allchurch.