The British Government’s Food Standards Agency is currently discussing the possibility that each of Britain’s 550,000 eateries and food shops may have to provide consumers with a visible hygiene score before they are served. This scheme would complement the plans to increase information held by local councils, and improve the council’s environmental health departments.

Consumer groups welcome the idea, which would bring consumer power into line with the US system. Ann Goodwin, of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, asked “why not inform consumers? Then they can vote with their feet.” The Consumers Association raised concerns earlier this week about hygiene standards and the under-reporting of food poisoning, which leads to around 60 deaths a year in Britain.

The proposal also follows the recent government pledge that inspection regimes would become tougher. Local council officials would control the new system, rating establishments in accordance with regulations on health, safety and food handling.

Head of the agency’s local authority enforcement division, Tom Murray commented that while the proposal was being discussed, “any system would have to be objective and robust and consistently applied.”

If the scheme is given the go head by the agency’s board, consumers may be able to judge for themselves from January. EU Laws which require businesses to prove themselves worthy to trade could take up to four years to introduce. In the meantime, however, Goodwin believes there is no reason why a voluntary scheme could not be introduced: “What would businesses have to hide?”