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'Traffic light' food labels wait for stop or go sign.

A 'traffic light' labelling system could be brought in to tell shoppers about the nutritional content of processed foods, the Food Standards Agency said yesterday.

The front of pack labels would display information about levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

They could appear on packs of ready meals, pizzas, pies and other products next year, the FSA said.

Food manufacturers and supermarkets - some of which already operate their own labelling systems - would adopt the FSA scheme voluntarily.

Two labelling schemes were put forward for a 12-week consultation by the FSA yesterday.

The first - which it favours - is the 'multiple traffic light' scheme which uses red, amber and green to indicate high, medium and low levels of fat, saturates, sugar and salt.

The second combines colour coding with additional information about guideline daily allowances (GDA) for the same four nutrients. It also shows how much of each nutrient is included per serving of the product.

This option was the most popular with 2,600 consumers questioned by the FSA during research carried out earlier this year. But 31% of respondents could not use it to interpret levels of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar correctly when shown just one food product.

The FSA is 'considering proposing' the multiple traffic light labels for the front-of-pack scheme, it said today.

FSA chairwoman Deirdre Hutton said, 'What we choose to eat is a personal matter, but we want to help people make informed choices about the content of their food.

'Consumers have told us that they would like to make healthier choices but find the current information confusing.'

The labels will initially appear on pre-packed processed foods such as ready meals, breakfast cereals, sandwiches, burgers, sausages and pies, according to the FSA proposals.

It is also consulting on whether traffic light labels on the front of food packs should be supported by additional guideline daily allowance information on the back.

Some 96% of consumers questioned believed that a single labelling scheme would help them make healthier choices, the FSA said.

Food and Drink Federation deputy director-general Martin Paterson said the industry was pleased the majority of consumers favoured the GDA labelling format.

He said, 'Any traffic light-based scheme runs the risk of scaring or confusing consumers - a label containing any red stop sign is likely to be viewed negatively.

'Therefore, the opportunity to develop GDAs, which give factual information enabling consumers to plan their daily diet, should not be missed.'
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 17, 2005
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