Food Law News - UK - 2005

FSA Press Release (2005/0617) , 16 November 2005

LABELLING - Agency consults on front of pack labelling scheme to help consumers make healthier choices

The Food Standards Agency today launched a consultation setting out proposals on a front of pack food labelling scheme. The Agency is considering proposing use of a Multiple Traffic Light (MTL), which will show at a glance whether a food contains high, medium or low levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

In June 2005 research involving more than 2,600 people was undertaken to find which of four possible front of pack schemes helped the majority of people to identify healthier food options when shopping.

Taking account of the research results, consumers particularly liked two of the four schemes. These were the Multiple Traffic Light and the Colour Guideline Daily Amount (CGDA). On balance, the evidence demonstrated that Multiple Traffic Light performed best for the majority of consumers at showing the key nutritional characteristics of a food simply and easily. In the research the Simple Traffic Light was not liked and felt to be too basic.

The CGDA based scheme also performed well, particularly when people were asked to compare the nutritional content of two products. However, a third of respondents from lower socio-economic and ethnic minorities groups were unable to use the CGDA to identify whether a food had high, medium or low levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

When asked which scheme they preferred the majority of people chose the CGDA format. However, further qualitative research confirmed that many people could not apply the information it contained to the food choices they actually made.

The Agency is therefore considering proposing the Multiple Traffic Light for the front of pack scheme. However, because CGDAs were also well liked, the Agency is inviting views on the options.

The results of the Agency's research are published, and a 12-week public consultation launched, today. It is proposed that the front of pack labelling scheme should appear initially on foods such as ready meals, pies and pizzas that people eat regularly and find most difficult to assess nutritionally.

Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the Food Standards Agency, said: 'What we choose to eat is a personal matter, but we want to help people make informed choices for themselves about the content of their food. Consumers have told us that they would like to make healthier choices but find the current information confusing. After carrying out rigorous and comprehensive research, we now have the makings of a system that will make it quicker and easier for people to do so.'

The scheme has been developed by the Agency as part of the Government’s White Paper initiative to help make healthier food choices easier. The Agency’s consumer research showed that 96% of those questioned believed that a single scheme would help them make healthier choices.

Agency research shows that people find the nutritional information currently available on food packaging confusing. Although many retailers have already developed their own front of pack schemes, people say that they would welcome a scheme that would be consistent wherever they shopped, developed by an authoritative, independent and trusted body.

The Agency is consulting on whether:

Agency research in brief

The Agency has researched the possible scheme extensively with consumers in the past 12 months.

In November 2004 the first phase of consumer research considered people’s preferences for five different approaches to signposting – a simple traffic light, an extended traffic light, a GDA-based scheme, a multiple traffic light and a healthy eating logo. The research showed that people felt a front of pack labelling scheme would make it easier for them to assess the nutritional content of foods and make healthier choices.

A signposting advisory group made up from representatives from food manufacturers, retailers and consumer organisations was then formed to contribute to the development of further research work to optimise the GDA format and advise on consumer performance research methodology.

In March 2005 we tested a number of GDA-based schemes, which showed that people preferred a GDA option that included per serving and GDA data presented in a numerical format, as opposed to percentages and bar charts. Colour coding was considered to be useful in helping to interpret the numerical information.

A consultation was also published in March 2005 on proposals for quantitative performance research methodology.

In June 2005 four possible schemes, the Simple Traffic Light, the Multiple Traffic Light, colour GDA and a monochrome GDA were tested with more than 2,600 people. In one to one interviews people were asked to identify the level of fat, saturated fat, salt or sugar in an individual product, or to compare levels of nutrients in a pair of products. Respondents were also asked which signposting format they preferred.

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