Tesco relents to give healthy food labelling system the green light

Victory for health campaigners as supermarkets inform shoppers of nutritional values
  • @kunaldutta

A universal traffic light system for food labels warning shoppers of health risks has been brought a step closer in Britain, after the last major retailers dropped their opposition to the initiative. Officials are due to meet retailers on Thursday to discuss new proposals for a standardised "hybrid" system that could come into effect as early as next year.

The move is a victory for health campaigners who have long called for the retail industry to end its fractious divisions over the issue of food labelling. Tesco and Morrisons previously ignored the traffic light system, claiming it would "demonise" certain foods. Marks & Spencer, Asda and Sainsbury's have used their own versions since 2005. But the past few months have seen a significant step change, with insiders suggesting that retailers have come under pressure from the Government to re-evaluate their stance.

Tesco, Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl have all announced new plans to adopt the traffic light scheme.

Justin King, the chief executive of Sainsbury's, which recently scrapped its "Wheel of Health" in favour of traffic lights, has said any supplier that failed to incorporate the scheme was being "disingenuous at best".

The Department of Health is shortly expected to reveal proposals for a common format, including a hybrid of traffic lights and Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), in a move welcomed by heath campaigners.

Maura Gillespie, head of policy at the British Heart Foundation, said: "The BHF has been calling for traffic lights to be on packs for more than half a decade. We're delighted if it's a hybrid system, but the colour scheme is the important factor for those short of time or who are not instantly mathematically-minded. This gives shoppers instant recognition into health risks associated with certain foods and allows them to make clear choices."

A spokesman for Tesco said: "Customers want a consistent approach to labelling across the industry, and Tesco is committed to working with the Government, NGOs, public health organisations, other retailers and our supply chain to try to achieve this."

It is thought that the new label system will be in table form and include GDAs for fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories, which tell consumers how much eating one portion of the food would contribute towards their recommended daily maximum.

A spokesperson for the Food and Drink Foundation said: "The consultation on front-of-pack nutrition labelling only drew to a close in August, and we will be actively engaged in further discussions once the Department of Health has communicated its analysis of the responses received."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We must all do everything we can to help people make healthier choices and that includes clear nutrition labelling. Following this summer's consultation, we will set out proposals for making front of pack labelling more consistent and clear so it helps us all to make healthier choices and keep track of what we eat."