Leading article: Give better health a green light

Related Topics

It is hard to believe that something so obviously sensible and beneficial has taken so long to enact into law. Indeed, it may take even longer yet. The draft legislation, known blandly as "Food information to consumers" is due to be debated today at the European Parliament, with a vote scheduled for tomorrow. All the signs are that the voting will be close; and it cannot be taken for granted that the clearest and simplest proposal for food labelling will even now win the day.

One way or another, the "traffic-light" system, devised by the Food Standards Agency, has been under consideration for years. And it does exactly what the name suggests: it colour-codes processed foods – red, amber and green – according to the levels of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar they contain. Two British supermarkets, Asda and Sainsbury's, have adopted the system voluntarily. Many others, including Tesco, have not. If approved by the European Parliament this week, traffic-light labelling for processed food will become a statutory requirement across the European Union within three years.

The reason it has taken so long to advance even this far is simple. Many of the big food producers, including PepsiCo, Nestlé and Danone, oppose it and have spent enormous amounts of money and energy lobbying against it. They prefer either a basic calorie count, or a system known as Guideline Daily Amounts which measures the ingredients of processed food against recommended daily intakes. They insist that this allows consumers to exercise greater freedom of choice. The drawback – and, it hardly needs to be spelt out, the advantage for the manufacturers – is that it makes life more complicated for the shopper than the traffic-light system and may also give the impression that certain foods – breakfast cereals, say, or ready-meals – are less unhealthy than they really are.

The ferocity of Big Food's lobbying efforts should send its own message. Clearly, the manufacturers believe that the traffic-light labels would have a detrimental effect on sales, as consumers spend their money on healthier options. The effect could be especially marked in Britain, where processed and junk food has a larger market share than it does in many other European countries. But the food industry is not without a remedy. It has a choice, too. It could choose to produce food that merits fewer red lights, and so make what is easily the most consumer-friendly labelling system work to mutual advantage.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page


General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk