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Last Updated: Friday, 26 November, 2004, 12:43 GMT
Public back food 'colour coding'
Healthy and unhealthy foods
The food industry is against the idea of traffic light coding
Shoppers have backed traffic light coding for food so they can tell what is healthy and what is not, a study by the official food watchdog says.

The Food Standards Agency asked 100 people, split into 25 groups, which of five coding options they preferred.

Simple traffic light coding and multiple traffic light coding - red, red/amber, amber, amber/green and green - were the most popular.

Food labelling was proposed in the Public Health White Paper this month.

Ministers want to introduce the food alerts by 2006.

The Food Standards Agency is planning to work with the food industry, consumer groups and public health groups to develop a coding system.


Gill Fine, director of consumer choice and dietary health at the FSA, said: "People have told us they want to make healthier food choices and that they would welcome signposting to help them

"We want to know what people want and what they would find useful.

"We will therefore test out the options in shops and work with stakeholders to do this.

Simplistic schemes which categorise products into good and bad could seriously mislead consumers
Martin Paterson, of the Food and Drink Federation

"We need to ensure that what we recommend will be useful and workable."

The five labelling system tested were - simple traffic light coding, multiple traffic light coding, labelling solely healthy food and two options which showed information for total fat, sugar and salt content.

Ruairi O'Connor, of the British Heart Foundation, also backed traffic light coding and added it should be mandatory - the White Paper only proposed making it voluntary.

"Choosing the healthiest foods quickly is almost impossible at the moment for busy shoppers.

"There is no consistency in the labelling of food products and often foods that one would expect to be healthy can have surprisingly high levels of salt or saturated fat.


"Moves towards traffic light labelling will help realise the White Paper's commitment to a clear, straightforward and meaningful coding system that consumers can understand."

But Martin Paterson, deputy director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said he did not favour traffic light coding.

"The food and drink industry is committed to working constructively with the FSA on more informative nutrition labelling for consumers.

"We know the FSA is looking at a number of proposals.

"However, simplistic schemes which categorise products into good and bad could seriously mislead consumers."

He added the best solution would be to provide nutrition information based on guideline daily amounts.

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