Page last updated at 15:20 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Calorie information on menus call

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Pizza
The labelling scheme is expected to start in the summer

Cafes, pubs and restaurants have been urged to display nutritional information on their menus by a food watchdog.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said it was in talks with 50 of the biggest food chains about the move - with several already signed up.

Officials are hoping calorie labelling will start in the summer.

The call comes after surveys showed the public wanted more information about the food they buy.

In June, an FSA poll of 2,000 people found 85% were in favour of catering outlets displaying nutritional data.

We're used to seeing nutritional information when we're shopping and there's no compelling reason why we should not have more consistent information when we eat out
Tim Smith, of the Food Standards Agency

The agency followed that up with focus group research which showed people favoured a combination of simple data at the point-of-sale with more comprehensive information available elsewhere if required.

The FSA has not finalised the scheme yet, but is looking for caterers to provide calorie information on menus with more information about fat, salt and sugar content included on leaflets at the outlet.

The model is similar to a labelling system that was introduced in New York last year.

Officials said "about half-a-dozen" catering companies had already signed up - although they refused to name them - with more expected to follow.

FSA chief executive Tim Smith said: "We're used to seeing nutritional information when we're shopping and there's no compelling reason why we should not have more consistent information when we eat out."

Successful

He added the New York experience showed the tactic was successful at reducing calorie in-take.

"We all know about the problem of obesity and this could help tackle that."

Several food chains have already started giving information about nutritional content of food, but this has been mainly confined to company websites.

The FSA said its research showed the public was not keen on this and stressed the information should be on display where food was being bought.

While the watchdog is focusing on the large food chains at the moment, it said if the scheme proved successful there was no reason why small, independent caterers could not follow with some help.

Anna Glayzer, of the Food Commission, a group which campaigns on healthier food, said the scheme need to go further.

"At the moment consumers are completely in the dark, so the provision of more nutrition information should be welcomed.

"However, we want to see this information provided by more than a handful of companies on a voluntary basis."



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