Eat, drink and be wary

Last week, Food & Drink Technology reported that the UK Department of Health has introduced a new ‘traffic light’ food labelling system – a concept over a decade in the making. Early indications seemed positive, with the idea seemingly receiving universal approval; however, by virtue of some major players resisting participation, it’s become apparent that this simply isn’t the case.

Whilst the UK’s major supermarkets have all subscribed to the new format – and indicated that they would be implementing the label on their own-branded products – the news that Coca-Cola and Cadbury had rejected the concept dealt the scheme a significant blow. When quizzed on reasons for their non-participation, Coca-Cola representatives insisted that it was happy to continue with the existing, ‘tried and tested’ Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) system that has been in place since 2007.

As mentioned, the label operates in line with a ‘traffic light’ system, meaning that green shades indicate healthier options, whilst red indicates particularly high levels of fats, salts and/or sugars. Thus, it seems perfectly understandable that companies opting out of the system (such as those already mentioned) wouldn’t be overly keen to participate – after all, excessive shades of red plastered across a product is hardly a ringing endorsement, and would likely encourage even those consumers who aren’t particularly health-conscious to think twice about their purchase.

But rather than point the finger at those brands not taking part, perhaps we should instead review the voluntary nature of the system, and wonder if it can ever be truly effective. As it stands, 40% of goods will not feature the label, and there’s a genuine risk that those brands not taking part will be deemed unhealthy purely by exclusion – and consumers might see those not being up-front with them as having something to hide.

Ultimately, there’s no real incentive for producers of unhealthy products to adopt the label. Thus, you also have to wonder just how successful the new label will be, and if it genuinely can tackle the issue of obesity – supposedly one of its main aims.

– Simon Rowley

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