> UK’s Traffic Light Labelling to be Adapted for Portion Sizes in Europe - The Food Safety Company UK’s Traffic Light Labelling to be Adapted for Portion Sizes in Europe - The Food Safety Company
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    Thursday, 9 March 2017

    UK’s Traffic Light Labelling to be Adapted for Portion Sizes in Europe

    Big names in the snack industry are banning together with the hopes of introducing a twist to the traffic light labelling system. The voluntary labelling system, used by supermarkets and brands across the UK, communicates at a glance how unhealthy a food product is based on a colour-coded system.  Red, amber and green are used to denote whether a product contains high, medium or low amounts of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar per 100g/ml. A product with mostly green is going to be much healthier than a product with more red. This system allows consumers to make immediate judgments on whether or not a product is healthy. The colour designation for a product’s fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt levels are determined based on nutrient profiles put together by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

    Traffic Light Labelling System (img src: Packaging News)

    Mars, Coca Cola, Pepsico, Mondelez and Unilever want to use the traffic light labelling system not to display the amount of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in 100g/ml, but display values for a single portion size. The food and drink companies have packaged their proposal as the “Evolved Colour-Coded Nutrition Labelling Scheme.”

    On the surface, altering the traffic light label for a serving size rather than a measurement is a good way to connect with consumers on an understandable level. Seeing the value for a serving size is tangible when compared to the hard-to-interpret 100g/ml. Undoubtedly the numbers for fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt will be more realistic and allow consumers to determine how much is okay to eat. 

    However, going off of portion sizes opens the system up to manipulation. A company can use very small, unrealistic portion sizes for their products, allowing them to label them with green or amber rather than a well-deserved red.

    Serge Harcberg, professor of nutrition at the University of Medicine Paris 13 told Beverage Daily that “This sleight of hand makes it possible to better position products which, by a miracle, will become orange or green while they were less well placed in the original version of the traffic lights. The notion of serving size is used here as an alibi to support an alternative that is more favourable to industrial manufacturers who, in addition, are those who define the portions!”

    The majority of labels in the UK are already on board with the current traffic light labelling system. Consumer group Which? is against the companies putting their own spin on the labelling system, saying it will only confuse consumers by complicating a working system. Vickie Sheriff, director of Campaigns at Which?, stands firmly behind the current labelling system which “makes it easy for consumers to simply compare the fat, sugar and salt levels across all products.”

    Will it Work?
    While many have criticised these companies for attempting to make their products appear healthy, they claim that changing labelling to evaluate serving size will encourage consumers to make better choices. A statement from the conglomerate of companies reads: “Alongside reformulation and innovation, smaller portion sizes – based on credible portions – play a key role to support healthier consumer choices and should therefore be recognised as such in an evolved nutrition labelling scheme.”

    It’s worth noting that the traffic light labelling scheme in the UK measures the nutrients of 100 g/ml of a food product while the nutrition label on-pack gives nutrients based on portion sizes. The discrepancy is confusing and unnecessary. Changing to portion sizes may make it easier to consumers to glean more valuable information from the pack labelling.

    The Evolved Colour-Coded Nutrition Labelling Scheme will be used on all of the company’s European products though the exact date of implementation is fuzzy. Some countries are not happy about that, already voicing their aversion to the system. Alkistis Houliarakis, communications manager at Coca Cola, said that “it will be proposed to governments that want to introduce interpretive labelling.”

    A taskforce has been put together to fight for these junk food giants’ end goal – “to put in place a robust nutrition labelling scheme that helps consumers make balanced and mindful choices.” They hope to work with European Heart Network (EHN) and the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) to enact this new system of labelling. 

    Jacqui Litvan

    Jacqui Litvan, wielding a bachelor's degree in English, strives to create a world of fantasy amidst the ever-changing landscape of military life. Attempting to become a writer, she fuels herself with coffee (working as a barista) and music (spending free time as a raver).

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