On the agenda - Traffic light food plan stuck on red

In a nutshell The Food Standards Agency has backed away from endorsing a traffic light labelling system for packaged food. The watchdog had been urged by health campaigners to introduce such a system as the best method of moving consumers away from unhealthy diets. But the FSA has said that firms should be able to display alternative methods to indicate the healthiness of food.

Tesco: food labelling plans
Tesco: food labelling plans

What is the background?

Research by the FSA had found that consumers support the red, amber and green labels on food products to help identify those that are high, medium or low in key ingredients. The traffic-light scheme was designed to help avoid confusion with a number of different labelling schemes.

What has the reaction to the FSA's decision been?

Consumer groups and health campaigners have accused the FSA of backing down against the might of food giants including Tesco, Morrisons, Kellogg's and Kraft, which had been opposing the scheme.

PR strategy

It was reported that the food industry had hired Hill & Knowlton to help put forward its case. H&K clarified that it had been appointed by Kellogg's for some work on the issue in 2005. At that time, the agency held meetings with No 10, the FSA, the health select committee and other parliamentarians, which it claimed helped to 'shift attitudes' among stakeholders.

Media coverage

The story was covered in a double-page spread in The Independent, with the headline: 'Food industry wins battle over warning labels on junk meals'. The Daily Mail ran a story with the heading: 'Traffic-light food labelling retreat'.

- £72bn: the value of the British food industry

- 25% of Britain's population is obese.


This article has been amended from the print version.

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