New Zealand pushes for traffic light labelling

By Charlotte Eyre

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition Food standards agency Uk

The New Zealand government should impose "traffic light" health
labels on foods and beverages, recommends a parliamentary

The recommendation is part of a governmental action plan aimed at bringing down the increasing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The report praised the UK's voluntary traffic light system, as developed by that country's Food Standards Agency, for indicating how healthy a product is "at first glance".

"We were informed that when shopping for groceries the average consumer only takes a few seconds to decide on a particular product," the parliamentary report stated.

"Therefore any labelling system must be readily recognised and easily understood."

Since 2006 the FSA has promoted voluntary food labelling in the UK using a system of red, amber and green colour circles to show high, medium and low amounts of saturated fats, sugars and salt.

The system was developed to allow the consumer to compare the relative health benefits of similar products, with red or amber coding indicated higher levels on undesireable ingredients linked to health problems such as obesity or heart disease.

According to the New Zealand parliamentary committee, the FSA's traffic light system has been widely accepted in the UK , " and that it has shifted purchasing in favour of healthier food options".

However, many food companies in the UK have expressed discontent with the system, as they feel it is too simplistic and misleads customers.

In May, UK consumer watchdog Which? said that the traffic light system fails to differentiate between healthy and harmful fats, while the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) argued that such labels distort what consumers view as a balanced diet.

Dick Wells, chief executive of AFGC, told at the time that, "simply labelling foods red, green or amber doesn't give consumers enough information to help them work out what constitutes an appropriate portion size for either treats or staple foods."

In particular he was concerned that the visual approach of traffic label failed to give a true impression of a products importance in overall diet.

"For example, many common staple foods, including cheese, wouldn't be classified as 'healthy' despite the fact that they supply essential nutrients and micronutrients."

Several food industry powerhouses, including Danone, Kellogg's, Kraft, Nestle and PepsiCo, are also suspicious, favouring instead guideline daily amount (GDA) labels.

Designed by the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries in the EU, (the CIAA), GDA labels list the energy, protein, total carbohydrates, total fat, saturated fat, fibre and sodium values of any given product.

The New Zealand parliamentary committee report also wants targets set for the advertising, marketing and promotion of 'unhealthy' foods, saying that food industries need to be threatened with regulation if voluntary measures don't work.

The government must aim to reduce the increase in childhood obesity rates in to zero by 2010, and reduce by 20 per cent the prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents by 2015, the report said.

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