by Marion Nestle
Jun 24 2013

Britain’s new food label: traffic lights (sort of)

The UK is introducing a uniform system of front-of-package food labeling—voluntary of course.

The new voluntary scheme includes traffic light colours as well as GDAs

The food industry hates it.  It’s got traffic-light colors, and we already know what that means in practice.  People tend not to buy red-labeled products.

That’s why trade associations are complaining that this system is too simplistic, misleading, and unscientific.

Worst of all, it will confuse consumers into not buying products that fit just fine into healthful diets.

Tch, tch.

Australia is introducing a star system to rate products.  Food companies don’t like that one either.

In the meantime, we’ve heard nothing about front-of-package labeling from our very own FDA since the Institute of Medicine released its recommendations in October 2011, and it looked like the FDA had given up on the idea in February 2012.

Front-of-package labels were on the early agenda for Let’s Move!

Maybe the European labeling initiatives will encourage the FDA to do so?

  • life is too short to eat bad food and this is a perfect example how good food can be with a little effort and passion. Definitely something I can try at home

  • Well precise article. I like your way of writing. And Star system of Australia Can be helpful in raising the level of food.

  • “Maybe the European labeling initiatives will encourage the FDA to do so?”

    This is the FDA we’re talking about here. I wouldn’t hold your breath.

  • I’m sure you’re aware of the NuVal scoring system…I’m curious what your thoughts are on it?

  • Such labels, in which recommendations for daily caloric intake are based upon calculated mean values are useless as such values can markedly and unpredictably differ from those individually determined based on measured Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). This discrepancy creates confusion and facilitates undesirable weight gain even with the intake of healthy food.

    See our experience in Basel (Switzerland) with our educational program “Calogenetic Balance” (Data presented at the ECO2013 in Liverpool, May 12-15).

  • Overall I like the idea but I’d change a few things:

    1. I’d put refined grains on there.
    2. I’m not sure total fat is a good reflection of how healthy a food is either. Take a dip made with avocado, lime juice, and cilantro, for instance. That would be high in total fat but one of the healthier snacks you’ll find.

    I’d rather see trans fat than total fat (and saturated fat for that matter, since there are healthier sources of this type of fat too).

  • Totally useless information. I’d much rather see a larger and more truthful ingredients list.

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  • I love this! It’s a great idea, and easy reference for folks who aren’t as educated on what’s good/bad for them.

  • bob hansen MD

    Unfortunately, this label suggests that saturated fat is unhealthy and the most recent cumulative evidence is that there is no relationship between saturated fat consumption and cardiovascular disease.
    Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar;91(3):535-46. Epub 2010 Jan 13.
    On the other hand, excess N6 PUFA (linoleic acid from “vegetable oil”) likely contributes to cardiovascular risk. (British Journal of Nutrition (2010), 104, 1586-1600)
    Low fat diet craze has increased consumption of sugar, which has contributed to the epidemic of metabolic syndrome. Oxidized LDL stimulates macrophages to become foam cells in the cascade of atherosclerosis. Saturated fat is not oxidized, N6 PUFA is easily oxidized and appears in atherosclerotic plaque. Our dietary advice has been wrong and continues to be wrong.

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