Food Labelling Nutrition – Voluntary Schemes Standard Note: SN/SC/4019 Last updated: 5 January 2012 Author: Christopher Barclay Section Science and Environment Section The Coalition Government announced on 20 July 2010 that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) would be retained, with a renewed focus on safety. The Department of Health will become responsible for nutrition policy in England, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will become responsible for Country of Origin Labelling, and various other non-safety-related food labelling and food composition policies in England. FSA supported the so-called Traffic Light System favoured by some retailers, under which foods high in fat, sugar and salt are given a red label, medium foods an orange label and low foods a green label. Some manufacturers and retailers have adopted a rival scheme, using Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), which take account of the fact that some foods form only a small part of the diet. The label shows the fat, sugar, salt etc compared to the amount that a consumer is recommended to have each day. The UK Government favours GDA. The EU Food Information regulations 2011 will come into force in 2015, requiring some mandatory nutritional information. There is scope for introducing a voluntary GDA scheme. The Coalition Government wants the food industry to fund the Change4life campaign, in return for the Government adopting a non-regulatory approach. The Public Health Responsibility Deal, 2011, included out of home calorie labelling. A study argues that nutritional information does not affect what people actually buy.Contents1 The FSA 2This information is provided to Members of Parliament in support of their parliamentary dutiesand is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. It shouldnot be relied upon as being up to date; the law or policies may have changed since it was lastupdated; and it should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice or as a substitute forit. A suitably qualified professional should be consulted if specific advice or information isrequired.This information is provided subject to our general terms and conditions which are availableonline or may be provided on request in hard copy. Authors are available to discuss thecontent of this briefing with Members and their staff, but not with the general public.
1.1 Early support for Traffic Light labelling 2 1.2 Support for a compromise label, March 2010 22 Tesco and food manufacturers support for nutritional signposts 33 European Commission favours Guideline Daily Amounts 44 The National Institute for Clinical Excellence 45 Andrew Lansley announces a new approach 56 Does nutritional labelling influences what people actually buy? 67 Government policy since the 2010 election 68 EU Food Labelling Regulations 2011 71 The FSA1.1 Early support for Traffic Light labellingThe FSA announced a consultation exercise on 17 November 2005 on different ways ofpresenting nutritional information on food packets.1 Two options were considered. Oneoption was the Traffic Light System where the product is colour coded according to whether itis high in fat, sugar and salt, with red for high levels, amber for medium and green for lowlevels. The other option was Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), where the levels of severalnutritional elements are compared with the guideline amounts for daily consumption. After aconsultation exercise, on 9 March 2006 the FSA not only recommended the Traffic LightSystem, but also lined up retailers Waitrose, Sainsbury and ASDA in support.21.2 Support for a compromise label, March 2010After it became clear that manufacturers and some retailers would not voluntarily accept theTraffic Lights System, the Food Standards Agency recommended that its Board accept acompromise label: The Agency has today published a paper, which will be discussed at an open Board meeting next week, setting out proposals for front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labelling. The Agency is proposing a flexible approach to implementing a single front-of-pack label to help consumers make healthier choices when they buy food. In March 2006 the Agency recommended a set of principles for FOP labelling that would help consumers easily understand the levels of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugars in food products. Currently, the majority of UK food manufacturers and retailers are voluntarily using FOP schemes. The various FOP labels being used meet some or all of the Agency‟s existing recommendations in how the amount of each nutrient (fat, saturated fat, salt and sugars) is displayed. Some schemes also use colours other than the Agency‟s1 FSA Press Notice, Agency consults on front of pack labelling scheme to help consumers make healthier choices, 16 November 20052 Food Standards Agency Press Release, Board agrees principles for front of pack labelling, 9 March 2006 http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2006/mar/signpostnewsmarch 2
recommended traffic lights or use colours as a design feature simply to highlight the different nutrients: for example, green for fat and yellow for salt. An independent evaluation of the effectiveness of these schemes was published in May 2009. This robust study found that the co-existence of different FOP labels confused consumers. It concluded that the words „high, medium and low‟ were understood best, and combining this text with traffic light colours and percentage Guideline Daily Amounts (% GDAs) would enable more people to make healthier choices easily. However, consumers in citizens‟ forums subsequently run by the Agency, particularly liked traffic light colours as an at a glance cue. In the light of this evidence, together with feedback from a public consultation, the Agency has developed proposals to implement a single approach to FOP labelling. The Board paper proposes that the way information about the amount of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugars in a product is presented should use three elements: traffic light colours, text and % GDAs. Some companies are already using this approach whereas others are using FOP schemes that provide some of these elements. To assist the transition to this single approach, some flexibility has been included within the proposals, which allow a minimum of two elements [to] be used initially.3That decision partly reflected consumer views on the need for a single system of labelling butalso wanting a greater range of information than is contained in the Traffic Lights System.42 Tesco and food manufacturers support for nutritional signpostsTesco and several major food manufacturers support a different system of nutritionallabelling. Tesco explained its system of signposts in November 2005: The signposts clearly show the amount of salt, fat, saturates, sugar and calories in a serving of each product in grams. Crucially, labels also show how much of the guideline daily amount this makes up – so customers can get an idea of how this fits into their diet as a whole…By separating the key nutrients the labels help shoppers monitor any or all of the areas they are concerned about depending on the individual eg salt if they have high blood pressure or calories if they are watching their waistlines. The simple lay out means it is easy for customers to stay within their recommended amount without doing complicated calculations.5On 9 February 2006 five of the UK‟s largest food firms announced their own plan, also withGDAs, similar to the Tesco scheme.6 Welcoming this initiative, Tesco explained why it didnot favour the Traffic Light System: Earlier customer research by Tesco found that Traffic Light labelling is simplistic and could mislead customers for example; both cola and apple juice would be colour coded amber for sugar – this is likely to confuse customers who are choosing between these products. Tesco also found that „Red‟ is taken by customers to mean stop/danger rather than warning/consider and could mean that people eliminate certain foods from their diet. Whereas by separating the key nutrients in a simple format the labels help3 FSA News Release, Agency pushes proposals for better labels, 5 March 20104 FSA News Release, Citizens forum findings on nutrition labelling, 28 January 20105 Tesco Press Release, Tesco underlines commitment to providing customers with clear nutritional labelling, 16 November 20056 Nestle Press Release, Leading food manufacturers unite on common front-of-pack nutrition labels, 9 February 2006 3
shoppers to monitor parts of the diet that they are concerned about e.g. salt if they have high blood pressure.73 European Commission favours Guideline Daily AmountsIn January 2008 the European Commission perhaps complicated the position: The European Commission has come out in favour of a system of food labelling opposed by the UK regulator. The commission is proposing it should be mandatory to have guideline daily amounts on the front of packs - a system backed by some UK supermarkets. But the UK Food Standards Agency favours a traffic light system, where red means fat or sugar levels are high. (…) The commission said the draft regulation was simply setting out general requirements on how nutritional information on calorie content and fat, sugar and salt levels should be displayed. If approved by EU ministers, the proposal would require that the energy, fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates content of food per 100mg or per portion are displayed clearly on the front of the packet. The labelling would also have to include the proportion of those contents in relation to the recommended daily allowance of each one. But the commission said there was still scope for each country to promote additional national schemes "provided they do not undermine the EU rules".8It will not be easy to reach agreement within the EU, with many MEPs opposed to theCommission‟s idea of allowing national labels, amongst other aspects of the scheme.However, in August 2009, German health insurance firms sent an open letter to theEuropean Commission and the German Government calling for EU-wide Traffic Lightlabelling.94 The National Institute for Clinical ExcellenceIn June 2010 NICE published a report, Prevention of cardiovascular disease at populationlevel. Recommendation 6 Product labelling Clear labelling which describes the content of food and drink products is important because it helps consumers to make informed choices. It may also be an important means of encouraging manufacturers and retailers to reformulate processed foods high in saturated fats, salt and added sugars. Evidence shows that simple traffic light labelling consistently works better than more complex schemes . Policy goals Ensure the Food Standards Agency‟s integrated front-of-pack labelling system is rapidly implemented. Ensure labelling regulations in England are not adversely influenced by EU regulation. To achieve this, the evidence suggests that the following are among the measures that should be considered. What action should be taken?7 Tesco Press Release, Nutritional signposts welcomed by customers, 9 February 20068 “EU backs rival food label scheme”, BBC News Online, 30 January 20089 “German health insurance schemes call for traffic lights”, EU Food Law, 28 August 2009 p1 4
Establish the Food Standards Agency‟s single, integrated, front-of-pack traffic light colour-coded system as the national standard for food and drink products sold in England. This includes the simple, traffic light, colour-coding visual icon and text which indicates whether food or drink contains a „high‟, „medium‟ or „low‟ level of salt, fat or sugar. It also includes text to indicate the product‟s percentage contribution to the guideline daily amount (GDA) from each category. Consider using legislation to ensure universal implementation of the Food Standards Agency‟s front-of-pack traffic light labelling system. Develop and implement nutritional labelling for use on shelves or packaging for bread, cakes, meat and dairy products displayed in a loose or unwrapped state or packed on the premises. The labelling should be consistent with the Food Standards Agency‟s traffic light labelling system. Ensure food and drink labelling is consistent in format and content. In particular, it should refer to salt (as opposed to sodium), the content per 100 g and use kcals as the measure of energy. Continue to support the Food Standards Agency in providing clear information about healthy eating. Ensure the UK continues to set the standard of best practice by pursuing exemption from potentially less effective EU food labelling regulations when appropriate.5 Andrew Lansley announces a new approachThe Guardian reported on 8 July 2010 a speech by Andrew Lansley: Food and alcohol companies will fund governments healthy lifestyle ad campaign in exchange for a non-regulatory approach Beer companies, confectionery firms and crisp-makers will be asked to fund the governments advertising campaign to persuade people to switch to a healthier lifestyle and, in return, will not face new legislation outlawing excessively fatty, sugary and salty food, the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, announced today... Lansley told a conference of public health experts that he wanted a new partnership with food and drink firms. In exchange for a "non-regulatory approach", the private sector would put up cash to fund the Change4Life campaign to improve diets and boost levels of physical activity among young people.(...) Conceived by Labour, the Change4Life campaign was costed at £75m over three years and was already backed by industry, with high street names such as Tesco, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Pepsi all offering expertise and support. However, Lansley is proposing a radical scaling back of the public contribution to allow "charities, the commercial sector, and local authorities to fill the gap". (...) Speaking to reporters after his speech to the Faculty of Public Health conference in central London, Lansley said Change4Life would also be expanded, to cover alcohol misuse which costs the NHS £17bn a year – the same as obesity, which now affects one in four Britons.1010 “No anti-junk food laws, health secretary promises”, Guardian, 8 July 2010 5
6 Does nutritional labelling influences what people actually buy?In February 2011, the Daily Telegraph reported on an American study that challenged thebenefits of nutritional labelling: Researchers discovered that even though customers became more aware of how much they were eating, it had little effect on what they purchased. Price and taste were so powerful motivators that they counteracted any desire to be healthy, it was concluded. Dr Brian Elbel, who carried out the research for New York University, said that other ways of reducing calorie intake were needed. "It is important to understand that labelling is not likely to be enough to influence obesity in a large scale way," he said. Dr Elbel, and his team, carried out the research when New York City introduced a blanket policy of calorie labelling at all its fast food outlets. He compared how much it changed eating habits compared with similar outlets nearby in New Jersey that did not have to label their food. He found that teenagers and parents of young children, questioned at the door, claimed they were more aware of how many calories they were buying and that it did influence their decision. But an analysis of their receipts showed that they continued to eat the same calories as counterparts where there was no labelling. Dr Elbel and his colleagues gathered receipts and surveys from 427 parents and teenagers at fast-food restaurants both before and after mandatory labelling began in July 2008. The study did not find a change in the number of calories purchased at fast-food restaurants after labelling went into effect. Teenagers purchased about 725 calories and parents purchased about 600 calories for their children. The way food tastes was considered the most important reason that teenagers bought it, while price was a consideration for slightly over 50 per cent. Just over a quarter of the group said that they often or always limited the amount of food they ate in an effort to control their weight. The study also reported that most teenagers underestimated the amount of calories they had purchased, some by up to 466 calories. The study was published in the International Journal of Obesity.117 Government policy since the 2010 electionSecretary of State Andrew Lansley stated his support for GDA rather than traffic lights inevidence to the Health Committee on 20 July 2010: Q39 David Tredinnick: Let us talk about the labelling of food and obesity. I think you said, Secretary of State, that you favour the Guideline Daily Amounts whereas the Food Standards Agency and NICE have come out clearly in favour of traffic lights. It seems to me that the traffic light system of labelling food is very easy to understand on a packet. I put it to you that most people have not got time to read instructions on the back of a packet, they want a very simple system. If we are actually going to reduce obesity in this country we need to recognise that the way to stop getting fat is to stop eating fat and we need to make it simple. I would like you to comment on that, please.11 “Calorie labelling has no effect on food choices”, Daily Telegraph, 15 February 2011 6
Mr Lansley: You will recall in November 2004 the previous government published a White Paper where they said what they wanted was a single traffic light system where it was not even traffic lights in relation to each of sugar, fats, saturated fats, salt, calories, et cetera. I objected to that and the reason I objected was very straightforward I thought that would have the risk of seriously distorting the nature of the information which is provided and would be misleading. The view I took then in November 2004 was we should focus on encouraging people to have a good diet, not just to try and categorise foods as "good" or "bad". The Labour Government subsequently abandoned the thought of a single traffic light and moved to multiple traffic lights. You said that the Food Standards Agency were in favour of traffic lights as distinct from GDA but, in fact, based on their interpretation of the evidence they received their most recent view is that what they are looking for is a front of pack food labelling system which combines Guideline Daily Amounts and traffic light or visual symbols alongside some textual information about the relative level of ingredients. If you were to say what did I think about all of that, I have been on the record for years saying that the kind of approach adopted, for example, by Asda and McCain, which combined GDA and traffic lights, was the system I favoured. The point, however, is we have had a government that has been talking about this and the FSA have been talking about it, but just go out in a range of supermarkets and tell me is there any consistency. No, there is not, so it has not worked, has it? We have no power ourselves to mandate this. The European Union are considering the nature of a directive. The shape of the directive is clearly from their point of view around recommended daily amounts. Frankly, we will be doing well, which would be my objective, if we get an opportunity through the European Union for there to be a clear legal framework for Guideline Daily Amounts in relation to all the right components to be specified on the front of pack in the right way with the ability for us on a voluntary basis, on a national basis, to have a traffic light system alongside.12On 15 March 2011, the Department of Health published the Public Health ResponsibilityDeal. Pledges developed by businesses and others under this Deal are intended tocomplement, not replace, Government action.Food pledges include: F1. Out of home calorie labelling – We will provide calorie information for food and non alcoholic drink for our customers in out of home settings from 1 September 2011 in accordance with the principles for calorie labelling agreed by the Responsibility Deal. One in six meals, and around 20% of men‟s and 25% of women‟s energy respectively, comes from food eaten outside of the home. The provision of out-of-home calorie labelling is intended to give people some of the information they need to make healthier choices more often when eating out, and to encourage out-of-home food businesses to make healthier options more available.8 EU Food Labelling Regulations 2011REGULATION (EU) No 1169/2011 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THECOUNCIL of 25 October 2011 on the provision of food information to consumers, requiressome mandatory and some voluntary nutritional information.The Food Standards Agency summarised the food nutrition rules, including those forvoluntary schemes:12 Evidence of the Secretary of State to the Health Committee, 20 July 2010, HC 2010-11 7
Nutrition labelling: back of pack information will become mandatory on the majority of prepacked foods, and it will be possible to voluntarily repeat on „front of pack‟ information on nutrients of importance to public health. It will also be possible to provide voluntary nutrition information in the front of pack format on food sold loose (eg on deli counters) and in catering establishments. In addition, there remains scope for businesses to use Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) based on reference intakes specified in the regulations and (subject to certain conditions) additional forms of expression and presentation.13The following exchange in October 2011 shows different views on the new regulations: Asked By Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes To ask Her Majestys Government whether they are supporting the new food nutritional labelling regulations approved by the European Parliament on 6 July; and, if so, why. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, we welcome the new regulation. The UK has led the way in Europe in improving nutritional information for consumers. Access to nutritional information supports consumers in choosing a balanced diet and can help in controlling calorie intake. The regulation meets our main negotiating objectives and will give the UK freedom to maintain and build on existing practice. Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, I am a little astonished by that response. Is my noble friend aware that I have campaigned for many years in your Lordships House for clear, uniform food labelling on pre-packaged goods for easy comparison? The FSA produced such labelling, which I understand was approved by all five Select Committees but was rejected by the EU, which has now produced something futile, pathetic and unenforceable, to put it mildly. Does my noble friend agree that it is time for the proverbial worm to turn and to tell the EU that we do not want its version-we prefer our own? Earl Howe: My Lords, I am not sure that I would accept the epithets that my noble friend has applied to this regulation. We have led the way in these negotiations. It is true that it has taken some time but we have come away with most, if not all, of our key objectives met. Nutritional information will now be displayed in a consistent manner on the back of all pre-packed foods, which is a major plus. A voluntary approach has been secured for front-of-pack nutrition labelling and for non-pre-packed foods, including those sold by caterers. It will also be made easier for alcohol companies to include energy information on their products on a voluntary basis. This will give people the information they need to make informed choices about what they eat and drink, which is the whole idea.1413 Food Standards Agency, Providing Food Information for Consumers, 201114 HL Deb 17 October 2011 cc6-7 8