UK to Food Companies: Label Your Bad Nutrients RED

UK Front of Pack Label

Hey FDA, take a look at what your British counterpart (Food Standards Agency) did last week. They issued guidelines for front-of-pack labeling of food items. No crazy inventions or wild west labeling decisions that have been confusing American consumers for the last 5 years. Instead, a well though out program indicating the good AND the bad in each packaged product.

Studies, not sponsored by the food industry, have shown that the traffic light system that has been chosen in the UK is the most helpful to consumers in guiding healthier choices.

What you need to know:

Nutrition labels on the side or back of a product package are too confusing. So a more succinct front of pack (FOP) label is sometimes used. It includes just a few key nutrients such as calories, saturated fats, sugar, and sodium. Color coding is used to indicate if there’s too much of something. In the example below – the sugar count is fine, but the other “negative” nutrients are marked in red. Yellow is used in cases where the nutrient level is in the middle ground.

UK Front of Pack Label - small

Obviously an all green product is the best bet. And something all red is not. In cases where some is red, and some green, the decision is not as simple.

UK Front of Pack Label

What do we have in the US?

A weak FDA, with very limited political power to go up against the mighty food industry. As a result, not only has the FDA not issued guidance to the industry, it has let industry dictate what the front of pack label would look like:

facts up front label

As a result, the information consumers so need is obfuscated:

  • No color coding
  • The addition of 2 more numbers (usually values of good nutrients), to encourage users to buy the product

What to do at the supermarket:

Since you are reading Fooducate, you know that the best solution is to read the entire nutrition label AND the ingredient list. Only together will you see the true picture behind a product.

  • way to go UK

    Since the ingredients are the most important to me ( I don’t like the idea of consuming man made chemicals) I wish our food products would be labeled with the traffic light color coded in system on the back ingredient list. I also wish there were laws about how many names you could give to things like MSG and fake sugar. We need more education,less cconfusion, and more responsible labeling.

  • Paul

    To convert grams of salt into milligrams of sodium, multiply by 400. The upper limit for salt in the UK is 6 grams, which is equivalent to 2400 milligrams of sodium; table salt is 40% sodium.

    • Carol H.

      Hmmm…. so, if a product uses non-chlorine salts (MSG, etc.), the sodium needs to be translated into “salt” equivalents, even though it isn’t present as “salt” (sodium chloride)? I’m glad we use “sodium” data on US labels rather than “salt” content… makes more sense.

  • SuperMOM101

    Way to go U.K.! Can’t pronounce an ingredient, find it on my kitchen shelf (high fructose corn syrup), grow in my garden (GMO – genetically modified corn) or requires a PhD in chemistry – won’t go in my shopping cart.

    Does anyone else find it strange that America (and her chidlren) have never been fatter, sicker or malnourished and….we can’t seem to figure out why?

    Hosting a party this afternoon for middle schoolers and will serve sparkling lemonade (basically lemonade with sparkeling water and 100 fruit juice) and iced water – most children say it’s better than soda (and cheaper).

    Best health to all.

    p.s. Last time I checked – there wasn’t a salt pond in my backyard to cure meats or an MSG factory.

  • abraxasMN

    Color coding isn’t real effective for those with color blindness. Reds look like blues to some. If a person isn’t going to read the numbers, they are not going to pay attention to colors.

    This strikes me as feel good legislation.

    • expediteA

      If someone can’t see the colours of traffic lights then food packaging is the least of their worries….