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Maura Gillespie

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Traffic Light Labels Aren't About Demonising Food

Posted: 26/10/2012 10:02

This week, journalists formed an orderly queue to talk to the British Heart Foundation about the UK governments' new support for traffic light coloured food labels. In front of camera and behind microphone we welcomed the decision. It's something the charity has spent five years campaigning for because we know it's what our supporters want too.

But, as you'd expect, not everyone supports the notion that traffic light labels will help improve the nation's diet, despite some compelling, independent evidence.

Some quarters of the food industry are unhappy. Farmers, dairy companies and meat manufactures in particular have peddled the familiar line that red labels will demonise their products. They're worried shoppers might abandon milk, turn their back on sausages and ditch their favourite cheese.

I recognise their concerns but this isn't about the demonisation of food.

This isn't about telling shoppers to scour the supermarket in search of all-green products.

This isn't about ordering mums and dads to avoid every product with the slightest hint of red in the label.

People will still drink milk, enjoy bangers and mash and lay out the cheese board because traffic light labels are about giving shoppers the opportunity to make informed choices, not taking choice away. And, most importantly, traffic light colours mean you don't have to be a maths whizz to figure out what's in the food you're buying.

If customers go on to tell companies they want to see more ambers and greens, and products are reformulated to meet that demand, we would obviously welcome that, too.

The list of supermarkets that have already got behind traffic lights is impressive. Asda, Co-op, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, M&S are all on board, and the recent support announced by Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and Morrisons means the nutritional content of thousands of products will be easier to understand.

Now we hope many manufactures will also sign up to a single, consistent scheme.

After all, the UK's growing obesity problem is everybody's responsibility. It's been a long road to get here so we're absolutely committed to doing our bit to get these labels onto supermarket shelves as quickly as possible.

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