Green Light for Better Eating

In the UK, they’re rolling out a “traffic light” labeling system for packaged foods. The labels will rate fat, saturates, sugar, and salt (the four big nasties) as either high (red), medium (orange), or low (green), on labels applied to the food. Personally, I think this is a great idea, as it helps you see at a glance how foods stack up. Some people (notably, food packagers) disagree.

go!I suspect there is a correlation between how much a food producer disagrees with the system and how many “reds” appear on their products. To be fair, the system does have the potential to, for example, discriminate against foods like cheese, which are high in fat (bad) but are otherwise nutritious. But let’s be reasonable; these are just labels – it’s not like they’re prohibiting the sale of the product. And besides, people should go easy on the cheese!

While I don’t like anyone telling me what to do or not do, food is a fundamental source of well being, as well as a potential source of the opposite. It is something that we all require, on a daily basis. But we’re not all nutritionists, nor do we all have lots of time available to think a lot about what we eat. These labels show the consumer, at a glance, if the product is high or low in one of these four areas. If you’ve got a block of butter in your hand and it says “High in fat,” well that should be obvious. But what if it’s a package of muffins? (Are you aware that most muffins are fat and sugar bombs? Even the so-called “healthy” ones. You’d know if we had those labels.)
Food production is one of the biggest industries on earth, and the primary goal of the food industry is to be profitable. When big food companies appear to be conscientious about health, it is usually just that – an appearance. One that has more to do with marketing than health or well being. As such, I most explicitly do not trust the food industry to be self regulating on these matters.

These “traffic light” labels – which are just guides, not scary proclamations – are essential checks in the balancing act of food production and food consumption. (Source: UK Food Standards Agency.)

5 thoughts on “Green Light for Better Eating

  1. Great idea! It would be nice to see it come here. I doubt it will happen south of the border though. The almighty dollar is too strong there.

    It irks me to increasingly see so much driven by profit. Even consumers buy the cheapest available without consideration on quality or the ethics of the company. It’s disheartening.

  2. This is a great idea. I’d love to see this here. Maybe we should lobby Stephan Harper and Stephane Dion. I’m not sure this wouldn’t have a chance south of the border as Frank says. When 300 lb obese health bombs start dropping like flies in a few years, they are going to have to wake up. In defence of the high fat in cheese argument, maybe there should be extra dots when appropriate (e.g. high source of calcium – green light, high source of vitamin C – green light, etc). These could be optional, but if I was selling something I would want to show all of the good points of my product (having a green dot for lowest price shouldn’t be allowed of course).

  3. We have the traffic light system at our cafeteria (though for the overall rating, not individual components). It’s definitely changed my mind a couple of times on what I was going to eat for lunch.

  4. I’m sure they started doing this because we have now become the fattest country in Europe. We’re number 1! We’re number 1! *cough hack splutter* Ugh, I need to lie down now.

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