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.
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.)