FRANCE - A new public health act in France is to establish a simplified form of nutrition labelling on foods.
Now a proposal has been put forward to introduce a colour coded system of labelling similar to the “traffic light” system that is being use in some supermarkets in the UK.
The new system has been backed by the European consumer watch dog group UFC-Que Choisir in a study for the National Health Act and the organisation is calling on politicians to include it in the new health bill.
The need for a simplified system of nutrition labelling that cannot be used by companies as a marketing tool, comes in response to concerns in France over overweight and obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
These health concerns are as a result of a diet too high in sugar saturated fat and salt and the government believes that it is essential to better inform consumers about the nutritional qualities of food products.
UFC-Que Choisir tested the system that was put forward by Prof Serge Hercberg under the National Strategy for Health, by applying it to 300 products.
The system uses five colours to grade the foods according to salt, sugar and fat content grading them as green for lowest and going up through yellow, orange, pink and red according to the highest content.
The results found that the colour coding system was a good indicator of the diversity of products.
The products were spread across the whole spectrum of the colours and would allow the consumer to differentiate between the nutritional values of the foods both against other foods in the same family and other different foods.
As an example, the report said that a wholemeal muffin from Carrefour was given a green colour while a richer version of the muffin the “Pasquier was shown as pink.
The report said that the system was also informative and educational for consumers.
It said that while traditional recommendations not to eat too much fat or too much of foods that are high in salt or sugar are difficult to implement and explain, with the colour system they become easily visible.
Contrary to many beliefs and suppositions, products such as a Ready-made Cassoulet from Williams Saurin or Salt Pork with lentils from Fleury Michon were given a green colour coding – seen as the healthiest – while a Frosties cereal bar was given a red coding as was a Chocolate Chip Brownie from Brossard compared to a Carrefour own brand English Muffin which contained jam and which was given a yellow coding.
The report said the coding system allowed consumers to make a decision on the value of the products as part of their daily consumption.
The report also said that the colour coding was an effective counter to nutritional marketing and gives a much more nutritionally correct image of the products.
It said that certain breakfast cereals that promote themselves as part of a low calorie diet for slimming, were given an orange grading, similar to most other children’s breakfast cereals.
A yoghurt product promoting zero per cent sweeteners was given a yellow grading like most other yoghurts.
And the report showed that some healthy eating fruit products varied with some having a green rating while others had an orange rating because of the sugar content.
The study that has been published in Que Choisir magazine said it was an effective system that allowed consumers to make informed choices about the foods they were eating and allowed them to choose which foods to include and a balanced daily diet.
The report said it should immediately because part of the law on public health.