The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has announced that a series of 10-second television ads raising awareness of traffic light colour coded front-of-pack food labels will be broadcast for the first time on British commercial television station ITV at 7.45pm this evening, and will also be broadcast on satellite. The ads will run until 13 February.
"Our new labelling TV ads, like the traffic light approach, are clear and simple with the beauty being that these labels speak for themselves," said FSA chair Deirdre Hutton in a release.
Six-sheet posters will be used outside some supermarkets during February, and ads will appear in the national press and in womens weekly magazines from late January.
The move looks set to up the stakes in the on-going battle for the hearts and minds of consumers between the UK food watchdog and industry heavyweights over nutrition labelling.
"Our extensive and published research demonstrates that the use of traffic light colours is key to helping people interpret nutritional information on foods. We want to highlight to shoppers that these labels are now out there and really can help us all to make healthier choices," said Hutton.
The FSA's traffic light system rates each product as high (red light), medium (amber light) or low (green light) in the four key nutrients (fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar), is used by firms including Sainsbury's, Waitrose, the Co-Op, Marks and Spencer and Asda.
The debate over nutritional labelling remains highly polarised however. Some of the UK's biggest food manufacturers including Danone, Kellogg's, Kraft, Nestle and PepsiCo and retailers Tesco and Morrisons joined together and launched a £4m campaign last week to promote GDA (guideline daily amount) labels, which they claim will help people 'make better-informed decisions about the food they eat'.
The GDA system tells consumers the percentage of the adult male Guideline Daily Amount of the four key nutrients that each product contains.
But while many speculate the two systems are on a collision course, Huttons recent comments appear to suggest the FSA traffic light system and the GDA system may actually be complimentary.
"Most manufacturers and retailers are now using front-of-pack nutritional labelling and this is good news. Some shoppers find extra GDA information useful and all industry needs to do is add traffic light colours to their GDA schemes to ensure the consumer gets the best of both worlds," she said.
Many in the food industry believe that, while the GDA scheme is criticised for being too complicated, the FSA's traffic light labelling scheme is far too simplistic.