There is an ongoing war of words for the heart and mind of everyone who eats food. On one side there are the food producers while on the other there are consumer advocates and health charities and caught in the crossfire is the FSA (Food Standards Agency). The latest salvo in the war has been fired by Which? and a platoon of other organizations (Asda, Cancer Research UK, CASH, Diabetes UK, National Heart Forum and Sustain).

The Which? group have written to the FSA to press them for regulation of food labeling. Literally the hearts and health of the nation is at stake because eating habits are led by what is on labels and people are only as healthy as the food they consume. They are reinforcing the cause of ‘single front of pack labeling’. The FSA itself is a believer in this cause because their own recent (May 2009) research tells them that it is what consumers want.

The forces of the food industry want to do their own thing in their own time on labeling with a minimum of regulation because regulation is a euphemism for cost. The FSA’s latest pronouncements seem to show a surrendering of ground from their evidence-based position. It seems they may be yielding a little by allowing producers to implement any two of the three key elements of the single front of pack labeling scheme and more importantly probably doing it at a pace dictated by their needs rather than the needs of the consumers.

A Which? survey in 2006 found consumers understood best, those labels with the holy trinity of food labeling.

  • ‘Traffic light’ colour code explanations of wholesomeness
  • high-medium-low, indicators of content and
  • percentage ‘guideline daily amounts’ for a balanced diet. Confusion is the enemy of a healthy heart, according to Which? A single, plain English nutritional labeling scheme as soon as possible would be a victory for the consumer. The FSA should “stick to its guns” said Peter Vicary-Smith the top man at Which?

It was at a recent board meeting of the FSA that the concessions were tabled that sent shivers through the ranks of the consumer and health advocates. The FSA have not moved away from the strategic aim of a universal labeling format that includes the ‘holy trinity’ but the softening of the language is a cause for concern to those forces pushing the healthy eating and consumer awareness cause.