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There are numerous press reports out of the UK detailing some controversy occurring over food labeling recommendations made by the government’s Food Standards Agency, which wants retailers and manufacturers to put green, amber and red warning signs – similar to those found on a traffic light – on food products. The signals would be keyed to how much fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar are contained in processed foods, and in essence tell people whether they were making good or bad choices in eating them.

However, two of the nation’s biggest chains – number one ranked Tesco and number four ranked William Morrison Supermarkets – have said they will not to use the traffic light symbols; Tesco will instead use its own proprietary food labels, and Morrison has said that it is conducting an internal review before making a determination.

The FSA has said that it took some 20 months to develop its system, and believes that a consistency of programs will make it easier for consumers to make healthier choices. And critics of the Tesco and Morrison decisions say that these two chains will only confuse consumers by moving in a different direction than other retailers.

Wal-Mart’s Asda Group, Sainsbury, and Waitrose all have said they will use the traffic light symbols on their private label packaged products.

However, Tesco and Morrison hardly are on their own. Reports are that food manufacturers Kraft, Danone, Kelloggs, Nestlé and PepsiCo all have decided not to subscribe to the FSA recommendations, fearing that a “red light” on a product could be misleading and potentially damaging to business. One of the concerns is that a “red light” will stop people from buying and eating certain foods, rather than simply considering where the foods fit into their diets, which is what FSA says a “red light” is supposed to symbolize.
KC's View:
We are sympathetic to the notion that a traffic light scheme may be a little misleading. After all, a red light may be designed to say “think twice about this choice,” but it most consumers will simply avoid the product thinking that the red light means “don’t buy it.”

Some of the judgment will simply be too subjective for such labels to be appropriate.