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Indians look at traffic light labels for food

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Health campaigners in India are pushing for the adoption of a ‘traffic light’ food labelling system to help combat the nation’s burgeoning obesity problem.

A campaign group Consumer Voice is conducting pilot test of traffic light labelling as an effective way to inform consumers, many of whom are illiterate, of the nutritional value of packaged foods, according to a report by the ABC.

A traffic light food labelling scheme has been rejected by Australian and New Zealand food and health Ministers in favour of a five star rating system, but the Indian group is undeterred, and is copying an arrangement currently being implemented in the United Kingdom.

Ashok Kanchan, from Consumer Voice, said the traffic light system would enable shoppers to assess and compare foods at a glance, and could be an important tool in slowing rates of obesity.

“Obesity is increasing, and another thing is people are more illiterate here, so by this system, one can identify the product which is healthier, and which is not healthier,” Mr Kanchan told the ABC.

Under the scheme being piloted, food and drink considered to be healthy are given a green light, while those that it is healthy to consume most of the time are designated amber, and those that should be consumed only occasionally are given a red light.

Mr Kanchan said foods and drinks were categorised following a laboratory examination of their fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content.

Initially, Consumer Voice wants the system to apply to food and drink consumed by children. A survey it conducted involving 50,000 children across 18 states found that, in metropolitan areas, around 25 per cent of children are overweight, and around one in every six children in non-metropolitan areas.

Mr Kanchan admitted the proposal was likely to encounter significant opposition from the food industry, and said he would observe the introduction of the five star system in Australia “with interest”.

Under the Health Star Rating system, to be introduced around mid-2014, a label on the front of packaging will award food and drink from one to five stars, depending on nutritional value.

The star ratings will be accompanied by an information panel giving consumers a quick, at a glance rundown of the saturated fat, sodium and sugar content, as well as one other nutritional measure (such as energy, fibre or calcium content).

Adrian Rollins