Five reasons why multiple traffic light front-of-pack nutrition labelling needs to be made mandatory in the UK

Five reasons why multiple traffic light front-of-pack nutrition labelling needs to be made mandatory in the UK

At Food Active, we think the public have the right to know and understand what they are buying and eating. We believe that front-of-pack labelling consistency is one important measure to enable this.

On the 30th July 2020 the Government published an open consultation entitled ‘Building on the success of front-of-pack nutrition labelling in the UK: a public consultation’ calling for the submission of views and evidence surrounding front-of-pack nutrition labelling, with a focus on the current system in the UK, multiple traffic light (MTL).

Having reviewed all the available evidence, Food Active supports the use of multiple traffic light nutrition labelling and do not believe it would be a salient use of time and resources to use another system, having also reviewed the other systems used globally. We strongly advocate for MTL to be made mandatory as this would force food industry giants to reformulate their high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) products, which they are able to cleverly avoid whilst MTL is only voluntary. We also strongly believe that mandatory, consistent use of labelling across the entire food industry allows consumers to make better food purchase choices, which may help to reduce food-related inequalities. Lastly, we propose a whole system change to packaging and health claims on food overall, which further help the public to make informed purchasing decisions.

To mark the deadline of the consultation today (21st October 2020), we have written a blog to highlight five key reasons why we think we need a mandatory front of pack labelling system in the UK.

  1. Multiple Traffic Light is an evidence-based, useful and familiar labelling system

UK consumers have been exposed to traffic light labelling since 2013, when the voluntary recommendation for food manufacturers to use it on their packaging came into action. Since then, we know that two thirds of the products on the market currently display MTL [1], hence it has become familiar for the public. Evidence on the MTL from multiple countries including the UK suggest that it helps people make healthier purchasing decisions [2], and data from ComRes suggest that the UK public also believe MTL should be mandatory on all food and drink packaging [3].

  1. It will force the food industry to reformulate their HFSS products

The goal for food labelling is two pronged – firstly to empower and inform consumers about the nutritional value of the foods they buy, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, to push manufacturers to reformulate their products to have favourable nutritional value – in the example of MTL – to show more ‘green’ and ‘orange’, and avoid ‘red’. This is important as it encourages a healthy food environment, and in an ideal world, with a whole lot fewer HFSS products. Mandatory labelling will enforce this across the board.

  1. It will empower more people to understand how to make healthy choices

The World Health Organisation first proposed FOPL as a policy instrument as part of their Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health in 2004 [4], in a bid to improve diets globally. So, we know that FOPL is useful in helping people making healthy decisions – which is why we need to make it consistent and easy to use amongst the British public. Part of this is ensuring every food label is the same so it is comparable, and consumers can clearly see when a food is healthier or unhealthier by comparing the same labelling system.

  1. It would be resource-intensive to completely change the current labelling system

As we already know, two thirds of products are already rolled out with the MTL labelling. This means thousands of food manufacturers would have to completely change and recalculate their nutrition labelling, were we to change to another FOPL labelling system, such as the Chilean warning label or French Nutri-score. Considering the public health challenges we are facing at the moment and increasing pressure on the Government, it may not be a very clever use of time, labour and money to change to a new labelling system. It would also be confusing for consumers to have to relearn how to interpret a new label.

  1. It may encourage improvements to other aspects of the food environment

Using the example of Chile, multi-pronged interventions to adjust the food environment, which include food labelling as a feature amongst other actions, are more effective than re-calibrating the FOPL system as a standalone action [5]. Accordingly, the UK Gov’s new obesity strategy addresses some wider food environment aspects: vowing to remove BOGOF offers on HFSS products, adjusting their placement in stores and online and removing unhealthy food marketing on television pre-watershed [6]. Whilst many of these actions might have been long overdue, the strategy has not gone without criticism, as it still does not address the unaffordability of healthier foods, instead making it harder for those who rely on cheap, but filling processed foods, to buy groceries with limited income. Hence, mandatory MTL might point interventions in the right direction, and spark change across the rest of the food environment.

We would like to say a special thanks to our student volunteer, Farihah Choudhury, who has supported the development of our official response to the consultation, a new position statement on front of pack labelling and authored this latest blog for Food Active.

You can view our official response to the consultation below, submitted to the Department of Health and Social Care and Food Standards Authority today, below.

The deadline for submissions is 11:59pm 20th October. To share your own views, click here.


We have also prepared a new position statement on Front of Pack Labelling which can be viewed below.


About the author

Farihah is a recent graduate of MSc Nutrition for Global Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with an interest in food policy, systems, sustainability, food justice and culture. She is soon to start a new role as a Public Health Practitioner and Hampshire County Council, leading on the Healthy Weight Strategy. 

Tw: @NutritionFSC 


  1. HM Government. (2016). Childhood Obesity: A Plan for Action
  2. Scarborough, P., Matthews, A., Eyles, H. et al. (2015). Reds are more important than greens: how UK supermarket shoppers use the different information on a traffic light nutrition label in a choice experiment. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act (12, 151)
  3. ComRes. (2018). Polling data with 2,121 UK adults aged +18 between 12th and 14th January. Data was weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults by age, gender and region.
  4. World Health Organization. (2004). Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. Geneva: WHO.
  5. Taillie LS, Reyes M, Colchero MA, Popkin B, Corvalán C. (2020). An evaluation of Chile’s Law of Food Labeling and Advertising on sugar-sweetened beverage purchases from 2015 to 2017: A before-and-after study. PLOS Med 11;17(2)
  6. Department of Health and Social Care. (2020). Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives. London: Department of Health and Social Care.



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