New Zealand: Traffic light approach to food labelling a no-go

I’ve been in New Zealand for over a month now, in which time I have become accustomed to the accent, picked up some slang, and sampled many a new food. Although Marmite has not grown on me, I do enjoy a warm cup of Milo, a chocolaty malt drink, not quite as sweet as hot chocolate.

The New Zealand Herald reports today that a suggested traffic light approach to food labelling is a no-go with the Food & Grocery council.

While some consumer groups are pushing for traffic light labelling on food in New Zealand – to warn about a high sugar or salt content, for example – the council is against that approach.

Katherine Rich, chief executive of the Food & Grocery Council, says,

"We see this as an overly simplistic way of dealing with a complex problem. There is no evidence that slapping red light labels on milk, cheese, honey and Marmite will help New Zealanders achieve a healthy diet.”

She continued,

"The industry understood years ago that consumers wanted more information about the food they eat and so it committed to percentage daily intake labelling. Bringing in another form of labelling would cost consumers many millions of dollars for no gain…”

"As for the good food/bad food labelling, it is a joyless person indeed who suggests that the average Kiwi who occasionally enjoys a piece of chocolate with their Milo needs a big red light slapped on their chocolate bar telling them it’s bad."

The traffic light communication approach – green (good), yellow (caution), red (bad) – has been used in restaurant inspection disclosure schemes, like Sacramento County, C.A. (pictured above) or the City of Toronto, Canada. During the development of the Toronto disclosure scheme it was noted that colour can be used to draw attention and suggest caution.

Whether or not a red symbol on a cookie package would actually change my purchasing habits is unknown, but cities like Sacramento and Toronto that use traffic light schemes for disclosing inspection results seem to like it, and so do consumers.