Nutrition labelling – a history

In November 2012 the new Regulation on Food Information to Consumers was published in the Official Journal of the EU.
Following a request from the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its scientific opinion on the labelling intake values as proposed in the draft Food Information Regulation. Significantly, the opinion backed the values currently used by the food industry.
As a result of the commission's consumer policy strategy, the European Commission published its proposal for a regulation on <a href="" title="Food Information to Consumers">Food Information to Consumers (pdf, 312kb).
The European Commission published the white paper (pdf, 46kb) on a Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity-related health issues, which stressed the need for consumers to have access to clear, consistent and evidence-based information.
In its consumer policy strategy 2007-2013 the Commission underlined that allowing consumers to make informed choices was essential both to effective competition and consumer welfare. In 2007 the number of companies using GDA labels more than doubled to 50 and the number of consumers who recognised them rose from 70% to 80%[6].
The Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries (now FoodDrinkEurope) introduced an EU set of GDAs based on Eurodiet recommendations (pdf, 172kb). The Eurodiet project, funded by the European Commission, provided a framework for national food-based dietary targets and an action plan for the development of European dietary guidelines.
A study conducted in this year showed that 96% of respondents were in favour of food manufacturers moving to a consistent approach to food labelling and 87% found the manufacturers' proposed GDA labelling format “clear and simple” [5].
In the same year the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) co-ordinated a campaign for food manufacturers aimed at ensuring consistency and developing messaging on how the front of pack GDAs could be used.
The Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), decided to review and extend the GDAs developed in 1998 and set up a new technical group composed of scientific experts and representatives from the food chain and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF). The outcome of this review was a consistent back-of-pack GDA scheme for adult males and females and for children in four age groups.
A separate IGD communications group investigated GDA formats and commissioned research on the preferred GDA scheme for back-of-pack. The results of the IGD discussions were published in a Best Practice Guidance document.
When IGD released its GDA values, many supermarkets started to show the GDAs for calories, sugars, fat, saturates (saturated fat) and salt on back of pack. Research by the IGD in 2005 showed that two thirds of individuals surveyed had seen the term GDA on food products. Over two thirds of individuals that had seen the term GDA correctly identified the meaning: a "guide to the amount of nutrients a person should be eating in a day”.
In the same year Tesco began to explore options for nutritional signposting on the front of pack. This was quickly followed by several food manufacturers and other retailers. Results, which compared sales of sandwich varieties before and after inclusion of GDA labels, showed that the sales of less healthy options decreased, whilst sales of healthier varieties increased[4].
Reducing obesity was one of the seven key priority areas for improving the health of the nation identified in the 2004 government white paper 'Choosing Health'. One of the actions identified was a call for the provision of clearer food labelling.
A set of GDAs for labelling purposes were developed as a means of communicating the Government's nutrient intake recommendations in a way that could then be used as part of the nutrition information on the back of food packs.
A collaboration of UK government, consumer organisations and the food industry, overseen by the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), set values for calories, fat and saturates (saturated fat) for men and women[3] based on the recommendations of the 1991 COMA report[2].
Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) started life as Daily Guideline Intakes (DGIs) for use by the UK Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF), now the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Initially they were set for fat, saturates (saturated fat), sodium, sugar and fibre in grams per day for men and women.
Expert Working Groups, created by the panel on Dietary Reference Values (DRVs), set up in 1987 by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA)[2] set DRVs for energy, protein, fats, sugars, starches, non-polysaccharides (NPS), 13 vitamins, 15 minerals and considered 18 other minerals.

Last reviewed: 11 Dec 2014