Published: 05/05/2005, Volume II5, No. 5954 Page 8

The Association of Directors of Public Health has criticised Tesco for rejecting the proposed 'traffic light' labelling system for food.

The supermarket giant launched an alternative 'signpost' system last week, giving nutritional information in grams. Research by the Food Standards Agency had suggested a colour code - red for 'eat sparingly, amber for 'eat in moderation' and green for 'eat plenty'.

Ministers' goal, stated in the public health white paper, is to introduce a common system by 2006.

Association president Tony Jewell said Tesco's unilateral move was 'bad news': 'There has to be consistency, or the public will walk away [from healthy food messages].' Dr Jewell added that a 'regulatory framework' might be necessary to get the food industry to co-operate with health initiatives to tackle obesity: 'The intention is to have voluntary agreement - but the clock is ticking, ' he said.

The FSA said it was still working towards a single system that 'would make it easier for consumers to make informed choices wherever they shop.' But a spokesperson for Tesco said its research had revealed problems with the traffic lights: 'Customers didn't know how to react to the amber lights - and they think red means 'stop', so they would avoid red foods altogether.'