U.S. health officials are considering adding symbols with nutrition information to food labels, adopting a traffic-light system used in Britain to help consumers make healthier food choices.
The Food and Drug Administration opened a two-day meeting Monday to collect comments from food companies, trade groups, watchdog organizations, medical experts and its overseas counterparts on the topic. Any action is likely years away.
Some food manufacturers and retailers already have begun labelling foods with their own symbols.
PepsiCo uses the "Smart Spot" symbol on diet Pepsi, baked Lay's
chips and other products.Hannaford Bros., a New England supermarket chain, uses a zero- to three-star system to rate more than the 25,000 food items it sells.
In Britain, the government has persuaded some food companies to use a traffic-light symbol.
That ranking system relies on green, yellow and red lights to characterize whether a food is low, medium or high in fat, salt and sugar.
"A whole range of consumers like it and can use it. And the important thing is that we know that it is actually changing what is happening in the marketplace," said Claire Boville, of Britain's Food Standards Agency, citing increased sales of foods flagged with the green and yellow symbols.
Though Canada has not adopted a traffic-light approach to food labelling, nutrition labelling became mandatory for most prepackaged foods on Dec.12, 2005. Smaller businesses have until Dec. 12, 2007, to make the information available.
The Nutrition Facts table appears on food labels and lists such things as calories, fat content, carbohydrates and protein.