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Achieving consensus on food nutrition labelling

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Over nearly 10 years, the Department of Health (DH) had been unable to develop front-of-pack nutrition labelling on food because of disagreements between stakeholders. Whilst most stakeholders agreed in principle on the idea, getting a set of common standards that worked for everyone had been very difficult.

In 2011, the team from DH set about trying to secure that agreement and progress some common, easy-to-understand labels. The team needed to secure agreement from a diverse range of groups. They started by talking to everyone and seeking consensus on the need for consistent labelling. They then focused on building strong relationships with the market leaders- the major food retailers - knowing that others in the industry would follow if they agreed.

The team wanted to avoid an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. They used their database to model a number of potential options for labelling that they shared with their stakeholders, who included major retailers, trade associations and consumer groups. Between them, the groups came to a consensus on the principles that they would follow.

Once they had agreed the content, the next step was to design the nutrition label. The trade associations, having been involved in the process from early on, were keen to lead this work. They consulted with their members on potential designs and agreed the final version with the department – saving £60,000, but more importantly ensuring joint ownership of the final product. The new label was launched alongside technical guidance and immediately two-thirds of producers for all pre-packaged food sold on the UK market committed to using it. It was also welcomed by a variety of interest groups and since then other industry and civil society organisations have continued to join the movement.

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