U.K. Food Labeling Scuffle Hits Screen

Multinational food marketing giants, including Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg and Danone have helped fund an $8 million industry ad campaign to sway consumers to "know what's going inside you"--but not necessarily to do anything about it. The United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency, for its part, has begun promoting its more activist "traffic light" approach to healthy and unhealthy food with short TV spots. Omnicom Group has made the 30-second industry ad, while WPP Group's United agency has created the government's 10-second animated ad. Some food retailers are supporting the government's approach, even though both labels are voluntary given the European Union's control (and inaction) over food labeling regulations. "If you put traffic lights on, even low-fat cereals have a red light," complains a Kellogg spokesman. The Children's Food Campaign has shown that about half the U.K. population lacks sufficient math skills to understand the industry-preferred "Guideline Daily Amount" system for nutrition, which is much like the percentage daily requirements system mandated in the United States.