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Food labels must be colour-coded: advocates

An alliance of health and consumer groups will begin another round of government lobbying to introduce food labels.

Health groups are still pushing for front-of-pack labels on foods to be colour-coded despite their preferred "traffic light" system being rejected late last year.

The groups are meeting with federal health department secretary Jane Halton, state and territory representatives and industry in Canberra on Monday as the next phase of negotiations begins.

A progress report on labelling options is due to be finalised for responsible ministers by June with a decision expected by the end of 2012.

"We think a colour-coded system that shows you what's healthier is really important," Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Michael Moore told AAP.

"(But) we are going to have a challenge in getting industry to agree to the red, yellow and green colours. They, I assume, are going to argue that still has traffic light connotations."

An alliance of health groups including the Australian Medical Association, the Cancer Council, Choice, Diabetes Australia, the National Heart Foundation and the Public Health Association have called for a front-of-pack labelling system be introduced.

Moore said Sanitarium's so-called healthy eating system is a good second-best option after traffic lights were rejected by federal, state and territory governments in 2011.

It gives food an overall colour with dietary advice: green is "eat often", orange is "eat occasionally" and red is "eat sparingly".

But within that overall label are five smaller green, orange or red boxes showing first, the level of fruit, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, second the level of fibre, third, the level of saturated fat, fourth, the level of added sugars and fifth the level of sodium.

"It's a red, yellow, green colour-coded system but doesn't appear in the form of traffic lights which implies to people that red is a complete stop," Moore said of Sanitarium's proposal released in April 2011.

Industry is still pushing for the existing voluntary percentage daily intake guide to remain the benchmark, Moore said.

The federal government received a review by former health minister Neal Blewett in January 2011 that recommended traffic light labelling be introduced on a voluntary basis to give the food industry time to adjust and for government to assess its effectiveness. But the proposal was later rejected following intense lobbying by industry.


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