Talks which may lead to a common system of showing health information on food packages are being launched by the government this week.
Manufacturers, retailers and nutrition experts are expected to take part in the consultation led by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley tomorrow.
The government wants to see a common system to show - on the front of packs - how much fat, salt and sugar, and how many calories are contained in products.
Mr Lansley said:
Being overweight and having an unhealthy diet can lead to serious illnesses such as cancer and type 2 diabetes.We must do everything we can to help people make healthier choices.
Eighty per cent of food products sold in the UK already have some form of front-of-pack-labelling, the Department of Health (DoH) said. But different retailers and manufacturers use different ways of labelling which could be confusing for consumers, it added.
Some indicate Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), which give the percentage of recommended intake, and others use traffic light systems or both.
The DoH refers to research which shows that one clear system, used across all products, would make it easier for consumers to compare the nutritional information provided on the food they buy.
The Health Secretary added:
Offering a single nutrition labelling system makes common sense, it would help us all to make healthier choices and keep track of what we eat. Making even small changes to our diet can have a major impact on our health. Cutting our average salt intake by 1.6 grams a day would prevent over 10,000 premature deaths a year.
According to the DoH, if the biggest seven supermarkets used the same labelling for their own brand foods, it would cover around 50 per cent of all the food sold in the UK.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) has said it is urging ministers and the food industry to back traffic light-coloured labels combined with Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) and the words 'high', 'medium' and 'low'.
Julia Waltham, Advocacy Manager at the British Heart Foundation, said:
This isn't about telling people what should or shouldn't be in their baskets. This is about making healthy choices easy for busy shoppers. Front-of-pack labels using traffic light colours, GDAs and the words 'high', 'medium' and 'low', will help everyone make more informed choices at a glance, before they head to the till.
The DoH said the 12-week consultation will be an opportunity for all interested parties to give their view on what a consistent, clear front of pack label should look like and how to make the scheme a reality.