The UK is introducing a labelling scheme which colour codes foods according to how healthy they are.

A similar system was rejected in Australia, with authorities here instead opting for a star rating system on food packaging that was announced last Friday.

In the UK, food sold in packaging will be colour coded with a red, amber and green system to show how much fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories it contains.

MARS, Nestle, PepsiCo and Premier Foods have announced that they will join all the major retailers - including Sainsbury's, Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons, the Co-operative and Waitrose - in using the consistent label on their products.

Manufacturer McCain Foods already uses the system on its packaging.

In a statement seen by the ABC, Public Health Minister Anna Soubry said the new labelling will help clear up any confusion consumers currently face when they're trying to shop for healthy foods.

"The UK already has the largest number of products using a front of pack label in Europe, but we know that people get confused by the variety of labels that are used. Research shows that, of all the current schemes, people like this label the most and they can use the information to make healthier choices," she said.

"We all have a responsibility to tackle the challenge of obesity, including the food industry. By having all major retailers and manufacturers signed up to the consistent label, we will all be able to see at a glance what is in our food - this is why I want to see more manufacturers signing up and using the label."

The UK government says people will be able to use the colours to understand the levels of nutrients in the food they are eating.

It says the labels are not designed to demonise foods with lots of reds but to have people consider what they are eating and make sure it is part of a balanced diet.

The European Union is also expected to overhaul its guidelines on displaying nutritional information in the next few years.

Australia's system

In Australia, the food industry was strongly opposed to the traffic light system.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council said there was no evidence around the world that the traffic light system of labelling would work.

After years of negotiations, the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation met in Sydney last Friday and announced a system called a 'Health Star Rating'.

The system will give consumers information on the packaging of the food they are considering buying.

The system will use a star rating scale of 1/2 to 5 stars.

Foods with more stars are considered the better nutritional choice.

The system will include nutrient information icons for energy, saturated fat, sodium, sugars and can include now positive nutrients such as calcium or fibre.

Professor Mike Daube, Director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, says he believes the group has come up with an excellent system.

"I genuinely think that the jury is out on whether stars or traffic lights will be better - now that it looks like both are on the cards, there should be scope for fascinating research around this," Professor Daube says.

"I also think that what we have here should be a terrific step forward."

Australia is to implement the front of pack labelling under a voluntary system, subject to there being consistent and widespread uptake.

The communiqué from last Friday's meeting says: "If, following evaluation after two years, a voluntary implementation is found to be unsuccessful, a mandatory approach will be required. This would require Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to develop a standard."

It says the system has significant potential to support consumers to make healthier food choices and acknowledged that "Front of package labelling is one tool in a suite of initiatives that will, in the long-term, contribute to alleviating the burden of chronic disease, overweight and obesity issues in Australia."

The Dairy Industry Council says more investigation is needed to ensure that dairy products are not presented as unhealthy, under the new nutrition labelling system.

The industry is worried that the algorithm used to decide which products get high star ratings treats dairy products unfairly, and gives low star ratings to foods like cheese and milk, even though they are recommended as part of a healthy diet.

More work on the system will be done over the next six months, which the Dairy Industry Council has welcomed.