A new voluntary food labelling scheme introduced by Britain's Food Standards Agency made its debut Friday.

The system is also backed by two of the nation's four largest supermarket chains - Asda and Sainsbury - ranked neck-and-neck at two and three - while top dog Tesco and number four Morrisons have yet to declare their hands. Between them the quartet account for nearly 75% of the £95 billion ($163.9bn; €137.9bn) UK grocery market, which Tesco bestrides colossus-like with over 30%.

The FSA's so-called 'traffic lights' system codes foods green, amber or red according to whether they contain low, medium or high levels of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar.

But nutritionists and consumer groups - who have long lobbied for such a scheme - fear the FSA initiative will be subverted by a rival labelling system promoted by five major multinational food manufacturers, all members of the UK Food & Drink Federation: Danone, Kellogg's, Kraft, Nestlé and PepsiCo [WAMN: 10-Feb-06]. It will be launched this spring.

National Consumer Council ceo Ed Mayo has slammed the rival system as "a cynical move to derail" the FSA plan whose grading standards are reportedly tougher and less ambiguous.

Says FSA chair Deirdre Hutton of the official system: "Develop-ing a consistent way of clearly highlighting how much fat, sugar and salt a food contains will make it simpler for people to put healthy eating advice into practice when shopping."

Data sourced from mad.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff