When launching its 200-strong range of Good for you! products, Asda said: "We took a red pen approach and crossed out all the false and misleading product descriptions which can misinform and confuse customers. The result is a range which states the facts about nutritional content and health benefits." The inference was clear: other retailers were not doing enough on this issue. And in making its bold claim Asda has highlighted the fact that labelling remains a highly controversial issue for the industry as a whole. However, the Co-op claims Asda has woken up to this issue four years too late ­ and points out it is only being "honest" on a select range of 200 products. Wendy Wrigley, the Co-operative Group's general manager, retail brands, said: "We introduced a stringent code of practice on labelling across all categories back in 1997. "That code is now being referred to as the Food Standards Agency draws up its report on the whole issue. We challenge retailers such as Asda to implement it." Given its work in this area, the Co-op has plenty of reasons to be angry. But it is not alone in criticising Asda for claiming to be tackling the problem of unclear labelling with the Good for you! launch. Sainsbury nutrition scientist Sue Oldreive said her company already included country of origin information on labels and she said it had pioneered a number of labelling initiatives including guideline daily amounts to give customers extra useful information. "We've had a policy of having clear and comprehensive labelling for a number of years now. It is an area of concern for customers and does hold a certain appeal. "It is something that's being focused on." And a Tesco spokesman said: "Labelling is absolutely essential. Customers expect simple, clear labelling and that's what we aim to provide. "People want to know what's in their food and it's important we have clear labels to tell them." He added: "We have customer panels every week and clarity of labelling is something that is often discussed." Despite such retailer protestations, the Food Standards Agency clearly feels more work must be done and is planning new guidelines on labelling, picking up on concerns raised in its first annual survey of consumer attitudes to food standards. The FSA claims that while consumers want to eat healthily they are being held back by poor nutritional labelling and a lack of understanding of how to put guidelines on labels into practice. Its survey discovered that a quarter of people found the current system of labelling confusing and a third doubted the accuracy of the information contained on packs. Supermarkets clearly have a key role to play in this area. The FSA's research found 19% of consumers turn to supermarkets for guidance on food related issues. That's one reason why the agency wants retailers to join forces on this issue rather than embark on labelling battles. Rosemary Hignett of its food labelling and standards division said: "We are working on bringing together best practice across the industry, picking up ideas wherever we can find them." The Food and Drink Federation is one of those working with the FSA. It said: "Food labelling in the UK is subject to strict legislation which all manufacturers should adhere to. The labels on all food products should be honest ­ not just particular ranges. "Some 80% of products carry voluntary nutrition labelling, and extensive information which a label can't cover is also available to consumers on manufacturer web sites and carelines." Again, the FSA believes more can still be done. And Hignett says: "We will be carrying out more consumer research in the autumn and hope to come up with new guidelines on labelling by next January. "In the meantime we would like all supermarkets to sign up to the Joint Health Claims Initiative rather than develop inconsistent labels." But with all this focus on consistent and clear labelling, is one thing being overlooked: do consumers really care? Yes, says the Consumers' Association. Spokesman Peter Jenkins said: "Labelling is very important to consumers for a number of reasons. People are a lot more removed from food production and, with more processed food around, consumers are reliant on the information from labels." Jenkins said any move to improve labelling was welcomed by the Consumers' Association which is pushing for standardisation. "We still haven't got standardised labels, as they have in the US, but we welcome the action the Food Standards Agency is taking and anything the industry can do to improve labelling is good." {{NEWS }}