The debate over traffic lights versus GDA labelling has turned into a war of words, with both sides standing firm and promoting their approach as the only way forward.

In February, Kraft was one of five manufacturers that joined forces to back the Guideline Daily Amounts model pioneered by Tesco. Unfortunately for the Food Standards Agency, GDAs are currently the favourite and The Grocer can now reveal the full extent of support. Joining the founding five manufacturers - Kraft, Kellogg, Nestlé, Danone and PepsiCo - are: AG Barr, Britvic, Calypso, Coca-Cola, Gerber, Shloer, Sunny D, Nichols, Tropicana and Unilever, as well as Somerfield and Morrisons.

Meanwhile, the FSA's traffic light approach has managed to garner the backing of just four multiples. And it shows no sign of gaining popularity - certainly not among manufacturers.

So will those who haven't yet made up their minds take the GDA route?

Kraft corporate and government affairs manager Jonathan Horrell certainly hopes so: "The initial collaboration had great significance, as it demonstrated that the industry can pursue a common agenda when it is for the common good - not for the good of the company but for society."

Horrell hopes the GDA approach will continue to gather support - not just from manufacturers. A spokeswoman for Morrisons, which began rolling out the front-of-pack GDA labels on selected ranges last month, says it agrees with the FSA that the approach to providing consumers with useful nutritional information should be clear and consistent.

"However, we believe GDA signposting offers the best way of achieving this," she says. "Front-of-pack GDA labelling by a number of major brands introduces a common and complementary format across a wide range of products, meaning shoppers will easily be able to compare the content of individual foods in order to choose healthier options."

Which approach offers shoppers the best presentation of information is the most hotly contested topic. Consumer group Which? stepped into the debate earlier this month with research apparently backing the FSA's stance. It said consumers were being confused by different labelling models and the naughty industry should stop causing trouble and toe the FSA line for the good of the wider cause. Already Asda is seizing on the research as evidence that colour-coding is the way forward. However, Asda is a slightly different case to the others. Although rejected by GDA purists, who are fundamentally opposed to any colour-coding that demonises food as 'bad', its labels will be a combination of GDA and traffic lights.

Asda regulatory affairs manager Gordon Maddan says its own research supports its combination approach. "We think that combining the best of both elements is more useful information for our customers. GDAs on their own may not be that easy for consumers to understand, which is why we are overlaying them with ­colour-coding."

Sainsbury's is confident that, despite the traffic light team being dwarfed by the GDA camp, colour-coding will win out as the easy way to make a snap decision as to what is healthier in the supermarket.

"We carried out customer research in 2004 and discovered that they wanted simple, at-a-glance information on the five key nutrients," says ­Sainsbury's nutritionist Beth Flowers. "They like colour-coding because during their weekly shop they do not have time to pick up every item and scrutinise the label. They just want to know how healthy or indulgent it is."

However, Flowers does not think the split of opinion is damaging the industry. "Two years ago labelling was not at the top of the agenda. Whatever the conclusion of this debate, the fact that we're having it is the most important thing."

Despite believing in Sainsbury's Wheel of Health label, Flowers is realistic that somewhere down the line one standard model is likely to be agreed upon, probably one which draws various elements from different schemes.

"It would take some time to reach that conclusion though. Ten years ago GDA back-of-pack labelling was in its early stages and the debate was around what format to use - now that is pretty standard.

"Perhaps in ten years it will be the same with front-of-pack. But ultimately there will be common characteristics to satisfy all consumers and retailers. On top of that, it could roll out to foodservice - people want to know what they're eating when they're out too."

Although Flowers insists that colour-coding must be a part of that final model, she also takes a 'never say never' approach. "We will await the results of the FSA research into the two schemes next year with great interest," she says.

However, Kraft's Horrell does not believe it is essential to have just one winner. "We don't want a proliferation of millions of different ways, but there is room in the market for more than one system to co-exist.

"The real story is that the information is now out there. Rather than focusing on one versus the other, we must not lose sight of the fact that this info is now on front-of-packs. Open discussions have made this a prominent issue and, although we believe we have the right model, it's great to be doing front-of-pack labelling full stop."

The Food and Drink Federation is now spearheading the GDA scheme among manufacturers. "By the end of 2006 front-of-pack GDA labelling will be appearing on thousands of leading brands throughout the UK," says Melanie Leech, director general of the FDF. The next phase, she says, is an education campaign to help consumers understand how to use GDAs.

This, it is hoped, will silence critics who say that GDAs are confusing and not easy to understand at a glance. With both sides arguing the other's approach would confuse consumers - either with traffic lights not distinguishing between healthier versions in categories such as cheese, or GDA percentages not being immediately understood - Lisa McLaren, design director at branding consultancy Interbrand, says shoppers' ability to make choices as to which foods are healthy should not be underestimated.

"Consumers are actually pretty intelligent when it comes to reading labels. But the fact that there are different brands and supermarkets doing different things will make it confusing to consumers."

McLaren believes the best way forward would be to have one approach. However, she doubts whether traffic lights would be suitable for foods such as chocolate.

"There's nothing wrong with having chocolate once in a while. But do people need to see red, red, red to understand it is not healthy? They don't need to have it shoved in their faces and should be given more credit for knowing how to make choices about the foods they eat," she says.

But putting off a decision to use traffic lights or GDAs could hurt a brand, she warns. "People may ask, 'What have they got to hide?' All brands and retailers need to embrace front-of-pack labelling, as people now want to know what is in their food."

Those that have yet to decide insist that they will choose which way to jump soon. A spokesman for hard discounter Lidl says: "We feel it is a very good idea to better inform the customer of the nutritional content of products. We are currently looking at which scheme is best for us."

Marks and Spencer is also considering its options. "We need to make it easy for customers to make informed choices about what is healthy and what is not," says a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, the debate continues over whether there's a third way - Asda would argue that it has already come up with a workable compromise in its colour-coded GDAs.

But one thing all the companies that have nailed their colours to the mast agree on is that a decision has to be made - and soon.

"It's not about picking sides," says Flowers. "But any responsible retailer or manufacturer must be considering front-of-pack labelling at the moment. "What is great about the front-of-pack debate is that we can all have a real impact on the nation's health."