The government will conduct a UK-wide consultation with food manufacturers, supermarkets and health experts on how best to label nutritional content in food.

Today, health secretary Andrew Lansley launched the 12-week consultation, which will look to encourage all UK food businesses to use a uniformed labelling system. This will allow consumers to be aware of levels of fat, sugar, salt and calories in food.

Current formats include the “traffic light” colour-coded system, which labels unhealthy levels in food with red, green for healthy and yellow for average. Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) offer a percentage of recommended intake.

European regulations state nutritional information must be labelled either by per portion or per 100g.

Lansley said: “We want to arrive at a consistent format. At the moment we have a lot of different approaches, but I recognise there are some really big commercial interests here. What I want is for people to be able to buy the same shopping basket, but that basket to have less saturated fats, fewer sugars and less salt in it. So it is about people changing their behaviour.”

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science at the British Medical Association, told the BBC he was aiming for a system which “incorporates not only what Europe requires in terms of recommended daily allowance for calories and sugar and salt and saturated fats, but in addition to that to give a means by which consumers can look at a glance, for example using things like colour coding”.