Health Star Rating website relaunched
The troubled Health Star Rating website was relaunched by the Australian Government over the weekend.
This is the second iteration of the Health Star Rating website — the first version of the Federal Health Department-sponsored website to list the Health Star Ratings of foods was taken offline just hours after it was launched. In the days that followed, Alastair Furnival, Chief of Staff to Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash resigned, after it was revealed he held shares in Australian Public Affairs (APA), a lobby group whose clients include Cadbury, Kraft and the Australian Beverages Council. Senator Nash denied that Mr Furnival’s links to presented a conflict of interest.
The Health Star Rating website (www.healthstarrating.gov.au) provides a range of information to help consumers understand how to use the health stars when they are shopping for groceries. It also includes detailed information for food manufacturers and industry about applying the HSR to their products.
One of the strongest advocates of the Health Star Rating website was the recently-elected Victorian premier Daniel Andrews when he was previously the Victorian Health Minister in the Brumby Labor government prior to 2010.
Australian Food News reported in June 2014 that the Health Star Rating system for food labelling had been signed off by food and health ministers from the Australian Federal, State and Territory governments.
Senator Fiona Nash, Assistant Minister for Health, launched the new Health Star Ratings website on Saturday 6 December 2014, saying it was “phase one” of an education campaign to accompany the Health Star Rating System, which is starting to appear on food products.
“The HSR system will make it much easier for shoppers to make informed choices about healthier food options,” Senator Nash said. “The five star ratings clearly displayed on packaged foods will allow consumers, especially parents, to make healthy food choices for the whole family without spending hours reading labels at the supermarket,” she said.
“The HSR system takes into account the four aspects of food – energy; saturated fat; total sugars; and sodium content,” Senator Nash said. “Products that are low in saturated fat, sugars, sodium and/or energy will generally have a higher star rating. The healthier the food, the higher the stars,” she said.
Health Star Rating debate
The effectiveness of the Health Star rating system, which was developed by food and beverage industry bodies, public health and consumer experts, has been the subject of an ongoing debate.
The Health Star Rating scheme was signed off by Federal, State and Territory food and health ministers in June 2013 and was expected to be implemented under a voluntary code run by the grocery industry body the Australian Food and Grocery Council.
However, implementation of the system has not been smooth sailing. In February 2014, Australian Food News reported that CHOICE had used the system to rate popular supermarket products after the earlier version of the website was taken down on the same day it was first launched.
In March 2014, Australian Food News reported that consumer group CHOICE had also used the Health Star system to rate popular lunchbox food products.
Government worked ‘closely’ with stakeholders
Senator Nash said the Government had worked closely with stakeholders on the healthy food choices initiative, and that this had resulted in the voluntary scheme receiving “broad support from public health groups, from food companies and from supermarkets”.
“Although to date there are only a few labelled products on the shelves, starting with Monster Muesli, a number of companies have now indicated they will be rolling out the HSR system,” Senator Nash said.
Senator Nash said the star ratings will begin appearing on many more products soon and the website’s launch was designed to inform people about what the stars mean. She said this was the first stage of the campaign, which is set to intensify over coming months as more food products display the healthy star rating.
“The HSR system is voluntary for industry to adopt over the next five years, as agreed by the Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation in June 2014,” Senator Nash said. “This will enable cost effective implementation, and provide time for manufacturers to work on reformulation-to include less saturated fats, sugars or sodium in their products,” she said.
“The Coalition Government recognises the burden of disease associated with poor diet and physical inactivity and the Health Star Rating system is one of a suite of measures to make it easier for people to make healthier food choices,” Senator Nash said.
Website relaunch welcomed by public health groups
The Public Health Association and the National Heart Foundation have both welcomed the website’s relaunch.
“This is a great day for consumers and families. We thank Minister Nash for her determined work to make this a reality,” said Michael Moore, Public Health Association CEO.
The CEO of the National Heart Foundation, Mary Barry CEO welcomed the introduction of the stars and said the Heart Foundation was pleased to see the stars on more and more products on supermarket shelves.
“The introduction of the Stars and the launch of the website means consumers have more choice and more information when shopping,” Ms Barry said. “The stars will also help drive reformulation of popular products which will make them healthier,” she said.