Information overload – are new food label laws too complex?

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 4th November 2015

IngrdientsAfter ten years in development, a new Standard for Nutrition, Health and Related Claims will become law January next year.  Standard 1.2.7 of the Food Standards Code will regulate nutrition content claims, general level health claims, high level health claims and endorsements, on labels and in advertising of food for retail sale in Australia and New Zealand.


Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has responsibility for the Food Standards Code, and has developed this new Standard. These regulations are implemented and enforced by the states and territories in Australia, the Ministry for Primary Industries in New Zealand and the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry for imported food. Importantly, the new standard will provide clarity for these government agencies in enforcing the regulations.


The new Standard has been developed with the intention of enabling industry to innovate to provide a wider range of healthy food products, and to ensure that consumers are provided with the information needed to make informed food choices.


Nutrition content claims and health claims are voluntary statements made by food businesses on product labels or in advertising.


Up until now, claims such as these were guided by a Code of Practice. When this new Standard comes into effect, the criteria for permission of these claims will be firmly prescribed in legislation.


Health claims refer to a relationship between a food and a health effect, and the standard defines claims as either general claims or high level claims.


A health claim that refers to a serious disease (or a biological indicator that may predict a serious disease, e.g. high blood pressure) is known as a “high level health claim”.  An example would be, a claim that consuming a food may reduce your risk of getting breast cancer.  There are thirteen high level health claims set out in the Standard that can be used in limited circumstances, eg “a diet high in fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of coronary heart disease”.


Any other health claim is known as a “general level health claim”.  Certain pre-approved general level health claims (eg “Contains magnesium, which contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue”) can be used, but only subject to strict conditions. A statement such as “eating more fruit and vegetables helps to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease” would also be classed as a high level health claim.


In order to make any health claim, the food must comply with specific criteria listed in the Standard, including nutrient profile scoring criteria (NPSC).  The NPSC is designed to provide an objective benchmark of the overall “healthiness” of a food and ensure that health claims are not permitted on foods that have some “unhealthy” characteristics.


For example, an oatmeal biscuit which is high in fat and sugar would not be permitted to carry a health claim linking beta-glucan (contained in oats) with reduced cholesterol absorption.  However, if that biscuit were to be reformulated such that its composition meets the NPSC and complies with the nutrient content criteria for beta-glucan, then it might be possible to label it with a health claim.


Somewhat controversially, the Standard will allow food businesses to self-substantiate food-health relationships for general level health claims.  Businesses that intend to self-substantiate must conduct a systematic review process as set out in the Standard prior to making any health claim.


FSANZ will maintain a public record on its website of food businesses that have chosen to self-substantiate a food-health relationship for the purpose of a general level health claim.


Each food business must conduct its own systematic review; and food businesses are not permitted to use a relationship on the public record that has been provided by another food business.


All health claims must be supported by scientific evidence. The degree of certainty required will be the same, regardless of whether they are pre-approved by FSANZ or substantiated by an individual business.


A health claim must also include a dietary context statement.  This means that the permitted health claim wording can become quite complex. Here’s an example: “in the context of a healthy diet involving the consumption of a variety of foods, a diet high in calcium and adequate vitamin D reduces the risk of osteoporosis in persons aged 65 years and over”.


All these rules and regulations are meant to make it easier for consumers to make informed decisions about what they eat. I can’t help but wonder, though, whether it is becoming so complicated that many people will simply tune out.


Jan Davis has worked in senior agribusiness roles across Australia for thirty years. Tagged as Tasmania’s top political lobbyist and one of the most influential people in the state; she works as an agribusiness and government relations consultant. To read her full biography click HERE.  


FoodLegal’s Health Claim Special workshop: 11 November 2015 (Melbourne) and 18 November 2015 (Sydney)


Are you prepared for upcoming food regulatory changes? Health Claims & Insights into the new Food Standards Code


Mandatory compliance with the new Health Claims Standard is right around the corner, coming into effect in January 2016. The new Food Standards Code commences in March 2016. In November 2015, FoodLegal presents two key workshops to help you get ready for the new year.


Morning session


Harnessing the new Health Claims Standard: Opportunities in marketing the healthy angle of foods


Learn from Charles Fisher, a compliance expert and facilitator from FoodLegal, who will show you that the new Health Claims Standard is something to be excited about, not feared. Limit the risk and legal liability for your products and learn how best to design and market your products.


MELBOURNE/ Wednesday 11 November 2015, Level 1/440 Collins St MELBOURNE


SYDNEY/ Wednesday 18 November 2015, Level 13/60 Margaret St SYDNEY


8:45am registration for 9am start – 1pm. Click HERE to register.


Afternoon session


Insights into the new Food Standards Code


Insights into the new Food Standards Code 2-hour presentation including Q&A about the new Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code with FoodLegal principal Charles Fisher (plus short demonstration of the new ‘FoodLegal InHouse’ subscription service’).


MELBOURNE/ Wednesday 11 November 2015, Level 1/440 Collins St MELBOURNE


SYDNEY/ Wednesday 18 November 2015, Level 13/60 Margaret St SYDNEY


2:00 – 4:00pm
Click HERE to register.