“Health Star Ratings not intended to stop people eating processed foods”, says leading food law expert

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 15th February 2016

All Bran side of packAn Australian food law expert has criticised the notion that food producers are trying to manipulate the Federal Government’s Health Star Rating scheme to encourage consumers to eat unhealthy processed foods.


One of Australia’s most vocal consumer advocacy groups CHOICE  have today claimed that food producers are “gaming” the newly introduced health rating system.


However food law expert Joe Lederman, managing principal of FoodLegal, says that CHOICE and its supporters on this matter are wrong.


“The idea of the Health Star Rating scheme is not to prevent people eating processed foods. If there are academics with an ideology against people eating any processed foods, they can express their view but that is not why the Health Star Ratings exist,” Lederman says in reference to an academic who said the Health Star Rating System is undermining public health messages by encouraging the public to eat fresh and unprocessed foods.


“If Nestlé’s usage of the Health Star Rating is clearly saying that it’s ‘healthier’ to drink Milo using skim milk, I would have thought that this is consistent with the whole objective of the Health Star scheme,” Lederman said citing an example given in media reports of CHOICE”s criticism of the food companies.


“I understand the objective is to get customers to modify their diet to improve the healthiness of their food choices. The Health Star Ratings algorithm encourages skim milk over full cream milk,” Lederman says.


Lederman adds “there is probably some irony in the healthier choices generated by the Health Star Ratings algorithm.”


He says for example that recent scientific findings are likely to challenge the current prevailing views on the so-called ‘unhealthiness’ of full cream milk or over emphasis on kilojoule control.


“Medical science research into lipids is reaching a new scientific consensus that may be less supportive of the current algorithm that the Health Star Ratings reflect,” he says.


CHOICE hits out at food brands for “health washing”


Referred to by CHOICE as “health washing”, the advocacy group named Nestlé and Kellogg’s amongst the companies it believes are manipulating the system.


CHOICE said Nestlé’s Milo displays a Health Star Rating of 4.5 stars but closer inspection reveals the rating is based on the product made up with skim milk. Without milk, Milo only gets a 1.5 star rating.


“With 11 teaspoons of sugar per 100g, Nestlé’s 4.5 star rating on its Milo product is hard to swallow,” CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey said.


In response to the statements made by CHOICE, Nestlé said Milo has long carried the recommendation it be consumed with skim milk.


“The Health Star Rating scheme is based on a formula which assesses foods and drinks as they are consumed, and takes a wide range of nutrients into account,” said Nestlé.


“For Milo, which has long carried a recommendation that it be consumed in a glass of skim milk, this formula gives it a Health Star Rating of 4.5. Milo powder also adds additional vitamins and minerals to what’s already in the milk, such as additional calcium, iron, vitamin D and B group vitamins,” stated Nestlé.


Kellogg’s says it is not “gaming” the system


CHOICE says Kellogg’s is also sugar-coating the truth with its breakfast cereals by including a prominent display of an ‘example Health Star Rating’ of 3.5 stars on the side of their boxes. The advocacy group said Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes only scores 2 stars but has an ‘example Health Star Rating’ of 3.5 stars on the side of their boxes. CHOICE further said that Kellogg’s All Bran cereal, which scores 5 stars, has an ‘example health star rating’ of 5 stars. Kellogg’s has however said this is incorrect and All-Bran displays a 3.5 star example on the side of its box.


The Kellogg’s  spokesperson further stated it was “not gaming the Health Star Rating system” and ratings of all its cereals were shown on the front of pack and on its website. They said the example 3.5 star ratings were clearly labelled “example only”.


“We have already started the process of updating all of our packaging so that the example matches what is shown on front of pack. This will be completed soon,” the spokesperson said.