Front-of-pack labelling decision a year away?

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 15th July 2009

The debate that never seems to go away is set to be on the agenda for at least another year, according to a newspaper report today.

Regulation for front-of-pack labelling guides on packaged groceries is not expected until next year, with the traffic light labelling vs. daily intake guide argument set to rage on until a decision is made.

The issue has been bubbling for years, with a number of consumer and health groups including Choice and AMA calling for traffic-light labelling on the front of packaged food, while the industry is rolling out the daily intake guide to the front of food products.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government’s National Obesity Health Taskforce has recently handed in their report regarding recommendations for the future health strategy of the country, with the government still keeping it under wraps.

Long process

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Mark Butler has indicated the latest review of food labelling laws will not be ready for consideration by state and territory governments until at least the middle of 2010.

“What we’re trying to do is pull together all of the different issues in the food-labelling debate, one of which is the traffic light front-of-pack labelling,” he told The Australian.

Mr Butler said the front-of-pack guidelines would form part of a ‘root-and-branch’ review of food labelling and is likely to be a contentious issue.”It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “There are strongly held views about a number of those issues with different governments, consumer groups and industry.”

“So I don’t think, given the complexity and number of issues we have to deal with, that 12 months is dragging the chain at all. I think it’s quite a tight timeframe, given the ambitions of the job.”

The Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council indicated in May that draft policy guidelines for front-of-pack labelling would be announced in October, while a comprehensive review of food labelling and law policy would also to take place with the assistance of an yet-to-be-announced review panel.

High cost?

With the number of committees, working groups and taskforces set up to tackle the issue in recent years, it is becoming eerily like an episode of Hollowmen. One year for a decision seems optimistic and it wouldn’t surprise if the government ended up waiting for the results of the world’s most extensive food labelling study – currently underway in Europe, but not due for completion for over two years. By such time, the percentage of manufacturers with the daily intake guide on the front-of-pack will be much higher, ensuring that, if the reviews support traffic light labelling, the cost to manufacturers to implement the scheme could be much more considerable.

Findings from the largest research study completed to-date on the food labelling issue can be seen here.