Australian Ministers approve front-of-pack labelling system but dairy products approach still to be finalised

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th June 2013

A new front-of-pack labelling (FoPL) system that uses a ‘health star’ rating, has been approved by Australian and New Zealand Ministers responsible for food regulation, with plans for further examination of how the system would apply to dairy products.

The ‘Health Star Rating’ system, which was developed over 18 months as part of a collaborative process between Australian public health and consumer groups, industry and government, was approved at the Legislative and Governance Forum of Food Regulation meeting held in Sydney on Friday 14 June 2013.

How it works

The new system is designed to give Australian consumers ‘at-a-glance’ information about the food they are buying, using a star rating scale of half to five stars. More stars will represent a better nutritional choice.

The Health Star Rating system will also include nutrient information icons for energy (kilojoules), saturated fat, sodium (salt), sugars, and can also include one positive nutrient such as calcium or fibre.

Ministers involved in the Food Regulation Forum said that “the system has significant potential to support consumers to make healthier food choices”,  and said that FoPL “is one tool in a suite of initiatives that will, in the long-term, contribute to alleviating the burden of chronic disease, overweight and obesity issues in Australia”.

It will be a voluntary system, subject to there being “consistent and widespread” uptake from food manufacturers.

However, if, following evaluation after two years, voluntary implementation proves unsuccessful, the Ministers have declared that a mandatory system would be implemented with Food Standards Australian New Zealand (FSANZ) then to be commissioned to draft a mandatory standard.

In December 2011, the Forum had agreed to the policy developing an interpretive FoPL system for Australia. This was a key priority identified in the Forum response to the Food Labelling Review Report, Labelling Logic, released in 2011 by Australian Government appointed Dr Neal Blewett’s Food Labels review panel.

Dairy product modification welcomed

Meanwhile, there are still some remaining technical issues surrounding the application of the new health star ratings in relation to dairy products such as cheese and yoghurts. The dairy industry was concerned that the system could distort outcomes because many cheese and other dairy products contain high levels of saturated fats.

The Ministers have requested a further evaluation of the new system’s application to dairy products, which will be submitted to the Forum by December 2013. A modified Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion will be considered for dairy foods.

The Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) has welcomed the continued examination of nutrient profiling on dairy products.

The ADIC said the dairy industry was concerned that without further investigation, the star system could have meant that products such as milk and cheese, which are recommended under the Australian Dietary Guidelines, could be seen by consumers as an unhealthy option.

“The Australian Dietary Guidelines acknowledge that adequate intakes of milk, yoghurt and cheese are linked to a reduced risk of several chronic diseases including heart disease and stroke,” said Noel Campbell, ADIC Chairman. “This evidence relates to all varieties of milk, cheese and yoghurt, including regular, reduced-fat and flavoured varieties,” he said.

“By breaking foods into separate nutrient components, some dairy products may have received fewer stars, which would have led to consumer confusion about whether or not they should eat dairy as part of a well balanced diet,” Mr Campbell said.

“The dairy industry welcomes the continued examination of the system and its impact upon this core food group. It is essential that this new labelling system clearly aligns with Australian Dietary Guidelines so consumers can make positive food choices that are based on recommended daily intakes,” Mr Campbell added.

Reactions by industry

Australian Food News has also reported reactions from industry.