Government seeking to ‘simplify’ Australia’s food nutrition labels

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 8th December 2014
Government seeking to ‘simplify’ Australia’s food nutrition labels
Government seeking to ‘simplify’ Australia’s food nutrition labels

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is seeking comments on a recommendation to change the way that nutrition information is provided on food labels.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said FSANZ had been asked by Ministers responsible for food regulation to assess and provide advice on a recommendation made by an independent labelling review that the current requirement be simplified.

Food law expert Joe Lederman of FoodLegal recently wrote an article (published in the November 2014 issue of FoodLegal Bulletin)in which Lederman identified the inconsistency of food labelling legal requirements for food products that are sold online compared with the selling of the same food on a supermarket shelf. Read the article here.

“The review recommended that the declaration in the nutrition information panel (NIP) of the amount of nutrients per serving not be mandatory unless a daily intake claim is made,” Mr McCutcheon said.

In the response to the Labelling Review, Ministers recognised that food labels are a finite space for providing information to consumers and that this recommendation aims to simply the requirements for consumers and industry.

Manufacturers are currently required to provide nutrient information in the NIP as both ‘per serving’ amounts and per 100 grams or 100 mls. The recommendation proposes that the only requirement should be to provide the amount per 100 grams or 100 mls, while still permitting manufacturers to provide ‘per serving’ information voluntarily.

“We are seeking comments and information from stakeholders to inform our assessment,” Mr McCutcheon said.

The closing date for submissions is 13 February 2015.

Labelling review background

In 2009, Australian and New Zealand food regulation ministers agreed to a comprehensive independent review of food labelling law and policy. An expert panel, chaired by Dr Neal Blewett, AC, undertook the review. Australian Food News reported in January 2011 that the panel’s final report, Labelling Logic, had been publicly released.

In December 2011, the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation agreed on a response to the recommendations contained in the review.

As part of the Government response FSANZ has been asked to do work over a three year period (2012-15) on a number of the recommendations. In some cases, this will require FSANZ to provide technical advice to Ministers. In other cases, reviews of existing standards will be undertaken. The nature of the request will determine the extent of any public consultation.

Actions completed

FSANZ has completed work on the following recommendations:

  • recommendation 14 – that declaration of total and naturally occurring dietary fibre content be considered as a mandatory requirement in the Nutrition Information Panel.
  • recommendation 15 – the voluntary declaration of potassium content in the Nutrition Information Panel. Standard 1.2.7 – Nutrition, Health and Related Claims
  • recommendation 17 – that the declaration in the Nutrition Information Panel of amount of nutrients per serve be no longer mandatory unless a daily intake claim is made​.
  • recommendation 20 – that the standard for nutrition, health and related claims on food labels, which reflects public health goals, be finalised.
  • recommendation 40 – that Australia’s existing mandatory country of origin labelling requirements for food be maintained and be extended to cover all primary food products for retail sale.
  • recommendation 43 – that the Perceptible Information Principle be used as a guide for labelling presentation to maximise label comprehension among a wide range of consumers.

Projects underway

Work currently underway by FSANZ includes providing technical advice to mnisters on:

  • recommendation 6 – that the food safety elements on the food label be reviewed with the aim to maximise the effectiveness of food safety communication
  • recommendation 12 – that where sugars, fats or vegetable oils are added as separate ingredients in a food, the terms ‘added sugars’ and ‘added fats’ and/or ‘added vegetable oils’ be used in the ingredient list as the generic term, followed by a bracketed list e.g., added sugars (fructose, glucose syrup, honey), added fats (palm oil, milk fat) or added vegetable oils (sunflower oil, palm oil)
  • recommendation 13 – that mandatory declaration of all trans fatty acids above an agreed threshold be introduced into the Nutrition Information Panel if manufactured trans fatty acids have not been phased out of the food supply by January 2013
  • recommendation 26 – that the energy content be displayed on the labels of all alcoholic beverages consistent with the requirements for other foods. FSANZ has been asked to undertake a cost benefit analysis for this recommendation
  • recommendation 47- that warning and advisory statements be emboldened and allergens emboldened both in the ingredients list and in a separate list.

Upcoming work

FSANZ plans to start work on recommendation 34 (that the requirement for mandatory labelling of irradiated food be reviewed) later this year.

A number of other recommendations from the labelling review are being progressed by other agencies and departments, e.g. recommendation 50 relating to front-of-pack labelling is the responsibility of the Department of Health​.