05.Better Food Labelling Campaign news
RSPCA ‘Good Egg Awards’ draw attention to free range standards - 25/11/2011
The RSPCA held its national Good Egg Awards on Wednesday 23rd November, highlighting the need for standards underpinning ‘free range’ and similar claims.
The Good Egg Awards recognise business that choose not to use cage eggs and, according to the RSCPA, the companies receiving this year’s awards used a combined total of 8.2 million cage free eggs.
The decision of these companies to use cage-free eggs shows that businesses recognise that this is important to many of their customers.
CHOICE knows that many Australian consumers are prepared to pay a premium for eggs which are labelled ‘free range’, ‘cage free’, ‘barn-laid’ and the like. However, the absence of a national definition of these terms means that consumers often have no way of knowing whether the product meets their expectations.
CHOICE is calling for the development of an Australian Standard on free-range products through Standards Australia in consultation with industry, government and stakeholders. Alternatively, governments around Australia could develop a national definition when they meet in December to respond to the recommendations of the major, independent review of food labelling.
New logo shows need for reform of country of origin - 18/11/2011
Following last week’s update on Australian Made Australian Grown’s campaign, another country of origin logo was launched in Sydney’s Martin Place this week by Riverina Citrus.
Along with its ‘Aussie Grown’ logo, Riverina Citrus launched a campaign calling on governments to implement the recommendations of the expert panel that reviewed food labelling - the recommendations aim to improve country of origin labelling.
Riverina Citrus represents the citrus industry in Riverina region and its priorities for the government response include closing loopholes in mandatory country of origin labelling.
CHOICE has been campaigning for improvements to country of origin labelling for many years as we know that it is a major food labelling concern for many consumers. We agree with Riverina Citrus that mandatory country of origin labelling should be extended to all products for retail sale.
CHOICE is also calling for the implementation of the expert panel’s recommended introduction of a framework covering Australian claims.
The current approach to country of origin labelling is confusing for consumers and, while logos like ‘Aussie Grown’ help consumer identify certain Australian products, we believe that governments should ensure that all products carry information that clearly indicates their origin.
CHOICE therefore wants governments to commit to improving country of origin labelling when they meet in December to respond to the recommendations of the expert panel.
New campaign shows need for improved country of origin labelling - 11/11/2011
The recent advertising blitz from ‘Australian Made, Australian Grown’ (AMAG) which highlighted imported foods that failed tests by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), draws attention to the need to improve mandatory country of origin labelling rules.
The campaign features examples like:
- ‘Basmati Rice from India’ accompanied by an image with a red banner that reads ‘LIVE AND DEAD INSECTS’
- ‘Chilli Powder from South Africa’ with the banner ‘SALMONELLA DETECTED’.
The examples are potentially alarming because, as the campaign points out, they come from the 5% of imported food products tested by AQIS. This means that 95% of imported products are not tested against Australian standards, so these problems may not be detected.
The AMAG campaign’s core message is ‘If it’s not Australian Grown, it makes you wonder how it’s grown’ and it encourages consumers to look for the ‘Australian Made, Australian Grown’ logo to ensure that the products they buy meet Australian standards.
However, CHOICE believes that this message could confuse consumers. This is because ‘Australian Made’ is not the same as ‘Australian Grown’ – whilst the latter means that the product’s significant ingredients have been grown in Australia, there is no such assurance with the former. ‘Australian Made’ simply means that a product has been substantially transformed in Australia but the ingredients may be imported.
For consumers purchasing products with AMAG’s ‘Australian Made’ endorsement, therefore, there is no assurance that those products aren’t made from the 95% of imported ingredients that aren’t tested by AQIS. We would assume though that the quality assurance measures imposed by manufacturers and retailers provide additional protection where ingredients have not been cleared at the border.
Further, AMAG uses one symbol, a gold outline of a kangaroo in a green triangle, to endorse products as both ‘Australian Made’ and ‘Australian Grown’. The wording underneath the symbol distinguishes the claim.
CHOICE therefore encourages consumers concerned by the examples highlighted in the AMAG campaign to look out for products labelled as ‘Grown in Australia’ or ‘Product of Australia’, not ‘Made in Australia’.
CHOICE believes that current regulations contain loopholes and the mandatory country of origin messages are poorly understood.
This latest campaign highlights the need to reform country of origin labelling, which is one of the key priorities of CHOICE’s Better Food Labelling Campaign. We are calling on the governments around Australia to ensure that all food products carry information that enables consumers make informed decisions about where their food comes from.
Development of organic standard sets example - 4/11/2011
The Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products is an example of stakeholders working together to establish definitions for so-called ‘consumer values’ food labelling issues and promote consumer confidence around these issues.
The Standards Australia Organic and Biodynamic Products Committee met recently to continue its work on the Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products. The standard was released in 2009 following an extensive consultation process with stakeholders and it lists the agreed criteria for products labelled organic or biodynamic.
CHOICE has represented consumers during the consultation process and continues to participate in the committee. We have been impressed by the level of detail covered by the Standard and the general willingness of stakeholders to work together to create a robust standard.
Although the standard is not mandatory at this stage, it provides a reference point for any action under consumer protection laws where there are concerns as to whether a product containing an organic or biodynamic label is what it claims to be. Australian Standards relating to food can also be referenced in food standards or consumer protection legislation. So, while the development of effective Australian Standards is welcome, CHOICE supports legislative references to strengthen enforcement.
CHOICE believes that the organic and biodynamic standard sets an example for other labelling areas where there is little consistency in industry certification criteria, like animal welfare labelling.
CHOICE would like to see, at a minimum, the development of an Australian Standard for claims like ‘free range’ which are used to market egg and meat products. However, recent efforts by the Australian Egg Corporation to set the definition of ‘free range’ at 20,000 birds per hectare (for comparison, the RSPCA’s definition is 1500 bird per hectare) suggest that achieving a robust standard may be difficult.
CHOICE support legislative intervention where industry groups are not willing to cooperate with other stakeholders to pursue standards that meet the reasonable expectations of consumers. The independent, expert panel that reviewed food labelling in Australia came to a similar conclusion in its final report released earlier this year and we will continue to advocate for strong definitions around labelling issues that are important to Australian consumers.
CHOICE joins eminent public health and medical groups to call on government to introduce better nutrition labelling - 28/10/2011
CHOICE has proudly co-signed an important letter that has been sent to all Australian governments, calling for the development of an interpretive front-of-pack nutrition labelling system, like the traffic light system we use to analyse food products.
Nutritionist, Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM has signed the letter, along with the heads of the Australian Medical Association, the Public Health Association, Cancer Council Australia, Diabetes Australia, the George Institute for Global Health - Australia, the Obesity Policy Coalition, the Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society.
The letter calls on governments to endorse Recommendation 50 from the final Report released in January 2011 by the independent Panel that reviewed food labelling.
The Food Regulation Ministerial Council will meet to consider the Report in December 2011 and have the opportunity to implement the recommended development of an interpretive front of pack nutrition labelling system for use on packaged foods.
Signatories note that the preferred approach is a traffic light-style system, similar to that used by CHOICE and in some supermarket chains in the United Kingdom. The Panel also preferred this approach.
Traffic light labelling provides at-a-glance information about the amount of key nutrients in packaged foods and interprets the nutritional information, putting in context the selective nutrition claims often used to market packaged foods.
CHOICE research has shown that traffic light labelling is more effective and more easily understood than the Daily Intake Guide (DIG) system preferred by some members of the food industry.
The DIG system consists of the thumbnail percentages seen on some products. The Panel concluded that the DIG approach is confusing for consumers and does not provide at-a-glance information.
Even at CHOICE, where we regularly scrutinise labels, we find it hard to comprehend the numerous percentages! Further, the ‘Guides’ are based on inconsistent serving sizes, making it difficult to compare products.
However, not all of the food industry supports Daily Intake Guide labelling. Iconic Australian manufacturer Sanitarium has developed a colour-coded system for stakeholder consideration. Their research concluded that colour-coded, interpretive systems – like traffic lights – were far more effective at informing consumer choice than the monochromatic DIG system.
CHOICE and our fellow signatories are optimistic that the Food Regulation Council will act to provide consumers with the information they need to make informed decisions about the food they eat. Recommendation 50 provides a significant reform opportunity and reflects a key priority in our Better Food Labelling Campaign.
We call on Australia’s decision-makers to adopt the expert Panel’s recommendation for the benefit of consumers and public health.
Momentum building around kilojoule-counts on fast food menu boards - 21/10/2011
Major fast food chain, Hungry Jacks, announced this week that it's rolling out kilojoule content labelling on menu boards across Australia.
In addition to this, some states and territories are already moving to introduce mandatory kilojoule content labelling for fast food outlets. Fast food chains with 20 or more locations in New South Wales or 50 plus locations nationally must display the kilojoule content of standard food items. A one-year implementation period will end on 1 February 2012 when penalty provisions will commence.
CHOICE welcomes the efforts of the states and territories to ensure that consumers can access the information they need to make informed decisions about what they eat.
However, we want to see nationally consistent kilojoule content labelling at the point of sale. In our submission to the expert panel that reviewed food labelling, we recommended that mandatory labelling provisions should be extended to fast food restaurants.
CHOICE was pleased to see the expert panel recommend in its final report that kilojoule content should be declared for standard food items on menus, menu boards or close to food displays in fast food outlets. We were also encouraged by the panel’s recommendation that fast food outlets should provide easily accessible information equivalent to the Nutrition Information Panel.
We want to see these recommendations implemented by governments around Australia when they respond to the review in December 2011. These recommendations support our Better Food Labelling campaign priorities which include an approach to food labelling that puts consumers first.
In the meantime, we congratulate the states and territories that are introducing consistent kilojoule content labelling laws and businesses like Hungry Jacks that are taking steps to give their customers the information they need to make informed decisions.
Country of origin labelling back in the spotlight - 14/10/2011
The issue of country-of-origin (CoO) labelling has been in the spotlight again recently with a report covering concerns that some juices on supermarket shelves labelled ‘made from imported and local product’ do not contain Australian juice.
The Labelling Logic report, written as part of the Federal Government's review of food labelling, suggested that the juices are made from concentrate imported from Brazil and China and only the bottle and added water are Australian.
CHOICE knows that CoO labelling is one of the biggest consumer frustrations when it comes to food labelling. The latest concerns are a good example of the confusion experienced by many people who want to know the origin of the food they buy.
CHOICE conducted a survey in September 2010 to find out what people think about CoO information and their understanding of the different origin claims. Of the 900 people who responded:
- 90% said CoO labelling should be clearer.
- 66% said it was very important to confidently identify whether a product is manufactured or produced in Australia.
- Almost half said they would always try to buy Australian products when they’re available.
More recently, in the CHOICE July 2011 members’ survey, close to 90% of the 302 respondents said that it was important to know the origin of the food they eat with two-thirds rating it very important.
CoO information is currently required in Australia under the Food Standards Code for all packaged food as well as unpackaged seafood, pork, fruit and vegetables.
There is a proposal under consideration to extend mandatory labelling to unpackaged beef, sheep and chicken meat, which CHOICE has supported.
However, the expert panel that reviewed food labelling recognised in its final report that there is little consumer understanding of the terms used to convey CoO information. These terms include:
- Product of Australia
- Grown in Australia
- Made in Australia
- Made in … from local and imported ingredients
- Made in … from imported and local ingredients
The panel agreed with the conclusion of the National Farmers Federation that the current regulations are ‘convoluted and potentially misleading for consumers’.
As the juice example shows, a product can claim to be made with local ingredients when it has a small proportion of Australian ingredients and when the primary or characterising ingredient is from overseas. CHOICE believes that this does not help those consumers who care about the origin of their food make informed decisions.
As part of its Campaign for Better Food Labelling, CHOICE is calling on Australian governments to improve country of origin labelling so that it meets the reasonable expectations of the many consumers who want to know where their food comes from. We support the recommendation of the expert panel that a consumer-friendly framework be developed and that it be based on ingoing weight. We also want a requirement for disclosure of the origin of the characterising ingredient as in some cases it will not meet the ingoing weight test.
We also want better enforcement of food regulations and we call on governments to commit to better monitoring and enforcement of compliance with CoO labelling requirements.
Review of low fat desserts reveals more shameful claims - 06/10/2011
CHOICE’s latest review shows that dodgy claims are hiding the full nutrition story on a range of ‘low fat’ desserts.
The CHOICE experts have put 31 low fat desserts to the test and found that while many products may be ‘fat free’, ‘reduced fat’, or ’97% fat free', they contain high sugar and sodium levels.
CHOICE recently launched the campaign for Better Food Labelling with Shame the Claim. Shame the Claim calls on consumers to send in products with dodgy nutrition claims – like the low fat examples mentioned here – that don’t tell the full story on how healthy a product is. We have posted some of the worst offenders in the Wall of Shame.
The dodgy claims highlighted in CHOICE’s latest review are further proof that time is running out to fix food labelling. Governments around Australia have between now and the end of the year to respond to the recommendations of the expert panel that reviewed food labelling – including the recommendation that products carrying nutrition claims comply with a nutrient profiling system.
Nutrient profiling would involve calculating an overall score for products seeking to carry nutrition claims based on their healthy and unhealthy attributes. Only those products that are shown to be healthy enough would be allowed to carry claims like ‘reduced fat’ and ‘fat free’.
For more information on CHOICE’s review of low fat desserts, see the media release and the full article.
No walking on eggshells as free range debate intensifies - 30/09/2011
Debate over the use of terms such as ‘free range’ on food products is intensifying; an issue that taps into one of the key demands of CHOICE’s Better Food Labelling Campaign. Recent weeks have seen animal welfare claims on food labels come under the spotlight.
In September the ACCC commenced proceedings against a number of chicken meat producers alleging that their ‘free to roam’ representations were misleading or deceptive.
In the same month the Australian Egg Corporation proposed a controversial standard for free range egg labelling of 20,000 birds per hectare.
Shortly after this was made public, the NSW Greens launched a bill defining ‘free range eggs’ which included a maximum density of 750 birds per hectare.
The RSPCA’s standard is between 1500 and 2500 birds per hectare.
CHOICE welcomes the debate over animal welfare labelling that has been generated by recent developments. Introducing effective standards to underpin free range claims is a priority in CHOICE’s Better Food Labelling campaign.
Animal welfare claims relate to the methods used in farming the products from which the labelled foods are derived. In addition to ‘free range’ and ‘free to roam’ there are claims like ‘barn laid’, ‘bred free range’, ‘hormone free’, ‘grain fed’ and ‘grass fed’.
We know that many consumers are paying a premium for animal-derived products such as eggs and meat based on animal welfare labelling. However, the absence of effective standards means that consumers can’t be certain that the products they buy would meet their reasonable expectations.
CHOICE is calling for the development of an Australian Standard on free-range products through Standards Australia in consultation with industry, government and stakeholders. Consumers have the right to make an informed decision about the products they buy and to be confident that they are getting what they pay for.
Shame the Claim Update - 28/09/2011
Consumers around Australia are responding to CHOICE’s call to Shame the Claim by sending in photos and details of food labels with claims they think are dodgy.
The CHOICE team is sifting through the suggestions and applying our traffic light nutrition criteria. We have posted photos of the worst offenders so far in the Shame the Claim Gallery.
These examples carry nutrition claims like ‘7 vitamins and minerals’, ‘30% less fat’, 'rich in protein', ‘fat free’, ‘source of fibre’ and ‘low salt’. However, when analysed against CHOICE’s traffic light criteria, which are based on the latest recommendations and dietary guidelines established by government health experts in Australia and overseas, these products showed medium or high levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar or sodium.
These types of nutrition claims make products look healthy but don’t tell the full story. With research showing that the average consumer takes 2.5 seconds to choose a food product on the supermarket shelf, it’s easy to see how clever but dodgy labelling can easily misled them.
CHOICE will use the worst examples of dodgy nutrition claims to show governments around Australia why they need to act on the recommendations of a major, independent review of food labelling. They can do this by introducing nutrient profiling for food products that carry nutrition claims.
This will mean that food manufacturers who want to use nutrition claims will have to ensure that their product meets a standard based on an overall calculation that takes into account both positive and negative aspects of the product.
CHOICE believes that Australians have the right to make informed decisions about what they eat but dodgy nutrition claims make this difficult. Nutrient profiling will remove the confusion and it will encourage the food industry to make products healthier. That’s a win for consumers and a win for innovative food manufacturers.
CHOICE thanks people who have participated in Shame the Claim so far. The people’s watchdog encourages Australians to keep on the lookout for dodgy nutrition claims and to continue to send them in to email@example.com.
CHOICE launches Better Food Labelling campaign - 20/09/2011
CHOICE has launched its Campaign for Better Food Labelling by calling on Australians to ‘Shame the Claim’ – a nation-wide search to find food labels which carry dodgy nutrition claims that make choosing healthy products difficult. More...