01.'Fat free' food claims
CHOICE is calling for proposed rules that would restrict ‘fat free’ and ‘% fat free’ claims on food packaging to be extended to cover all claims about fat content.
In its submission to the regulator, CHOICE supports the proposal to limit ‘fat free’ and ‘% fat free’ claims to healthy products. However, the submission warns that ignoring other fat content claims would create a loophole and potentially increase consumer confusion.
The proposed regulations for ‘fat free’ claims follow a decision from federal, state and territory food and health ministers in their meeting last December. The options included restricting these types of claim to products which meet Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria which provide an evaluation of overall nutritional quality.
Take a look at some examples of this type of labelling in our gallery.
Campaigning to stamp out dodgy claims
CHOICE has long called for regulation of nutrition claims and a key ask in our 2011 Better Food Labelling Campaign was for nutrition claims to be subject to the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria. The Campaign launched with Shame the Claim which shone the spotlight on dodgy nutrition claims.
‘Fat free’ and ‘% fat free’ claims were clearly a problem, appearing on 9 of the 32 products on the Wall of Shame. However, a further 8 products carried other types of fat content claim, like ‘low fat’, ‘less fat’, ‘75% less saturated fat’, ‘30% less fat’, ‘0% trans fat’, and ‘less than 10% fat’.
While CHOICE is pleased that Ministers want to act on dodgy nutrition claims, it is not clear why they are only focusing on two types of claim.
Creating a big fat loophole
The current proposal would create a loophole that could be easily exploited by manufacturers. Instead of claiming to be ‘99% fat free’ and having to meet the nutrient profile test, manufacturers could simply use a ‘1% fat’ claim and avoid the scrutiny.
This means that unhealthy products could continue to carry claims, creating an inconsistent and confusing situation for shoppers.
Although ‘% fat’ claims are not as common as ‘% fat free’ claims, CHOICE has found a number of examples, including within product types like milk, flavoured milk and corn thins.
The use of these claims indicates that some food manufacturers believe they help sell products, and suggests we would see an increase in these claims on unhealthy foods if a loophole is created.
While CHOICE ultimately wants to see all nutrition claims regulated, the immediate priority is extending the proposed measures to all fat content claims to avoid creating this loophole and increasing consumer confusion.
We are therefore calling on ministers to apply the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criteria approach suggested by FSANZ to all fat content claims, including ‘% fat’.