Food ministers approve health claims standard

One step forward or one step back for consumers?
 
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01.New standard approved

food-labeling-lead

In good news for consumers, food and health ministers have approved a proposal to allow health claims only on products which meet nutrition criteria. 

However CHOICE warns consumers of risks in the new approach, which is that food companies will be allowed to decide whether new claims are backed up by evidence rather than requiring the independent regulator to give these claims the tick of approval.

New nutrition benchmark

The Forum on Food Regulation, which comprises federal, state and territory ministers, discussed the proposal to regulate health and nutrition claims at its meeting on 7 December. Nutrition claims relate to a property of the food, such as ‘high in calcium’, while health claims can either be general claims linking a property to a health outcome, like ‘high in calcium for strong bones’, or high level health claims, which link the property to a serious disease, like ‘high in calcium to reduce the risk of osteoporosis’.

The health and nutrition claims standard has been under development for a decade and CHOICE has called for all claims to be restricted to products deemed to be healthy overall. Our Wall of Shame showed why this is necessary, with products high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium covered in selective nutrition claims.

The new standard will require products carrying general and high level claims to meet the nutrition criteria developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. This is to ensure consumers are not misled into believing products carrying these products are healthy overall. Unfortunately, the same standard will not apply to products carrying nutrition claims.

Moving backwards on substantiation

In a step backwards, the new standard will give food companies the opportunity to decide if new general level health claims are backed by scientific evidence after ministers rejected a proposal that would have required the independent regulator to vet new claims.

The result of the ministers’ decision is likely to be a reduction in consumer confidence in food labelling as consumers will no longer have the assurance that health claims have been given the tick of approval by independent authorities.

Health claims are used as a marketing tool by food manufacturers to give their products an advantage over their competitors’ products. The European experience suggests that the food industry has a very different idea of what scientific substantiation means, with the European Food Safety Authority rejecting the vast majority of over 3000 health claims proposed by food companies.

New high level health claims will still need to be approved by the regulator before appearing on supermarket shelves.

What CHOICE wants

CHOICE believes that, like health claims, nutrition claims should only appear on products that are healthy overall. We will continue to call for products carrying nutrition claims to meet the nutrition criteria.

CHOICE will also keep a close eye on new health claims and be asking consumers to send in examples of these claims so that we can call for evidence to prove those claims.

In the meantime, CHOICE advises consumers to look past health marketing spin to the nutrition information panel and ingredients list when deciding what food to buy.

Do nutrition and health claims influence what you buy at the supermarket?

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