Governments decide future of health claims

Food and health ministers reject proposal for independent evaluation of new claims.
 
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01.Governments leave it to industry

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Australian and New Zealand ministers have rejected a proposal by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) that would have required new general level health claims to be approved by the independent regulator before appearing on supermarket shelves.

General level health claims link a property of a food with a health outcome, such as ‘calcium for strong bones and teeth’. 

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. 

The decision

The Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation released a vague statement late on Friday 20 July to a group of stakeholders which indicates that food manufacturers will be given responsibility for deciding whether there is enough scientific evidence to support a new general level health claim.

The long-standing proposal by FSANZ would have allowed food manufacturers to use 115 claims that had already been evaluated but called for any new claims to be evaluated and approved before being used on food labels.

Consumer and public health groups are unhappy

CHOICE is part of an alliance of 12 consumer and public health groups which called on governments to adopt the proposal after more than two decades of debate around this issue. Although we have long argued that health claims on food products are not appropriate, we recognised that governments wanted to introduce a framework that would permit these claims and contributed to consultations over the years to ensure the best outcome for consumers.

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 approving around 10% of the health claims proposed by food manufacturers.

Tell us what you think – should evidence for new health claims be independently verified before being used to sell food products? 

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