02.Other issues covered
There were numerous other issues up for consideration by the Forum which included opportunities to give consumers important information about the food they eat.
There was progress on kilojoule (energy) content labelling on fast food menus with the Forum taking steps to ensure nationally consistent information but stopping short of mandating national menu board labelling. There was also a step forwards on hidden ingredients with ministers referring the Review Panel’s recommendations that the sources of added sugars and fats should be declared on food labels to FSANZ for technical advice. Hopefully this will result in the labelling of palm oil which many consumers would like to avoid for health or environmental reasons.
Ministers also committed to a mandatory warning message about the risks of consuming alcohol while pregnant. However, their decision means that mandatory labelling will follow a two year period to allow for voluntary industry take up, and there was a rejection of the Review Panel’s recommendation for general warning labels.
The Forum failed to commit to the already industry-friendly recommendation that trans fats be mandatorily declared if they are not phased out by January 2013, and instead questioned the need for a phase out.
Finally, Ministers refused to close loopholes on labelling of genetically modified foods and rejected calls for products made with ‘new technologies’, like nanotechnology, to be labelled for 30 years instead committing to ‘case by case’ consideration.
Overall, the progress on interpretive front-of-pack labelling, health and nutrition claims, country-of-origin loopholes and a health framework are important wins for consumers. Unfortunately, these wins are almost matched by missed opportunities on the key priorities of country-of-origin format and free range definitions.
When the additional failures on new technologies and hidden ingredients are added to the mix, the final result looks a little half-baked. CHOICE will continue to call for better food labelling and we hope to be part of developments on those priority areas the Forum has chosen to act on. We are confident that despite the missed opportunities, the future of food labelling is looking better for Australian consumers.