Health Ministers serve up food marketing free-for-all

CHOICE says the decision by food and health ministers to abandon the independent verification of new health claims shows the industry effectively has a veto over food labelling policy.

Ministers today walked away from a long-standing proposal from Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) that would require health claims on food to be verified by the independent regulator before being marketed.

“Ministers have buckled under pressure from the food industry and opened the door to a health marketing free-for-all,” says CHOICE head of campaigns Matt Levey.

“Food manufacturers want to be able to use health claims to sell their products, and all that the draft standard asked was for these claims to be independently proven before products are sold. Apparently that is too much to ask.”

Today’s decision follows two decades of debate and extensive consultation on so-called ‘general level health claims’, which link a property of a food with a health outcome.[1]

Instead of requiring manufacturers to verify health claims up-front, the most likely outcome will now be ‘self-substantiation’ – with industry only having to prove the truth of marketing claims after their products are already in the market, and only if challenged.

“It beggars belief that a food manufacturer would find it difficult to substantiate a genuine health claim before launching a product. If they are so sure they will have the evidence for new claims, why not have it verified?” Mr Levey says.

“Unfortunately, the European experience where just 10% of claims put forward by manufacturers have been approved shows that the food industry has a very different view to independent regulators of what constitutes good science.”

CHOICE is part of an alliance of 12 consumer and health groups which have urged governments to safeguard consumer interests by ensuring new claims are subjected to independent scrutiny, as recommended by FSANZ. See Australian Cancer Council views on this issue here.