Does a “responsible” food industry undermine consumer health?

The Australian reports that the food industry is ‘raising concerns’ with a proposed ‘star rating’ system for food being considered by State and Commonwealth Ministers at the moment. But this supposedly ‘radical’ plan is nothing of the sort. It’s a hard won compromise that falls well short of the traffic light labelling scheme for salt, sugar, fat and energy advocated by consumer groups for many years. The consumer proposal is based on the successful implementation of a similar scheme in the UK.

The Cancer Council and CHOICE recommends that Ministers back the proposed star rating scheme. And it would certainly be an improvement on the useless ‘daily percentage intake’ scheme promoted by companies such as Kellogs. But you have to wonder about the social responsibility of companies opposed to the provision of simple, meaningful information that will help many consumers make choices. Especially when those choices have an impact on a problem as serious for consumers and taxpayers as obesity.

Here’s the Cancer Council’s statement.

Australians will benefit from a clearer, more interpretive food labelling system if members of an intergovernmental forum meeting in Sydney tomorrow [14 June] support the new Health Star Ratings front-of-pack-labelling scheme, Cancer Council Australia said today.

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Ian Olver, said tomorrow’s meeting was an opportunity for governments to support the Health Star Rating scheme, which had the potential to provide clearer consumer choice on packaged food products. Under the proposed voluntary labelling system, foods would be given star ratings indicating their nutritional value.

“The Health Star Rating system is the product of more than 18 months’ development work, through a collaborative process involving government, the food industry and independent health and consumer groups,” Professor Olver said.

“While it is a voluntary system and will require the support of the food industry, it is vital that ministers on the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation meeting tomorrow support the scheme.

“Australia’s obesity crisis and its role in increasing the risk of diseases such as cancer is well-documented.

“People want to make healthier food choices. The Health Star Rating scheme has the potential to guide healthier individual purchasing choices.”

Professor Olver said Cancer Council Australia and a number of other independent health and consumer groups had invested substantial resources into the development of the scheme, because of its potential to provide a public health benefit through improved choice.

“Tomorrow, it is over to the ministers to convert all that hard work into a joint policy outcome,” Professor Olver said.

“If the ministers support the scheme, it will then be up to the food companies to follow through on the collaborative process and pass the benefits onto their customers.”