Health claims only on foods that meet minimum nutrition criteria, but …

…  the claims themselves wont be checked in advance

Food and health ministers today approved a proposal to allow food manufacturers to use health claims as long as the products carrying the claims meet minimum nutrition standards.

The Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation, which comprises federal, state and territory food and health ministers, discussed the latest health claims proposal at their meeting in Brisbane. 1

CHOICE says the nutrient profiling scoring criteria provide an objective benchmark of the overall healthiness of a food product and the ministers’ decision is positive for consumers.

“These nutritional criteria were agreed following extensive work by the independent regulator and provide a robust and objective approach to determining which food products are healthy enough overall to carry health marketing claims,” says CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just.

Food manufacturers can use health claims as long as the products carrying the claims meet minimum nutrition standards.

But CHOICE says the ministers’ decision to allow food companies evaluate the evidence behind these health claims, as opposed to an independent regulator, means consumers will have limited confidence that the claims appearing on supermarket shelves are legitimate.

“This is a major step backwards from an earlier proposal that would have required the independent regulator to scrutinise new claims” says Ms Just. That proposal was scuttled after an intense industry lobbying campaign,

“When we look at what happened in Europe, where the European Food Safety Authority rejected 80% of the health claims put forward by food companies, we can see that the food industry has a very different idea of what constitutes scientific evidence to independent regulators.

Disregard the marketing spin – read the nutrition information panel and ingredients information.

“The best advice CHOICE can give consumers is to disregard the marketing spin and, as we always advise, to read the nutrition information panel and ingredients information when choosing what food they buy.”

CHOICE says the real test will be in the willingness of state and territory enforcement agencies to investigate complaints of dodgy health marketing claims and sanction companies found to be making claims which are not backed by evidence.²

CHOICE has also welcomed ministers’ decision to extend mandatory country-of-origin labelling to all unpackaged meat products.

“We know Australian consumers have a strong desire to know where their food is produced, and this is a welcome move to close one of the key country-of-origin loopholes,” says Ms Just.

¹ The new Standard for Nutrition, Health and Related Claims will regulate nutrition claims (eg “good source of calcium”) and health claims, which can either be general level health claims, which link a property of the food with a health outcome (eg “high in calcium for strong bones”), or high level health claims, which link a property of the food with a serious disease (eg “high in calcium to reduce the risk of osteoporosis”).

² The health claims standard has been under development for ten years, during which time some states and territories have raised concerns that an industry substantiation avenue would place a heavy burden on their enforcement agencies when compared with centralised pre-market approval by the national food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand