Ministers responsible for food in Australia and New Zealand have agreed that the Health Star Rating system should continue to be voluntary despite calls from consumer groups to put more stringent measures in place for all businesses.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, held on Friday in Christchurch, brought ministers together to discuss the five-year review report and the ten recommendations for enhancing the food rating system.
Ministers agreed that the system acts as a useful tool for consumers, but said that it should continue to be voluntary with options for interim targets in the five year period to be considered.
The forum supported the majority of review recommendations, and discussed expanding the system beyond processed, packaged multi ingredient foods to canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, which it said “may be beneficial to consumers”.
Ministers supported changes to the star rating algorithm and asked the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) to provide advice on sugars and sodium levels in the calculator as well as to consider the way edible oils are treated.
Consumer advocacy group Choice felt strongly that ministers missed an important opportunity in closing a loophole in the Health Star Rating system by allowing businesses to choose which products adopt it.
”We’re disappointed to see that the Forum has not committed to a mandatory system,” Linda Przhedetsky, Choice food policy expert said in a statement on Friday.
“Choice research showed that when Health Stars weren’t displayed on products, three quarters of people relied on marketing materials to determine the healthiness of a product.”
“If Ministers want to help people make healthy choices about their food and drink, we need to see a stronger commitment to consistent food labelling.”
The consumer advocate welcomed commitments to supporting greater penalties to the way that sugar and salt is calculated.
“This will help catch out sugar-laden and salty snacks that are receiving higher ratings than they deserve,” Przhedetsky said.
The Forum will publish a response paper on the Food Regulation website within the coming weeks, with an implementation plan for agreed changes to the system to be considered by the Forum in early 2020.
Review of food standards legislation
During Friday’s forum, ministers also endorsed a plan to reform the Bi-national Food Regulation System, including a comprehensive review of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991.
The strategic review will pursue new institutional and legislative foundations based on the current “complex operating environment, changing consumer expectations and significant technological advancements”.