The Government has announced that the food health star rating will be reinstated in the near future and that it will be voluntary for food companies wishing to adopt the system over the next five years.
CHOICE chief executive Alan Kirkland says that this is great news for consumers. "We know that many shoppers are confused and frustrated by the current state of food labelling, in which the complex, numerical information on the back of packs is rendered even more confusing on those products which carry the food industry’s voluntary Daily Intake Guide percentages," he said.
What is the Food Health Star Rating?
The rating system has five stars - the more stars shown, the healthier the food.
The amount of stars that are awarded is based on an algorithm that considers the nutritional content of the food, and has been designed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand using evidence underpinning the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.
Who Will Adopt This Rating?
Shortly after the new rating was announced, both Woolworths and Sanitarium announced that they would adopt the health star rating across their entire range of products.
Todd Saunders, General Manager of Sanitarium Australia praised the system. “Currently, comparing nutrition values between products takes time and can be confusing" he said. "The Health Star Rating system is a practical way consumers can be equipped with the relevant information they need when making healthy choices for themselves and their family."
The reinstatement of the system has been lauded by the Public Health Association of Australia, the Obesity Policy Coalition, the Heart Foundation and the Cancer Council.
New Zealand has also decided to join the scheme.
Why Has It Been Controversial?
Earlier this year the website was launched but then pulled down after less than 24 hours by Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash and her then chief of staff, Alistair Furnival. It was later revealed that Furnival was co-owner of a lobbying firm that represented major food companies that were opposed to the new system. Furnival has since resigned.
From the start, the proposed system has attracted controversy. Health and consumer groups had expressed a preference for a system that was based on traffic lights using red, green and yellow to indicate the nutritional value of the food. This was rejected by the food industry and the food health star rating system introduced in it's place.
There has also been pushback on some of the components of the new system, particularly by the Australian Food and Grocery Council who say the new scheme could be expensive for cash-strapped food companies. As a result, the voluntary adoption period has been increased from two years to five years and it has been determined that this rating system can now co-exist with existing rating systems such as the Heart Foundation Tick that already appears on labels of many food and drinks.
What Happens Next?
Over the next few months consumers will start to see products with the new labels appearing on supermarket shelves. This will coincide with the launch of a website to help consumers make healthier food decisions and an education campaign, scheduled for August.