Front-of-pack food health labels to be developed within a year

Foods sold in Australia will have front-of-pack labelling with easy to understand nutritional information within a year, but it will not necessarily be the controversial traffic light system.

That was one of the key decisions made during the meeting on nutrition and preventative health with state and federal government ministers in Melbourne on Friday.

In response to the recommendations in the Food Labelling Review Report – or Blewett Reprort – the Federal Government’s Forum on Food Regulation will consult with representatives from health organisations, industry and consumer groups to develop the new system.

The decision to have simple front-of-pack nutritional labelling is somewhat surprising, given that the government announced prior to the meeting that it would not be supporting the traffic light system.

Since the scheme was first suggested by consumer watchdog CHOICE, the Australian Food and Grocery Council has been arguing that the traffic light scheme is too simplistic to work.

It released a statement on Friday supporting the decision by government representatives.

“As previously stated, Australia’s food and grocery manufacturing industry is happy to work with the Forum on Food Regulation to look at global evidence on developing a preferred approach to a single, front-of-pack food labelling system,” chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“The recently released Institute of Medicine report, commissioned by United States Government, as well as the work done by EUFIC in Europe may be good starting points.”

It is still unclear what will be included in the front-of-pack labelling, which will have to be more informative than the traffic light labelling but still clear and easy to understand.

Once the design and content of the labelling is decided, companies may be given up to two years to implement the changes, which is the amount of time alcohol manufacturers have been given to voluntarily introduce pregnancy warning, before regulation is implemented.

Health claims on packaged foods and drinks will also undergo a drastic overhaul, to prevent misleading health claims such as ‘low fat,’ ‘high fibre,’ and ‘no added sugar.’ being made.

The Forum’s also decided to appoint Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to undertake broad consultation on a draft standard for health claims and present a final standard is presented to Ministers next year has been welcomed by the AFGC.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King, who chaired today’s meeting said the initiatives show the government are highly concerned with poor health and obesity rates and are thus making it a top priority.

“In considering its response to the recommendations, the Forum proposed actions over the next five years that endeavour to improve information on food labels to meet consumers’ needs, and minimize regulatory burden on industry and barriers to trade.”

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