Contributions to this article also by Jacqueline
Scarlett, Senior Associate and Kate Price, Lawyer
The Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy panel, headed by Dr
Neal Blewett AC, has released its report into food labelling law
and policy in Australia and New Zealand. The report, titled
Labelling Logic, was released publically on 28 January
2011 following two rounds of consultation. During the consultation
period, the review panel received more than 550 submissions and
over 500 people attended public forums.
The report contains 61 recommendations, divided into five broad
public drivers of food labelling
public health and food safety
consumer values issues
compliance and enforcement.
The recommendations could lead to reform affecting a number of
industries, including the fast food and alcohol industries.
The majority of recommendations were made in relation to food
labelling and include recommendations regarding:
labelling of energy content on alcoholic drinks and provision
of health warnings on alcohol labels
labelling of trans fatty acids
changes to labelling of added sugars, fats and vegetable oils,
including a requirement to specify the type of additive
declaration of energy content of standardised items at fast
food chains and on vending machines
labelling of genetically modified foods
mandatory requirements for country-of-origin labelling
framework to be expanded and included in consumer protection
creation of agreed standards for terms related to animal
husbandry such as "free range", "barn laid" and
"caged" eggs. (We discussed an example of this issue in
our article "
Recent ACCC activity".)
The recommendations on food labelling are categorised from high
to low risk and the level of proposed government intervention is
greater for the high risk issues. For example, issues relating to
food safety are high risk and the recommendations propose mandatory
regulations. Preventative health issues are deemed a slightly lower
risk and the recommendations propose a mix of mandatory regulations
The panel also recommended that "traffic light"
front-of-pack labelling be introduced. This approach involves
manufacturers being encouraged (and in some cases required) to
include a red dot (an unhealthy choice), orange dot (an
"okay" choice) or green dot (a healthy choice) to
indicate how healthy the food product is. The panel recommended
that it should be mandatory to include the traffic light system on
packaging that included high level health claims and (at least
initially) be voluntary for other food products. Naturally, a
consumer awareness program would need to precede the traffic light
labelling so that consumers understand the new symbols.
Further recommendations relating to compliance and enforcement
aim to strengthen the Food Standards Code.
Prior to the release of the report there was some suggestion
that the recommendations of the review panel would also require
alcohol companies to produce information to support claims such as
those about "low carb" beers, but this was not addressed
in the report.
As yet, there is no indication of the Federal Government's
position in relation to the recommendations. The Government
response to the report is currently being formulated, and is not
expected until December 2011. The Government response to this
report, along with the progress of Private Senator's Bills
relating to palm oil labelling, junk food advertising and the
banning of trans fat from food products, are issues which will
continue to develop in the food and beverage industry over the
course of 2011.
We will keep you updated on the government's response to the
report and any legislative changes.
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