Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2016
By now you will have seen food packaging with 'health star
ratings' – a prominent display of a number of stars
between one (being the worst) and five (being the best). It's a
bit like a film review or the energy rating on your fridge.
The ratings system came about as a joint initiative between
governments in Australia and New Zealand and a host of peak bodies,
some concerned with food production, others with public health, and
others with consumer choice. They were made following the clear
packaging recommendations contained in the 2011 Blewett Report:
'Labelling Logic' – The Final Report of the
Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy.
While the use of these ratings is not compulsory, they are
becoming more common. It is expected that once adopted by a
sufficient number of producers in a particular food line, consumers
will come to expect them and this will pressure other producers to
begin using the system.
Perhaps the main driver of the ratings system is the concept of
'truth in labelling'. This is the idea that it is
relatively easy to label food products with words that while being
strictly correct may in fact lead consumers into holding a belief
about the particular food product that is not at all correct.
Country of origin labelling: is it fair to say
that a food product assembled in Australia from foreign ingredients
was 'made in Australia'? Do not such words carry the risk
that a consumer may believe that the product contains Australian
produce from start to finish? The ACCC has recently focused on this
issue. Please see previous article
A reminder about truth in food labelling
Health-claim labelling: is it misleading for a
high sugar but low fat food, such as boiled lollies or jubes, to
prominently claim that they are '98% fat free'? Such
statements seems reasonably (but not strictly logically) to imply
that the food is healthy, whereas it may contain incredibly
excessive amounts of sugar. Of course, a counterargument to this is
who on earth would think that boiled lollies are as healthy as,
say, an apple?
Animal welfare labelling: would you think that
the bird you are about to eat, marketed as a 'free range
chicken', had a more pleasurable life than the bird your
neighbour is about to eat, sold to her as a product of 'RSPCA
approved farming'? The same with pigs. We hear that their
living conditions can differ, so when a labelling campaign refers
to a 'sow stall free' pork product what does this really
mean? It sounds kind of humane.
It will be interesting to see how successful the health star
ratings prove to be in providing consumers with the basic
nutritional information that governments and peak bodies are
concerned may not be being adequately disseminated.
One potential hiccup already: I noticed a popular flavoured milk
powder has received a four and a half star rating, which its
packaging proudly displays. Upon further investigation, and having
ascertained that this was not a misprint, I noticed a little
asterisk next to the rating. This led to a disclaimer of sorts. It
explained that if you wanted your particular glass of flavoured
milk to actually be a four and a half star drink, then you needed
to limit the drink to 100ml (that's 5 tablespoons of milk) and
use skim milk. No system will be perfect.
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for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's
specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of
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