Star ratings for food labelling gets go-ahead

Food and health ministers in Sydney have today approved a new star rating system aimed at making it easier for consumers to make healthier purchasing decisions.

The Health Star Rating has been designed to replace the Daily Intake Guide system, and will be adopted by food companies on a voluntary basis.

It will be similar to the energy efficiency star rating system for whitegoods and will see highly nutritious processed foods given more stars, while those foods lacking nutritional value will have fewer stars.

The star ratings will appear on the front of food packages, with additional information about the key nutrients that consumers want to know about, including sugars, saturated fat, sodium and kilojoules.

The system was developed by government, industry and public health group representatives, together with consumer group Choice.

Choice chair, Jenni Mack, said the system's approval today is a major win for Australian consumers.

"We know how difficult it can be when you’re in the supermarket trying to make a healthy choice, particularly when you’re in a rush and don’t have time to scour the complex information on the back of packs," she said.

"Shoppers are also bamboozled by the barrage of marketing on food products and the star rating will cut through this confusion. A five star rating instantly says a product is a great choice, while one star says it is a ‘sometimes’ food."

A clear, easy to understand labelling system was one of the key recommendations of the 2011 Blewett review of food labelling, but getting consumers and industry to agree on the best system has been difficult.

Introduced in 2006 as a voluntary initiative, Daily Intake Guide (DIG) nutrition labels now appear on over 7,200 food products on Australian supermarket shelves, and while the Australian Food and Grocery Council says the DIG labels provide an easy to read summary of a product's nutritional content, others, including Choice, have said it's confusing and potentially misleading.

Another labelling system considered in recent years is a traffic light scheme, which would use green, yellow and red colours to indicate a product's nutritional value.

Food brands rejected this system however, no doubt uncomfortable with having their products branded with a red 'light' and arguing it's too simplistic.

“Traffic light labels categorise foods as good and bad – but all foods can form part of a balanced diet," AFGC chief executive (at the time) Kate Carnell said.

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