Ministers amend controversial health star rating changes

Wednesday, 02 December, 2020

Ministers amend controversial health star rating changes

The Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation has affirmed all fresh and minimally processed fruit and vegetable products will receive an automatic five-star rating under the revised Health Star Rating (HSR) plan.

At the meeting on Friday (27 November 2020), state food Ministers agreed that a 12-month stock‑in‑trade provision would be permitted for eligible products following a two‑year transition period.

The news comes after heavy criticism from multiple industry associations after the Forum rejected the Commonwealth and farm industry proposal to lock in a minimum 4-star health rating for pure fruit and veggie juices.

AUSVEG, Australia’s peak industry body for the vegetable and potato industries, had said the rejection was “deeply concerning” and called for “common sense to prevail”.

Citrus grower industry body Citrus Australia also echoed the sentiments.

“What message does this tell the Australian agriculture industry and Australian consumers? The Health Star Rating system is broken beyond repair,” Citrus Australia Chief Executive Nathan Hancock said.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, who is a member of the Forum, launched a statement after it was initially proposed pure Australian fruit juices with no added sugar would be classified as less healthy than some soft drinks.

“It’s madness. Fresh, pure, vitamin-rich Aussie OJ is better than a soft drink every day of the week, and our Health Star Rating system should reflect this,” he said.

At the Forum’s request, further consideration was given to the treatment of fruit and vegetable juice (no added sugar) and other non-dairy beverages under the HSR system.

The Forum noted the Australian Government Department of Health will provide further advice to adjust the HSR calculator for 100% fruit and vegetable juices (no added sugar) for discussion at the next meeting, to be held in February 2021.

The Forum supported a proposal for a minor adjustment to the HSR review calculator to address an anomaly. Diet beverages will now achieve no more than 3.5 stars, as this option best aligns with the intention from the HSR Five-Year Review recommendations and with the Australian and New Zealand dietary guidelines.

The Health Star Rating is a front-of-pack labelling system that rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns it a rating from half a star to five stars.

It provides a quick, easy, standard way to compare similar packaged foods: the more stars, the healthier the choice.

Nutritional information is mandatory on the back of packaged Australian and New Zealand foods, but HSR labels, which have appeared on the front since 2014, are voluntary.

Recent research has emerged that food labelling can encourage manufacturers to improve product nutrition.

However, University of Melbourne experts say the star labelling system must be compulsory or at least more widely applied to make a big difference. The proposal to make the system mandatory was rejected last November.

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