AMA calls on food industry to stop "undermining" star rating system

Tuesday, 04 March, 2014

The vice-president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called on the food industry to stop “undermining” the new star rating system.

Dr Steve Hambleton says the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) was lobbying against the system on the same day that the website was shut down by the Assistant Minister for Health’s office.

“Even though they worked closely with the public health sector on the development of the new system, the AFGC has lobbied against the consumer-friendly food labels since they were agreed by the federal and state governments last year,” Dr Hambleton said.

“The system’s website was to be a major part of the public education campaign to make people aware of the new system and how it works. It is important that consumers are fully across the system before the new labels appear on supermarket shelves.

“It is time that the food industry and its peak council did the right thing and put their full support behind a bold initiative that will help people make healthier food choices and take some pressure off the health budget.”

While AMA President Professor Geoffrey Dobb told ABC’s PM program on Thursday that there is “possibly a risk” that the system may not go ahead at all, he was positive about the system going ahead after a meeting on Monday.

“The meeting was in the spirit of cooperation with a focus on getting the food star rating system done by the middle of this year,” Professor Dobb told The Guardian.

However, he acknowledged that there is still plenty of work to be done to have the system ready in time.

“There’s still further work to be done on finalising the style guide,” Professor Dobb said. “People need the style guide so they know what they’re looking for and what it means.”

Professor Dobb says there are some “minor anomalies” that still need fixing, such as how dairy products are rated. For instance, under the current system, custard receives a higher star rating than products such as cheese.

“We now have in place a process to take us through that and see if there are in fact anomalies and how to fix them.

“The handling has been to my mind a little confused and I think what we need is some clear policy direction,” Professor Dobb told PM’s Amy Bainbridge. “This is a really good initiative for the Australian community and will help to address the sustainability of healthcare costs.”

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