Many people find that Nutrition Information Panels are anything but simple. Mandatory on almost all packaged food items sold in Australia since 2003, Nutrition Information Panels are the tables on the back of food products showing the nutritional breakdown of the product. Because of how difficult these can be to make sense of, the need for simpler nutrition information on food products has been clear for some time.
And enter the latest development in this space: front of pack labelling. This is the latest effort to make it easier for people to make healthy choices in the supermarket. The idea is that a simple graphic on the front of food products will enable people to, at a glance, choose healthier packaged foods. Globally, this is by no means a new initiative. For example, front of pack labelling has been in the UK since 2006, and a consistent, albeit voluntary, system was rolled out there mid-last year. But I’m writing about it now because this month, front of pack labelling is coming to Australia.
The form of front-of-pack labelling that has received the most attention globally has been the traffic light system. This is the form in place in the UK, and the form that has received the most attention in the media. The traffic light system uses 3 colour codes: green, amber and red, to assess the nutritional value of different aspects of the food item. For example, if the product is high in saturated fat, but low in salt, saturated fat would be coloured red, and salt would be coloured green.
Australia, on the other hand, has opted for a star system, like what we currently have for white goods. They are calling this the Health Star Rating. It’s a similar system to the UK model, but rather than being based on colours, it’s based on stars. It will be policed by an industry code of conduct so, like the UK, it’s also voluntary for food manufacturers to adopt. However, uptake of the Rating will be reviewed in 2016, and there is scope for it to become mandatory if industry uptake is low. Decisions around food policy, like this, are made by a roundtable of representatives from the public health sector, government, food industry and consumer groups.
The Health Star Rating will start to appear on the front of packaged food products from June onwards. It will give food products between 1/2 a star and 5 stars for their overall nutritional value. The healthier the product, the more stars it will have. The Rating will also display the saturated fat, sugar and sodium content of the product. Manufacturers will be able to add an extra, ‘positive’, fourth nutrient of their choice to this mix. The kilojoule content of the food product will also need to be displayed.
Check out this article by consumer group Choice for an example of what these Health Star Ratings will look like.
I’m interested in hearing from you. Do you think front of pack labelling will make it easier to make healthy food choices in the supermarket, or is it more white noise on packaging that we just don’t need?