Economy

Food council rejects star ratings, as government threatens mandatory legislation

Yolanda Redrup /

Australian food and grocery production manufacturers are being warned to implement the voluntary star rating system, or risk being forced by legalisation within two years.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council has said the system has major “technical flaws”, warning it will cost the industry $200 million to change labels.

The five-star rating system is designed to give consumers a better awareness of the food’s health content.

In a statement provided to SmartCompany, the parliamentary secretary for health and ageing, Shayne Neumann, said the AFGC has been involved in the ongoing negotiations, but warned “significant action” was on the cards in mid-2015.

“Industry has been given time to progressively implement the new labelling voluntarily.”

“However, state, territory, and federal food ministers have agreed that if industry takes no significant action within the new two years, a regulatory approach to food labelling will be pursued,” he says.

The AFGC represents the $100 billion food manufacturing industry and chief executive Gary Dawson told Financial Review Sunday it would cost on average $14,000 per product to change the labelling.

SmartCompany contacted the AFGC this morning and asked how this figure was calculated, but the council did not respond to the question.

A spokesperson for the AFGC told SmartCompany it supports consumers making healthy choices, but said there are still changes which need to be made.

“The AFGC is still engaged in negotiations to fix serious technical flaws with the proposed star rating system – these have been flagged for some time and have not yet been addressed.”

“There’s no point introducing a flawed scheme. We’ve said all along the scheme has to be technically sound, meaningful to consumers and practical and attractive to food companies if it is to be a success,” the spokesperson said.

The federal government is encouraging the health star system to be displayed on the front of the packaging of all packaged, manufactured and processed foods presented ready for sale.

The new food labelling system was one of the key recommendations of the 2011 Blewett review of food labelling and the star scale has been widely praised by public health advocates.

The Australian Medical Association responded to the comments from the AFGC yesterday by urging state and federal governments to make the system mandatory.

The medical association labelled the AFGC’s response to the scheme an attempt to “sabotage an important weapon in the war against obesity”.

AMA President Steve Hambleton said in a statement it was “irresponsible” for the council to walk away from the system.

“The AFCG has been heavily involved in discussion with governments and public health advocates for more than 18 months and has had plenty of opportunities to voice any concerns they many have had.

“The recalcitrant food industry is clearly putting profits ahead of public health by undermining a voluntary system it helped put in place,” he says.

The AFGC says in its defence the Daily Intake Guide is already being widely adopted by the industry and it now appears on 7300 products.

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