A Healthy Development in Australian Food Labelling

FoodStream’s Marie Lewis provides some additional information on recent changes to food labelling requirements.

After ten years of development, a new Standard for Nutrition, Health and Related Claims was gazetted in January this year.  Standard 1.2.7 of the ANZ Food Standards Code regulates nutrition content claims, general level health claims, high level health claims and endorsements, on labels and in advertising of food for retail sale in Australia and New Zealand.

The new Standard was developed with the intentions of enabling industry to innovate to provide a wider range of healthy food products, and to ensure that consumers are provided with the information needed to make informed food choices.

Nutrition content claims are voluntary statements made about the content of certain nutrients or substances, or the glycaemic index or glycaemic load in food, such as “98% fat free”, “good source of protein”, or “low GI”. Whereas previously claims such as these were guided by a Code of Practice, the criteria for permission of these claims are now firmly prescribed in the legislation.

Health claims refer to a relationship between a food and a health effect, and the standard defines claims as either:

High level health claims, which refer to a nutrient or substance in a food and its relationship to a serious disease or to a biomarker of a serious disease (eg “a diet low in saturated fatty acids  may assist in reducing total blood cholesterol”); or

General level health claims, which refer to a nutrient or substance in a food and its effect on a health function (eg “protein contributes to the growth of muscle mass”).

In order to make a high level or general level health claim about a food, the food must comply with specific criteria listed in the Standard, including nutrient profile scoring criteria (NPSC).  The NPSC is designed to provide an objective benchmark of the overall “healthiness” of a food and ensure that health claims are not permitted on foods that have some “unhealthy” characteristics.  For example, an oatmeal cookie which is high in fat and sugar would not be permitted to carry a health claim linking beta-glucan (contained in oats) with reduced cholesterol absorption.  However, if that cookie were to be reformulated such that its composition meets the NPSC and complies with the nutrient content criteria for beta-glucan, then it might be possible to label it with a health claim. To assist industry, FSANZ has developed a new tool called the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Calculator, available on its website.

The new Standard currently includes 13 pre-approved food-health relationships upon which any high level health claim must be based.

Over 200 pre-approved food-health relationships which can form the basis for general level health claims are currently included in the Standard.

Additionally, and somewhat controversially, the Standard allows food businesses to self-substantiate food-health relationships for general level health claims.  Food businesses that intend to self-substantiate must conduct a systematic review process as described in the Standard to establish the health effect, maintain appropriate documentation, and provide notification and certification to FSANZ prior to making the health claim.  FSANZ will maintain a public record on its website of food businesses that have chosen to self-substantiate a food-health relationship for the purpose of a general level health claim. Apparently in order to foster diligent research and competitiveness, each food business must conduct its own systematic review, and food businesses are not permitted to use a relationship on the public record that has been provided by another food business. At the time of writing this article, no food-health relationships have been reported to FSANZ.

More information on Standard 1.2.7 and the requirements for self-substantiation of food-health relationships can be found on the FSANZ website http://www.foodstandards.gov.au.



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