Australia is one step closer to getting a front-of-pack food rating system that will see products receive stars based on the amount of sugars, saturated fats and salt they contain. In other words, calorie counting is about to get a whole lot easier.
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Much like with the energy ratings for white goods, Australian consumers will soon be able to tell at a glance which packaged food is the best option. The system, which will include separate icons for energy, saturated fat, sodium and sugars, will have an overall rating out of five stars; with five being the healthiest option.
The new food labelling system was approved by an intergovernmental forum on food policy and is the result of an 18-month collaborative process involving government, food industry representatives and independent health and consumer groups.
While the scheme will initially be voluntary, the forum has stipulated that it will introduce mandatory legislation if the system is not widely adopted by food companies within two years.
“The food labelling star health rating system endorsed today by Australia’s food regulation ministers has the potential to dramatically improve the nation’s food supply as well as helping consumers make healthier choices," the Heart Foundation’s Dr Rob Grenfell said in a statement.
"[We] have consistently called for a robust, mandatory front-of-pack labelling scheme that help consumers make healthier choices as well as encourage food companies to reformulate their products to make them healthier, for example by cutting salt, saturated fat and sugar and adding healthier ingredients such as fibre."
According to Professor Ian Olver, CEO of the Cancer Council Australia, that new scheme will help consumers to circumvent current food rating systems which he labels as "unclear and confusing".
"The health star rating scheme provides a clear, overall indication based on the amount of sugars, saturated fats and salt in packaged foods," Olver said.
"People wanting to reduce their consumption of these nutrients, which are harmful if not consumed in moderation, will have much clearer guidance when the system is introduced. By basing the rating on 100 gram servings, the scheme will enable direct comparisons between products as part of providing more informed choices."
Michael Moore, CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, added the following: "We finally have a way where a parent with a couple of demanding children trying to make purchases of packaged food will be able to see the nutritious value of the food in just a glance."
History suggests that voluntary regulations aren't hugely successful: for instance, the home video classification system was initially up to the entertainment industry to regulate, but was eventually enforced by government due to their shoddy efforts. The promise of a compulsory system within two years is therefore very comforting.
The intergovernmental forum behind the scheme is still working out the finer details of the system, but we can expect to see the first star-rated products appear in around one year.