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Big Food’s resistance to health stars crumbling

Food industry resistance to the front-of-packet nutrition star rating system is crumbling, with cereal giant Kellogg’s the latest to adopt the labelling scheme for its products.

Almost two years after the Health Star Rating system was approved by the nation’s food and health ministers, Kellogg’s has announced that, from June, the labelling scheme would be introduced across all 37 of its cereal products.

Under the system, which the AMA was involved in developing, food is awarded between a half and five stars depending on its nutritional value. The label also includes a panel detailing sugar, saturated fat, sodium and energy content.

While some Kellogg’s products, including All Bran and Guardian, have been awarded five stars under the scheme, and the majority have four or more stars, several varieties aimed at children, including Coco Pops, Fruit Loops, Crunchy Nut and Nutri-Grain have just two stars and one, Crispix, has earned just 1.5 stars.

Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash said that Kellogg’s adoption of the voluntary scheme meant that soon the vast majority of breakfast cereals would carry a Health Star Rating, making it easier for “time-poor parents [to] make quick, informed choices…without taking precious time reading labels”.

Monster Health Foods Company was an early adopter of the scheme, and other manufacturers has since joined them, including Sanitarium, Nestle/Uncle Toby’s, Food for Health, Goodness Superfoods, Freedom Foods, Greens General Foods, Coles home brand and Woolworths’ ‘Macro’ brand.

The increasing adoption of the scheme by industry has despite fierce resistance from some manufacturers.

Major food companies including McCain, Mars, PepsiCo, Mondelez, George Weston and Goodman Fielder are yet to implement the scheme.

A Mondelez spokeswoman told Fairfax Media the company, which owns of Kraft, Belvita and Philadelphia, was resisting the scheme because it was flawed.

“Our view is that the concept and formula underpinning the voluntary system fails to account for individuals’ dietary requirements and takes an unrealistic view of portion sizes,” she said.

The resistance has come despite industry’s close involvement in developing the scheme over a two-year period prior to its adoption by the nation’s food and health ministers.

Industry representatives publicly expressed dissatisfaction soon after the system’s formal adoption, and a Federal Health Department website promoting the Health Star Rating system was controversially taken down in early 2014 at the direction of Senator Nash’s office.

The Minister’s then-Chief of Staff, Alistair Furnival, who had directed the take-down, was subsequently forced to resign after it was revealed he co-owned a consultancy that had major food manufacturers among its clients.

The website was reinstated last December, a move welcomed at the time by AMA Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis, who said giving consumers quick and easy nutritional information was an important tool in helping improve food choices and reducing obesity.

Estimates suggest that almost two-thirds of adults, and a quarter of children, are overweight or obese, meaning a huge proportion of the population will be at risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other complex, chronic and expensive health problems unless more is done to trim the nation’s waistline.

Dr Parnis said he hoped that the Health Star Rating scheme would encourage manufacturers to reformulate their products and make them more nutritious in order to earn more stars.

Manufacturers have four years to voluntarily adopt the system, and Dr Parnis said the AMA would support a move by the Government to subsequently make it mandatory.

The Health Star Rating System website can be viewed at:

http://www.healthstarrating.gov.au/internet/healthstarrating/publishing.nsf/content/home

Adrian Rollins

 

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