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Food rating website on backburner

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The healthy food star rating website that was controversially pulled down at the direction of Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash will not be reinstated until after Federal, State and Territory food ministers meet in June.

The AMA has been a strong advocate for the website, with AMA President Dr Hambleton saying that it was to be a major part of the public education campaign to make people aware of the new star system rating. He said the health star rating system for food and beverages was a major public health initiative that would place Australia as a world leader in helping to reduce alarming rates of overweight and obesity in Australia.

Dr Hambleton’s comments were supported by the consumer group Choice when they uncovered a surprisingly large difference in the nutritional content of seemingly similar snack foods under the healthy food star rating system.

Choice compared three products from multinational snack foods company, Mondelez, with similar products. Choice found Mondelez’s Kraft Strip Cheese received only two out of five stars compared with Bega’s Stringers, which received four and a half stars. Mondelez’s Ritz Crackers got a half star compared to Arnott’s Jatz original, which got two.

Choice campaigns manager Angela Catwright said she was able to use publicly available information to do the ratings and would consider doing more product analysis if the website was not reinstated.

A spokesperson for Mondelez told the Sydney Morning Herald that the system would mislead consumers and make labels more confusing considering Philadelphia Cream Cheese was considered healthier than an apple under the system.

Dr Hambleton called on the food industry to stop undermining the implementation of the new five star rating system for food nutrition and was backed by more than 65 professors from around Australia who co-signed a letter saying the threat to Australia’s health posed by obesity needs urgent action and urges all ministers to take whatever action is within their power to implement the system as soon as possible.

However, there continues to be ongoing dispute within the Coalition whether the star health ratings should be implemented. Some politicians are calling on the Prime Minister to back the scheme starting in June, but others believe consumers do not need Government intervention.

Kirsty Waterford