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Food star ratings should be mandatory: AMA

The AMA has called for food star ratings to be made compulsory after industry backflipped on agreements for their voluntary introduction.

In a stunning about-face, the Australian Food and Grocery Council has reneged on its support for the system, which has been hailed as an important weapon in tackling the nation’s ballooning waistline.

The Council has complained that flaws in the rating system mean it is not an accurate guide to the healthiness of food, and would be expensive to implement.

But the AMA has accused the Council, which has been involved in the system’s development for much of the past two years, of trying to sabotage efforts to bring rates of obesity down.

“It is irresponsible for the food industry to walk away from the new system at this late stage,” Dr Hambleton said. “The AFGC has been heavily involved in discussions with governments and public health advocates for more than 18 months, and has had plenty of opportunities to voice any concerns they may have had.”

Australian and New Zealand food ministers unveiled the star rating system in June following widespread consultations with governments, business and health groups.

Under the system, packaged food will be assigned a rating of between half a star and five stars, which will be displayed on the front of the packet.

The star rating is based on a nutrient profiling system developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and will be accompanied by a panel displaying details of the food’s energy content, as well as how much saturated fat, sugar, sodium and one other positive nutrient (such as calcium or fibre) it contains.

The ministers initially gave industry two years to voluntarily comply with the new labelling code, but Dr Hambleton said the Council’s rejection meant governments had no choice but the make the system mandatory.

“The recalcitrant food industry is clearly putting profits ahead of public health by undermining a voluntary system it helped to put in place,” the AMA President said. “Governments must now bring the industry into line by making the system mandatory.”

AFGC Chief Executive Gary Dawson told The Australian Financial Review the threat to make the system mandatory was very disappointing.

Mr Dawson said initial tests of Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s nutrient profiling system had thrown up significant anomalies, such as crinkle cut potato chips getting two stars, while far healthier dry roasted unsalted cashews get just two-and-a-half stars.

In addition, he said, repackaging products to include the stars would cost the industry as much as $200 million.
But public health expert Michael Moore, who helped design the profiling system, told the AFR such anomalies had affected just 5 per cent of the 3000 products so far tested, and could be easily rectified.

Dr Hambleton said the star rating system was an important way of helping consumers make informed choices about the food they were buying and eating.

“Consumers must be empowered to identify and choose healthy food, and research shows that the health star rating system is an easier and more effective way to improve consumer choices,” he said.

Adrian Rollins

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