Australia's food regulator, FSANZ, has relented on its intention of forcing food manufacturers to list fat, salt and sugar levels on-label, claiming consumers "may become confused" and distort their diets in a way that could damage long-term health. Manufacturers argued fat content labelling in foods such as nuts may put consumers off and not represent the nutritional benefits of such healthy fats.
"Previously we proposed that we would restrict health claims by setting upper limits for saturated fat, sugar and salt. However, stakeholders let us know this was too simplistic and could preclude some foods, such as large sweet fruits, from making health claims," said FSANZ's general manager of food standards, Melanie Fisher. "We received a mixed response to this suggestion and we are now undertaking further consumer research and proposing that the percentage daily intake be considered in the broader labelling review."
FSANZ is keen to prevent situations such as that of a mainstream children's beverage that had a "no added sugar" label but contained a high percentage of concentrated fruit juice, which has a sugar-like effect. It is estimated 60 per cent of Australian consumers peruse food labels when food shopping.
FSANZ is also calling for comment on health claims regulations that may permit qualified health claims similar to those allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US. FSANZ has already pre-approved claims such as the links between fruit and vegetable consumption and heart disease risk reduction, calcium and osteoporosis or enhanced bone density, sodium and blood pressure, folic acid and neural tube defects, and saturated fats and trans fats and LDL cholesterol levels. Qualified claims may follow. Omega-3 fatty acid consumption and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease was cited as a likely example of such a claim.
FSANZ adopted a nutrient profiling model to provide an apparatus for nutrient and health claim approval. "This system is based on a UK model and has been tested on over 10,000 Australian and New Zealand food products," Fisher said. "The method assesses foods on criteria such as salt, sugar and saturated fat contents but also takes into account other criteria such as fibre, fruit and vegetable content. FSANZ has developed an electronic calculator, available on our website, to allow a quick and simple calculation of whether a food is eligible to carry a health claim." FSANZ is taking comments on the subject until May 16.