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HEALTH STAR RATING SYSTEM

The Health Star Rating System is designed to help people easily distinguish healthier food choices. It was developed in Australia. Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye announced on 27 June 2014 that New Zealand will adopt the system.

 

Health star rating example

Health star rating example

The star system uses a rating of from ½ to 5 stars. Except for some exclusions like alcohol, it can be used on all packaged food products for retail sale.
The more stars, the better the nutritional choice. There are also nutrient information icons for energy, saturated fat, sodium (salt) and sugars. One positive nutrient such as calcium or fibre can also be added.

Background

New Zealand and Australia share a system for developing food standards, including labelling. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) administers it.

FSANZ implements policy set by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum). The New Zealand Government is represented on the Forum by the Minister of Food Safety. Other members are ministers from each Australian state or territory government, and the Federal Government.

Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy and the Blewett Report

In 2009, the Forum set in motion a comprehensive review of food labelling law and policy for Australia and New Zealand. Former Australian Health Minister Dr Neal Blewett headed the Review Panel.

Submissions to the Review Panel from the health sector strongly supported introduction of a traffic light system.

Submissions from food manufacturers specifically opposed traffic lights, maintaining that the percentage daily intake (DIG)
scheme developed by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) did the job.

In January 2011 the Panel released its report in which it recommended introduction of an interpretive front-of-pack system. Such systems interpret nutrition information for consumers by including judgments about the extent to which particular products should form part of a healthy diet. The Report then went further by recommending this be a multiple traffic light system.

The food industry favourite, the DIG system, is not interpretive and was rejected by the Panel.

From the Blewett Report to the Health Star Rating System

The Forum met in December 2011 to consider its responses to recommendations in the Panel’s Report. Although a traffic light system was rejected, the Forum agreed to the development of a voluntary interpretive system for Australia.

Because this new system was (at least initially) to be voluntary, it was developed outside the FSANZ food standards development process which relates to mandatory requirements generally applying in both countries. This made it easier for New Zealand to go its own way.

Australian working groups

The Australians set up working groups to develop an interpretive system, with roughly equal membership from the food industry and public health. Public health organisations decided on who would represent them in this process.

The Australian working groups, under strong leadership from a very senior bureaucrat, worked on developing what emerged as the Health Star Rating System.

In June 2103, Australian ministers on the Forum agreed to implementation of the star system, subject to further development.

A surprise was the Forum’s threat to the food industry that a mandatory approach would be required if there was not “consistent and widespread uptake” of the star system following evaluation after 2 years.

New Zealand working group

The New Zealand Government opted out of jointly developing a system with Australia, and set up its own working group. Membership of this group was decided by Government, and had a food industry bias.

The New Zealand working group went no further than developing principles and guidelines for a voluntary interpretive system.

New Zealand rejoins the Australians

For all the reasons that lie behind New Zealand’s past decisions to share food standards with Australia, it was always highly unlikely that New Zealand would develop its own food labelling scheme. It was therefore no surprise when New Zealand decided to rejoin the Australian process of further developing and implementing the Health Star Rating System.

Page updated 14  October 2014