Health claims decision good for consumers, exporters

18 /12/2012

A decision to regulate the way nutrition content and health claims are made on food products will provide a big boost for both consumers and export manufacturers, says Food and Grocery Council CEO Katherine Rich.

New Zealand and Australian Ministers responsible for food regulation have decided to support regulation of the voluntary nutrition content claims (e.g. ‘low fat’) and health claims (e.g. ‘contains calcium for healthy bones’). General-level health claims (e.g. ‘calcium is good for strong bones’) can be supported by either pre-approved or industry self-substantiated food health relationships. High-level health claims (e.g. ‘calcium reduces the risk of osteoporosis’) will require pre-approval by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). All health claims will be required to be supported by scientific evidence and will be permitted only on foods that meet specific eligibility criteria, including for nutrition.

“It’s taken more than a decade of hard work from New Zealand’s officials to see this project come to fruition, but the outcome is good news for New Zealand food producers,” Mrs Rich says.

“Not only will it help ensure consumers to have greater confidence that health claims are evidence-based, it also supports manufacturers in making claims on innovative products for important export markets.”

When the regulations are gazetted early next year, food businesses will have three years to meet the standard. During this time, FSANZ will work with industry, public health, and consumers on a range of issues, including refining the nutrient-profiling scoring criteria and developing and implementing a process to maintain the scientific currency of pre-approved food-health relationships.

“The inclusion of self-substantiation is a key achievement for the Minister for Food Safety, Hon Kate Wilkinson, and the Ministry for Primary Industries, and was strongly supported by our members,” says Mrs Rich.

“We are confident the health claims standard will promote innovation and assist businesses making proprietary claims, not just for the Australian market but also for other, expanding, markets in Asia and elsewhere.

“It fits perfectly with the Government’s aim of doubling exports by 2025.

“Regularising health claims is also in line with developments on health claims in Europe and Canada, and has been followed by the likes of Japan as it revises its regulation in this area.

“The inclusion of pre-approved food-health relationships in the new standard has provided a great starting point, especially for small-to-medium-size businesses that might develop their individual claims within the parameters of the food-health relationship.

“FGC also believes that the provision of a three-year transition period gives industry the opportunity to adjust food labels over time to come into compliance.

“There are some wrinkles in the system – for example, the nutrient-profiling scoring criteria is a blunt instrument and some refining over the transition period will be pursued – but overall this is an excellent step forward, and FGC looks forward to working with FSANZ and the Government on it.”