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NZ adopts new healthy food labelling system

Hon Nikki Kaye

Minister for Food Safety

27 June 2014 Media Statement
NZ adopts new healthy food labelling system

Minister for Food Safety Nikki Kaye today announced that the government will be adopting a new Health Star Rating food labelling system.

“Cabinet agreed earlier this week to New Zealand adopting this voluntary system that has been developed as part of the Australian and New Zealand Ministers’ Food Forum,” Ms Kaye says.

“Today at a meeting of Australian and New Zealand ministers in Sydney, I have confirmed that we will be joining Australia in this initiative.”

The Health Star Rating system will help New Zealanders make healthy food choices, Ms Kaye says.

“Over the past 18 months, the Ministry for Primary Industries has supported the New Zealand Front of Pack Labelling advisory group consisting of food safety officials, public health representatives, consumer groups, and representatives from the food industry.

"This diverse group has endorsed the Health Star Rating system and recommended to the government its adoption over other systems. I also note the recent Health Select Committee report on improving children's health that indicates good political support for it.”

Research has shown the system will have a positive effect on consumers’ ability to identify healthier food products, Ms Kaye says. Uptake will be determined by companies choosing to adopt it and consumer demand.

The new system uses a star rating scale of ½ to 5 stars and, except for some exclusions such as alcohol, is able to be used on all packaged food products for retail sale. Foods with more stars reflect better nutritional value. The number of stars is determined by an algorithm that considers the overall nutritional value of the food.

“The system has many benefits,” Ms Kaye says. “Having nutritional information on the front of the pack will make it easier for busy shoppers to make a healthier choice.”

The overall nutritional rating will also enable shoppers to compare and choose healthier products from within a range. “In addition, this system will encourage companies to change their products to be healthier.”

The New Zealand Front of Pack Labelling advisory group will work with MPI to implement the system and on a public information campaign.

In joining the trans-Tasman system, the forum has agreed that New Zealand will be a member of a committee that has been established to oversee the implementation of the system, Ms Kaye says. “We are also contributing financially to assist with the ongoing operation of the scheme.

“I am delighted to confirm that the forum has agreed the next meeting of forum ministers will be held in New Zealand in late January. I want to acknowledge our close working relationship with the Australian federal government and in particular Senator the Honourable Fiona Nash on this issue.”

Ms Kaye says that she hopes to see the first Health Star labels on products within 6-12 months. "I believe that this is a very positive step towards empowering New Zealanders to make healthier food choices."

For further information: http://www.mpi.govt.nz/

--

Why is the Health Star Rating on the front of the pack?

Front of pack labelling provides nutrition information on the front (aisle-facing side) of food packages. It gives consumers simple, at-a-glance access to nutrition information to encourage healthier food choices.

How are the stars calculated?

The nutrient profiling system used in the Health Star Rating system is consistent with Dietary Guidelines. The system takes into account four aspects of a food associated with increasing the risk factors for chronic diseases (energy, saturated fat, sodium and total sugars) along with certain ‘positive’ aspects of a food such as fruit and vegetable content, and in some instances dietary fibre and protein content. Taking these components into account, points are allocated based on the nutritional composition of 100g or 100 ml, following the units used in the nutrition information panel (NIP) of a food.

What does the ‘Health Star Rating’ system look like?

The Health Star Rating System uses a star rating scale of ½ to 5 stars. Foods with more stars are said to have better nutritional value. The system also includes nutrient information icons for energy (kilojoules), saturated fat, sodium (salt), and sugars, and can include one positive nutrient such as calcium or fibre.

This is an example of a front of pack star rating system:

When will we see stars in New Zealand?

It’s important to note that this announcement is the first step in the process and it is expected that the early adopters of the star labelling system would take at least 6 to 12 months before getting their newly labelled products on shelves.

Before that happens, MPI will need to work with industry on the detail of implementing the new system. That means ensuring industry understands requirements about how the stars should be presented and how to determine how many stars to allocate to their products. In addition, businesses that choose to take part will need to make changes to their systems to incorporate the star system into their current labels.

Will this be mandatory on all foods?

No. There is no intention to introduce a mandatory front of pack labelling standard in New Zealand.

MPI plans to monitor uptake of the system. New Zealand has a good record for industry uptake of voluntary labelling systems.

What is the process companies must go through to use the label?

Guidance on how to use the system, including how to calculate star ratings for food products and how to display this on the label, is currently being finalised. MPI will be running workshops and providing additional guidance to assist New Zealand industry with uptake of the system.

How much will it cost companies?

There is no fee from government. Any costs involved will be related to changing labels and staff time.

Was a Traffic Light Labelling system considered?

Yes. However significant work has been done to agree this system is not right for New Zealand or Australia.

The New Zealand advisory group recommended also an interpretive system. They agreed two key principles about front of pack labelling that the traffic light system does not fulfil:

- That the system should evaluate the whole food and not just individual nutrients. The traffic light system evaluates each nutrient separately and does not give an overall rating to the food.

- That the rating should be based on nutrients that are positive and negative according to New Zealand dietary guidelines. The traffic light system is based only on negative nutrients.

The Health Star Rating fulfils both these requirements and gives consumers a clear indication of the overall nutritional value of food.

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