Research underway on voluntary front-of-pack food labelling

  • Nikki Kaye
Food Safety

Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye today announced research has been commissioned to assess New Zealand consumer understanding and the impact of nutrition labelling on food. “I have asked the Ministry for Primary Industries to commission social research about how a Health Star Rating System might be perceived and understood in New Zealand,” Ms Kaye says. “Over the past 18 months the New Zealand Front of Pack Labelling Advisory Group has been considering principles for voluntary front of pack nutrition labelling and reviewing proposals that are being developed in Australia, specifically the proposal for a star rating system. The group is made up of food safety officials, public health and consumer groups, and the food industry. “The group indicated an interpretive system of marks such as ticks or stars, that focuses on the nutritional value of the whole food, is preferable to alternative systems like traffic light labelling which focuses on individual nutrients. “The aim of nutrition labelling on the front of food packaging is to give consumers greater choice in identifying healthy food. “The star system gives consumers at-a-glance nutrition information about the food they are buying using a five-star rating scale. A higher star rating means better nutritional value. “The system also includes nutritional information icons for energy, saturated fat, sodium, and sugars. It can include one positive nutrient such as calcium or fibre. “A potential benefit of the simpler front of pack nutrition labelling could be the changes that food companies decide to make to their products to make them healthier and get higher star rating. “Trans-Tasman cooperation is vital in the food area as we share many foods with our closest neighbour, Australia. That is why we are doing this research to look at whether a star rating system like the one the Australians are working on will be useful for New Zealanders. “The purpose of the research is to get a gauge of the impact of a voluntary star rating system. The results will be fed into the decision making process. “We want to know what consumers think about using such a system and about how it may impact their choices in the supermarket,” Ms Kaye says. The proposed Australian system was presented to the Australia-New Zealand Forum on Food Regulation (FoFR) in June this year. Since then more technical work has been done and the final system will be presented at the next FoFR meeting in December. It is anticipated that the research will be completed within the next month. Front of pack labelling questions and answers Q. What is front of pack labelling? A. Front of pack labelling (FoPL) refers to the provision of nutrition information on the front (aisle facing side) of food packages. There are two broad types of FoPL: interpretive FoPL, where nutrition information is presented using symbols, colours, or grades; or non-interpretive, where the information is presented in numerical form, usually as a proportion of recommended daily nutrient intakes. FoPL is seen as a way to provide consumers better access to nutrition information to encourage healthier food choices. This is an example of a front of pack star rating system:

Research underway on voluntary front-of-pack food labelling
Q. Will New Zealand be adopting the proposed Australian System? A. Once the voluntary Health Star Rating System is finalised in Australia, the New Zealand Government will consider whether it is appropriate to encourage voluntary uptake of a Health Star Rating System here. This decision will be informed by advice from the New Zealand Front of Pack Labelling Advisory Group, and by the results of social research being commissioned by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) on the usability of a Health Star Rating System for New Zealand consumers. Q. Will this be mandatory on all foods? A. No. There is no intention to introduce a mandatory front of pack labelling standard in New Zealand at this stage. Australia is considering introducing a voluntary front of pack labelling system, called the Health Star Rating System. Any decision by New Zealand Government to consider a voluntary Health Star Rating System will be informed by advice from the New Zealand Front of Pack Labelling Advisory Group and by the results of social research being commissioned by MPI. The New Zealand Front of Pack Labelling Advisory Group is made up of representatives of industry, consumer groups and the public health sector. Q. What does the proposed system look like? A. 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.  BACKGROUND INFORMATION Front of pack nutrition labelling has been the subject of considerable work in the joint food standards system since 2006.  In January 2011, as part of a comprehensive review of food labelling law and policy (Labelling Logic) specific recommendations were made on Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling. The New Zealand Government has consistently engaged in trans-Tasman policy development work.  However, given the different nutrition and public health policy environments in New Zealand and Australia, and the non-regulatory nature of the proposal, New Zealand chose to develop an approach to front of pack labelling separately.  In February 2012 The Minister for Food Safety established a New Zealand Front of Pack Labelling Advisory Group made up of representatives of industry, consumer groups and the public health sector.  The New Zealand front of Pack Labelling Advisory Group developed a set of principles to underpin front of pack labelling for New Zealand. At this year’s June meeting of the Forum on Food Regulation (FoFR) there was discussion of progress that had been made in Australia on the development of five star system, the Health Star Rating System. It is proposed that use of this system will be voluntary. Further technical work has been done since the June meeting of the FoFR the results of which will be presented to the December meeting of the FoFR.  The New Zealand front of pack advisory group met in early November to consider a proposal from MPI to carry out social research, which will identify whether New Zealand consumers can use the Australian Health Star Rating System to identify healthy food choices.