By now you will have seen food packaging with ‘health star ratings’ – a prominent display of a number of stars between one (being the worst) and five (being the best). It’s a bit like a film review or the energy rating on your fridge.
The ratings system came about as a joint initiative between governments in Australia and New Zealand and a host of peak bodies, some concerned with food production, others with public health, and others with consumer choice. They were made following the clear packaging recommendations contained in the 2011 Blewett Report: ‘Labelling Logic’ – The Final Report of the Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy.
While the use of these ratings is not compulsory, they are becoming more common. It is expected that once adopted by a sufficient number of producers in a particular food line, consumers will come to expect them and this will pressure other producers to begin using the system.
Perhaps the main driver of the ratings system is the concept of ‘truth in labelling’. This is the idea that it is relatively easy to label food products with words that while being strictly correct may in fact lead consumers into holding a belief about the particular food product that is not at all correct. Examples include:
It will be interesting to see how successful the health star ratings prove to be in providing consumers with the basic nutritional information that governments and peak bodies are concerned may not be being adequately disseminated.
One potential hiccup already: I noticed a popular flavoured milk powder has received a four and a half star rating, which its packaging proudly displays. Upon further investigation, and having ascertained that this was not a misprint, I noticed a little asterisk next to the rating. This led to a disclaimer of sorts. It explained that if you wanted your particular glass of flavoured milk to actually be a four and a half star drink, then you needed to limit the drink to 100ml (that’s 5 tablespoons of milk) and use skim milk. No system will be perfect.
Author: Bede Haines
Ron Eames, Partner
T: +61 7 3135 0629
Paul Venus, Partner
T: +61 7 3135 0613
Alistair Salmon, Partner
T: +61 2 8083 0467
This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed above.
Published by Bede Haines