Background and Context:
Claims on food packages have been of concern for many years worldwide. In Australia in 2013, regulation requiring products carrying health claims (but not nutrition content claims) to meet minimum nutrition criteria was phased in after more than 10 years of consultation.
To detail the strategic research monitoring claims on Australian food products, highlight loopholes in the Standard and outline future activities that aim to ensure unsubstantiated claims are not on food labels.
To advocate for better regulation of claims on food packages, a multi-pronged approach has been conducted. Strategic research monitoring the range and types of claims on food labels and the healthiness of products carrying these claims underpinned both grassroots and political advocacy, including media and communications. A new advocacy project has been implemented to test industry self-substantiation of new food-health relationships, and this has been trialled in two Australian states.
After extensive consultation, products carrying health claims must meet minimum nutrient profiling criteria. With the implementation of the health claims Standard, the food industry can now self-substantiate food-health relationships for general level health claims. Although companies are required to hold substantial evidence of the relationship and must notify the food regulator of their claim, there is no requirement for food companies to provide this evidence for independent review unless a relevant authority investigates.
Outcomes/What was learned:
Although the implementation of the Standard represents an improvement from the previous regulation, nutrition content claims are continuing to appear on unhealthy products. Claims outside the scope of the Standard, such as ingredient claims, are also on unhealthy foods, potentially misleading consumers into believing that these products are healthy. The health claims Standard should be expanded to ensure all claims on food packages are regulated to ensure they only appear on healthier foods.