Voluntary Front-of-Pack Labelling for Food Products

The Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation has endorsed the Health Star Rating (HSR) System, which is a voluntary front-of-pack-labelling scheme that commenced on 27 June 2014. The HSR System aims to provide clear and convenient nutrition information on the front of packaged foods to help consumers make informed food purchases and promote healthier eating choices.

The HSR System is a voluntary scheme. Manufacturers have 5 years to implement the HSR System in respect of their products (to June 2019). A review of the industry uptake will be undertaken after 2 years (June 2016). It is possible that, if the voluntary implementation is found to be unsuccessful, a mandatory approach will be considered.

HSR System – How it works

Under the HSR System, food products are awarded a star rating out of 5 stars for their overall nutritional value. Star ratings are generated by entering the quantity of a specific food component within the product into the Health Star Rating Calculator, which uses an algorithm to calculate the number of stars to be awarded to the product. The rating of a food product is displayed with half star increments to indicate which foods provide a better nutritional choice. The more stars awarded, the healthier the food.

The food components to be entered into the Health Star Rating Calculator consist of energy, saturated fat, total sugars, sodium, protein, dietary fibre, fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes. For some products, such as yoghurt, calcium is also applicable. In addition to the display of star ratings, the HSR System also provides interpretive information on the front of packaged products, such as the amount of energy, sugars, sodium and nutrient contained in the product.

Manufacturers are already required to display a Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) which provides mandatory nutrition information on the average quantity per serve and per 100 grams (or 100 mL). The HSR System complements the NIP by providing nutrition information on the front of packaged food products.

Foods covered by the HSR system

All packaged, manufactured or processed foods for sale to consumers in the retail sector are covered by the HSR System. Generally, if the food carries an NIP, the food will also be covered by the HSR System. Importers of packaged food products into Australia are encouraged to adopt the HSR System as the objective is for the HSR System to apply to both domestically manufactured and imported food products.

Some foods are exempt from the NIP labelling requirements contained in Standard 1.2.8 (Nutrition Information Requirements) of the Food Standards Code. However, their treatment under the HSR System is different. For example:

  1. Foods such as herbs, spices, vinegar, salt, pepper, tea, coffee, herbal infusions, gelatine and setting compounds are exempt because of their inherently low nutritional contribution.  Similarly, alcoholic beverages, alcoholic kits and kava are also exempt. Accordingly, it will not be appropriate to use the HSR System in relation to these foods.
  2. Fresh value–added products (such as packaged fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, pre-packaged rolls and sandwiches) are also exempt. However, the HSR can be used in respect of these products although there is no requirement to do so.
  3. Small packaged products of less than 100cm are also exempt. From a practical perspective, there may not be space on the packaging of small packaged products to display the HSR.

Broadly speaking, special purpose foods which have required compositional formulations under the Foods Standards Code are also exempt from the HSR System and should not display a star rating. These foods include infant formula products, food for infants, formulated supplementary foods for young children, formulated supplementary sports foods and foods for special medical purposes.

However, foods which fall within Standard 2.9.3 of the Food Standards Code, namely formulated meal replacements and formulated supplementary foods, may use the HSR System.

Why was the HSR System introduced?

The purpose of introducing the HSR System is to combat Australia’s high rate of obesity and chronic disease caused by poor dietary choices. An education campaign is being finalised and the HSR website will be launched in the coming months to support the implementation of the HSR System.

Two main compromises were made between health and consumer groups and the food industry to implement the HSR System in its current form, namely:

  1. the food industry can continue to use the daily intake guide as part of their food labelling. The daily intake guide values are based on an average adult's daily requirement of 8700 kilojoules and indicate an acceptable intake of energy and a variety of nutrients; and
  2. the voluntary introduction period was extended from two years to five years to make the implementation of the HSR System more cost effective for the food industry.