Following years of review and a range of proposals, the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation has approved recommendations for a front-of-pack labelling system for packaged, manufactured and processed foods presented ready for sale called the Health Star Rating system.

  • The “Health Star Rating” front-of-pack labelling system for packaged food was approved by Ministers on 14 June 2013.
  • Labels will feature five stars, from least healthy to most healthy, also including indicators for saturated fats, sodium, sugars and energy content.
  • The “Health Star Rating” will commence in July 2014 as a voluntary system, with the possibility for it to become mandatory in July 2015 if there is insufficient adoption.

Health Star Rating

The Health Star Rating system is the current incarnation of a number of proposals which began with the 2011 Independent Review on Food Labelling Law and Policy. The Review initially recommended a “traffic light” front-of-pack labelling system, similar to the a system currently being implemented in the United Kingdom, and rejected by the government shortly afterwards. The final proposal is the product of an 18-month review by a project committee with representatives from government, industry and the community.

The new labels replace the criticised but prevalent Daily Intake (DI) labels that currently appear on the back of many food packages. Similar to the Energy Star ratings on whiteware, the Health Star Rating label consists of a row of five stars, rating the food’s nutritional value in half-star increments. In addition, the label lists the saturated fat, sodium, sugars and energy (measured in kilojoules) in the food, and also allows for one “positive” nutrient (for example, calcium) to be listed.

The “nutritional value” that gives the food its star value is defined by the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion, which is already used for assessing health claims under the Food Standards Code, but will be modified in December 2013 to suit the new labelling system.

Implications for the Food Industry

Health Star Rating will begin as a voluntary system, likely to appear on packages from July 2014. This may become mandatory if, after July 2015, the voluntary rollout has not resulted in a widespread and consistent adoption. In the short term, there are no new legal requirements on food manufacturers, but for those manufacturers that are currently displaying the DI information on the back of packaging, knowledge of the Health Star Rating system will be important.

Of some concern is the cost of implementation, to be borne by industry, which has been estimated to be up to $200 million dollars. The DI system, by comparison, cost the industry approximately $40 million to implement.

Industry should keep a close eye on updates from the project committee that developed the Health Star Rating proposal, which is now developing marketing and informational materials for the public as well as the voluntary code for industry implementation, due in June 2014.