The Australian Government has recently released a new voluntary system for labelling packaged foods with a ‘health star rating’.

The star rating system provides a simple, visual means of communicating the fat, sodium, sugar and overall kilojoule content of a packaged food item to consumers. Labels will feature a possible five star rating for foods, with more stars indicating that the product is a better nutritional choice than a product with fewer stars. It will apply to most packaged foods, with the exception of soft drink and confectionary, which will only display kilojoule content.

The new health star rating system is intended to assist consumers in understanding the nutritional value of packaged foods. In a media release on 14 June, the Australian Minister for Health stated that ‘Front-of-Pack Labelling will support consumers to make healthier food choices by giving them at-a-glance information about the food they buy’.

This new system was developed with the input of government, industry and the community and is the result of 18 months of work by the Independent Review on Food Labelling Law and Policy. It follows an unsuccessful attempt to introduce ‘traffic light’ warning labels for packaged foods, similar to the system in place in the UK.

Although industry groups have stated that they are willing to cooperate with the Government to implement a workable health labelling system, they have also expressed concerns about the star rating system. Chief among these concerns is the cost to manufacturers that will result in changing package and label designs, as well as the methodology underpinning the star rating system itself. 

The Australian Food and Grocery Council stated its reservations about what it sees as a lack of evidence that the system will achieve intended outcomes, as well as the lack of a cost benefit analysis which it believes should have been undertaken by the Government prior to publicly announcing the new system.

The star rating system will initially be implemented by industry on a voluntary basis. However, the Government has indicated that uptake of the rating system will be evaluated after two years and, if there is no evidence of widespread use of the system, it will become a mandatory standard.