An interesting development in food packaging has arisen in Australia recently. Prior to the recent Federal election, the Labor Government called for a new and voluntary ‘star rating system’ for food packaging. The star rating system was designed to provide a simple, visual means of communicating the fat, sodium, sugar and overall kilojoule content of a packaged food item to consumers.

Labels would 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 would apply to most packaged foods, with the exception of soft drinks and confectionery, which would only be required to display kilojoule content.

The former Government proposed a voluntary system which would become mandatory in two years if it was not implemented widely by the industry during that time. The system was agreed to by the former Government Ministers responsible for food regulation in June 2013, however it is unclear whether the new Coalition Government will follow through with its implementation.

We see this as another step toward increased government regulation of food and beverage packaging driven by public health and a desire for informed consumer choice. It is also part of the broader global trend to regulate packaging – particularly the packaging of ‘unhealthy’ products.

Other examples of increased government regulation:

  • In 2012, Australia became the first country in the world to successfully implement plain cigarette packaging featuring large graphic health warnings. This initiative has been followed by Ireland, and now potentially Canada and the UK.
  • In June 2013, the UK Government introduced a voluntary ‘traffic light system’ of food labelling to show how much fat, salt and sugar an item contains. Despite its voluntary nature, the UK Government has obtained strong support from the main supermarket chains and some of the biggest snack food producers.
  • In a first step towards the mandatory nutritional labelling of liquor, the US Government introduced voluntary nutritional labels in June 2013, which alcoholic beverage companies could choose to use on their products.
  • In September 2012, the New York Board of Health moved to restrict soda serving sizes in restaurants and other venues, however that initiative was recently successfully challenged in the New York Supreme Court.
  • If the Coalition Government decides to implement the star rating system or something similar, it would be a significant win for consumer groups, and is likely to create difficulties for manufacturers who produce products which would achieve low star ratings.