A ‘fat free’ update on the new food standard governing nutrition, health and related claims –insight into what food businesses can and can’t claim on food packaging and advertising after the introduction of Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code – Standard 1.2.7 – Representations about Food

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has introduced a new food standard, Standard 1.2.7 – Representations about Food (Standard) to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.

The Standard came into force on 18 January 2013, however it will operate on a transitional basis, co-existing with the current Standard 1.1A.2 until 18 January 2016, at which time all products will need to be compliant. Throughout this time, food businesses can rely on either standard, but not both.  There is no ‘stock-in-trade’ period at the end of the three year transitional phase.

FSANZ has stated that the aim of the Standard is to reduce the risk of misleading and deceptive claims about food, promote innovation in the industry and also encourage consumer awareness on healthy food choices.

The Standard will introduce substantial changes to current food labelling and advertising. While there were previous limitations on using certain words such as ‘health’ and regulation around claims of a medical nature, the Standard will impose a far stricter regime on food and beverage producers, manufacturers and suppliers.

What claims will the new Standard apply to?

The Standard regulates voluntary claims made by food businesses on food or beverage labels and advertisements. Claims include any express or implied statement, representation, design or information relating to a food or a food property.

The Standard applies to:

  • Nutritional content claims; and
  • Health claims (including general and high level health claims).

More detail on the new conditions that food and beverage businesses should be aware of before making such claims is set out below.

Nutritional content claims

Nutritional content claims are claims about the presence or absence of certain properties in food. Examples of such claims include ‘low fat,’, ‘good source of calcium’, ‘increased protein’ or ‘no added salt.’

The new Standard requires specified criteria be met, before making such claims. Schedule 1 of the new Standard sets out the specific descriptor able to be claimed with each food property and the conditions that must be met to make that claim.

For example, to make a claim of ‘low fat’, the product must not contain more fat than 1.5 g per 100mL for liquid food, or 3g per 100g for solid food.

Health claims

A health claim is defined in the Standard as a claim which “states, suggests or implies that a food or a property of food has, or may have, a health effect.” The Standard provides a list of health effects, such as ‘growth and development’ and ‘physical performance’.

There is a further distinction made between:

  1. General level health claims

This covers generalised statements such as, ‘calcium is good for bones and teeth’ or ‘zinc is necessary for normal immune system function’.

In the case of a general health claim, food business must comply with the conditions of the pre-existing 200 hundred or so food-health relationships listed in Schedule 3 of the new Standard. For example, a food (or property of food) is able to claim:

  • Potassium contributes to normal muscle function’ provided it contains no less than 200mg of potassium per serving; or
  • Vitamin B12 is necessary for normal cell division’ provided the general conditions for making a nutrition content claim about vitamin B12.
  1. High level health claims

This covers claims which refer to a serious disease or a biomarker of a serious disease. For example, ‘diets high in calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in people over 65’ or ‘increased intake of fruit and vegetables reduces risk of coronary heart disease.’

In the case of a high level health claim, food businesses must comply with the conditions of the pre-approved thirteen food-health relationships listed in Schedule 2 of the new Standard. For example, a product can claim:

  •  ‘Calcium enhances bone mineral density’ so long as the product contains no less than 200mg of calcium per serving.

Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion

Food businesses must not make a health claim unless the product meets the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion (NPSC). For example, health claims will not be allowed on foods high in saturated fat, sugar or salt.

The NPSC is a type of calculator set out in Schedules 4 and 5 of the Standard. FSANZ has indicated that a form of the NPSC will soon be available online to assist food businesses with this aspect of the Standard.

Essentially, the NPSC involves a ‘points’ system. Each food and category attracts a ‘baseline’ number of points depending on its kilojoule content and the amount of fatty acids, total sugars and sodium. This is then reduced by fruit and vegetable points (‘V points’), protein points (‘P points’) and fibre points (‘F points’) as relevant to calculate the final score.

How long do you have to comply?

There are three years from 18 January 2013 within which to meet the requirements of the new Standard. During this period, businesses can choose to comply with either the old Standard 1.1A.2 or the new Standard. However, it is not possible to choose both.

While this seems like a substantial period, as there is no ‘stock-in-trade’ period at the end of the three year transitional phase businesses will need to actively work towards the full implementation of the Standard.