Any change to the health star rating for fruit and vegetable juices is on hold with the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation delaying a final decision until February.
- Food Forum ministers will decide in February whether to take health stars off fruit juices
- Dietitians want more people to eat whole foods rather than drink juices
- Growers are concerned the forum has overlooked the nutritional benefits of no-added-sugar juices
On Friday, fruit growers and federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud were furious at what Mr Littleproud described as a “mind-numbingly dumb” decision by the state ministers to press on with a plan to introduce health star ratings [HSR] based on sugar content.
Citrus Australia, the peak body for Australian growers, said it was “shocked and disappointed” that state health ministers had endorsed a HSR that “gives Diet Coke a higher rating than fresh Australian juice”.
Mr Littleproud said Friday’s meeting was his last chance to prevent a decision to introduce a rating system that “has no basis on nutritional value”.
“This was it,” he told the ABC. “This was my second crack at it. I had a go in July and got rolled and then rolled again.”
But ministers at the forum said they had not agreed to the change and instead asked for more information on juices.
“The forum supported a proposal for a minor adjustment to the HSR review calculator to address an anomaly. Diet beverages will now achieve no more than 3.5 stars,” a forum statement reads, adding the adjustment was in line with Australian and New Zealand dietary guidelines.
“The forum noted the Australian Government Department of Health will provide further advice in relation to adjusting the HSR calculator for 100 per cent fruit and vegetable juices [no added sugar] for discussion at the next meeting, to be held in February, 2021.”
The delay keeps alive Mr Littleproud’s proposal last week that an automatic four-star rating apply to 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices with no added sugar. That’s a concession from July when his proposal for a five-star rating for such juices was rejected.
The main purpose of the forum was to finalise a five-year review of the health star system.
Food is rated from half-a-star to five stars, depending on its nutrients, but the system has come in for criticism.
The Department of Health said the HSR calculator allocates “baseline” points according to a food or drink’s energy, saturated fat, sugar and sodium.
Dietitians encourage people to eat whole fruit rather than just drink juice(Laurissa Smith)
Then “positive” aspects of a food are taken into account including its fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content, dietary fibre and protein to determine the product’s overall health rating.
Alexandra Jones, a research fellow at the George Institute for Global Health, said juice was one of the last issues considered in the review.
“What we have seen is the ongoing discussion around the need to support farmers … and the need to make sure that health star ratings are aligned with the health evidence,” Dr Jones said.
Dr Jones said the drinks category had a lot of weighting on sugar because that’s what was in a lot of the drinks people consume.
“Actually the dietary guidelines are pretty nuanced on juice,” Dr Jones said.
“They really say that we need to limit our consumption to very small amounts and only when we don’t have access to whole fruits,”
Dr Jones said the health star rating doesn’t take into account micronutrients.
“No front-of-pack labelling system around the world actually considers those at the moment, so those seven nutrients that it does take into account are seen as a pretty good proxy of healthiness, but it’s not a complete source of dietary advice,” Dr Jones said.
Citrus Australia chief executive Nathan Hancock said the ministerial forum had overlooked the nutritional benefits of juices, like vitamin C, that could not be gained from a manufactured product with artificial sweetener.
“The message that they’ve been giving us is that they want people to drink more water, because it’s better for hydration, and they want to take sugar out of the diet,” Mr Hancock said.
Dietians Australia senior dietetics advisor Simone Austin said she considered juice a discretionary food.
“We’re always wanting people to encourage people to have whole food as their main fruit and certainly not enough Australians eat their two fruit a day,” Ms Austin said.