Australia says no to traffic light food labelling

Australia’s federal government has rejected standardised ‘traffic light’ labelling on packaged food, sighting insufficient evidence to support the measure. The recommendations to switch to the traffic light system were made under the Food Labelling Review carried out by a former Australian health minister Dr Neal Blewett in early 2011, but it has been stiffly opposed by large sections of the food industry.

Traffic light labelling uses green, amber and red lights at the front of the pack to show, at a glance, the relative levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and sodium in a food product, and is strongly favoured by Australian health groups.

However, food processors have not got everything their way. The government also said that it would issue new rules that will improve back-of-pack labelling to give consumers more information on sugar, fat and sugar content in foods.

In addition, the government said that it would formulate new rules under which it would be able to more deeply scrutinise on the use of nutritional and health claims such as “low fat” and “high fibre” on food products.

A smaller change in labelling laws was the government’s support of all alcohol products in the country carrying mandatory pregnancy warnings within the next two years.

Food makers will now face new rules on the use of nutritional and health claims like- ‘low fat’ and ‘high fiber’. Alcohol will have to be labeled with mandatory pregnancy warnings. Improvements will be made on back-of-pack labeling to give consumers better information on sugar, fat and vegetable oil content in foods.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said, “During consultation with stakeholders, we concluded that there is currently not enough evidence to demonstrate that any of form of front-of-pack labelling, including traffic light labelling and the daily intake guide, provides Australians with the nutritional information they need to make informed choices.”

Doctors have criticised the government’s refusal to adopt traffic light labels. Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said, “The traffic light system was one of the key recommendations of the independent expert panel chaired by Dr Neal Blewett, which the Ministerial Council on Food Regulation expressly commissioned to investigate the evidence.”