Manufacturing, labelling and advertising industries have been under pressure to push better-for-you products for some time, but the new food standards code marks a shift in legal responsibilities. With mandatory compliance just around the corner, we explore what’s changed and what businesses need to know.
After 10 years in development, a new Standard is about to tighten up the regulation of nutrition content claims on food labels and advertisements. Becoming law on January 18, 2016, Standard 1.2.7 – Nutrition, Health and Related Claims puts a comprehensive legal framework around guidelines that, up until now, have been voluntary.
By expanding the range of health claims permitted, Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s (FSANZ’s) Lorraine Haase says industry will be encouraged to innovate – giving consumers a wider range of healthy food choices.
“The move does more than provide clarity for the jurisdictions enforcing the Standard, it reduces the risk of misleading claims about food,” she says.
“We’re not talking about an overhaul of the food industry as we know it. Most of the requirements for the claims were based on conditions that were already in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, or in the 1995 Code of Practice on Nutrient Claims in Food Labels and in Advertisements. But what industry will see come January 18, is an Australia-wide crack down on food marketing that deceives consumers – a move that’s good for industry and consumers.”
So what do bakery businesses need to know? Lorraine says the first step to compliance is to understand the difference between nutrition content claims and health claims.
Nutrition content claims are declarations about the amount of certain nutrients or substances in a food, such as ‘low in fat’ or a ‘good source of potassium’. Under the new regulations, these claims will need to meet set criteria, for example, a ‘good source of potassium’ claim would require bread to contain more than the amount of potassium specified in the Standard. It’s important to note the Standard does not cover ‘free-from’ claims, such as ‘gluten-free’ or ‘diary-free’, which stray into consumer law – another topic for another issue.
Health claims refer to a relationship between a food and wellbeing rather than a statement of content. There are two types of health claims:
• General level health claims refer to a nutrient or substance in a food and its effect on a health function, for example, ‘calcium is good for bones and teeth’. They must not refer to a serious disease or to a biomarker (characteristic) of a serious disease.
• High level health claims refer to a nutrient or substance in a food and its relationship to a serious disease or to a biomarker of a serious disease, for example, ‘diets high in calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in people 65 years and older’.
Food businesses wanting to make general level health claims will be able to base their claims on one of the 200-plus pre-approved food-health relationships in the Standard, or self-substantiate a food-health relationship in accordance with detailed requirements set out by FSANZ.
High level health claims, on the other hand, must be based on a food-health relationship pre-approved by FSANZ. There are currently 13 pre-approved claims listed in the Standard, all of which can be viewed at the FSANZ website.
All claims must be supported by scientific evidence to the same degree of certainty, whether they are pre-approved by FSANZ or self-substantiated by food businesses. It’s also important to note health claims will only be permitted on foods that meet the nutrient profiling scoring criterion (NPSC). An oatmeal biscuit that is high in fat and sugar, for example, would not be permitted to carry a health claim linking beta-glucan (contained in oats) with reduced cholesterol absorption. However, if that biscuit were to be reformulated so its composition meets the NPSC and complies with the nutrient content criteria for beta-glucan, then it might be possible to label it with a health claim. Claims about dietary fibre will not fall under the Standard until January 2017.
Since the Standard first instigated the transition period in 2013, bakers have asked FSANZ the same question: “What does this mean for bakery or patisserie operators who hand goods over to customers in nothing more than a brown paper bag?”
Lorraine says it’s the business owner’s responsibility to think outside the box and come up with an alternative option – one that doesn’t negatively impact their day-to-day processes, but still gives customers the information they need to make educated food choices.
“Just like grocers with country of origin claims, bakers will need to have accurate information displayed near or on the product carrying the health claim. Have a printout available to give to customers or make sure a label available to view somewhere in the bakery,” she says.
“It’s important business owners who are unsure of their obligations get in touch with their local enforcement body, or read more about the different types of health claims and the scoring system at foodstandards.gov.au. The Standard will be enforced by individual states and territories, with some local councils also involved.
“Be practical and be flexible. At the end of the day the Standard was developed to help make requirements easy for food businesses to understand and implement, and to ensure health claims are scientifically substantiated. It’s helping businesses help consumers, which, ultimately, is a win-win outcome.”