George Institute welcomes alcohol labelling decision but notes a missed opportunity for Health Stars

George Institute welcomes alcohol labelling decision but notes a missed opportunity for Health Stars

The George Institute for Global Health welcomes the decision by Ministers of the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministers Forum to improve alcohol labelling but fears the lost opportunity to optimise the health benefits of the Health Star Rating system.

Ministers voted to implement a mandatory tri-coloured pregnancy warning label on alcoholic beverages – an essential public health measure to reduce the incidence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in the community.

Professor Simone Pettigrew, Head of the Food Policy Division at The George Institute and Board Director of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education said: “This decision reflects the efforts of a generation of public health advocates and experts who have tirelessly campaigned for evidence-based public health policy.

“We are thrilled that Forum Ministers have voted on the side of the community to make this label mandatory – it’s a decision that will have meaningful and lasting impact.”

Forum Ministers also voted on final recommendations emerging from the government’s Five Year Review into the Health Star Rating front-of-pack nutrition label. The George Institute has been a supporter of the Health Star Rating since its introduction in 2014. Research from The George Institute suggests the system works well overall, while also highlighting areas where it must be strengthened to improve public health impact.

Dr Alexandra Jones, Research Fellow in Food Policy at The George Institute and public health lawyer said: “It’s disappointing to see that changes to the Health Star Rating algorithm remain modest, and favour industry interests over addressing consumer concerns that products high in sugar and salt score too highly.

“Today’s decision is a missed opportunity to improve alignment with existing Australian Dietary Guidelines. While it is promising that an update to the Guidelines has been announced, this process should not replace action now to address the known risks associated with excess sugar and salt in the diet.”

Ministers confirmed a decision to allow Health Stars to remain voluntary, with industry to work toward a target of 70% uptake by 2025. Dr Jones said: “It’s pleasing to see clear targets set, but even if reached this means consumers will still miss the benefit of Stars on a third of products after 10 years.

“Over the same period of time that Health Stars have been appearing on products, Australian manufacturers have implemented new requirements for mandatory Country of Origin Labelling. If we’re willing to use regulation to provide consumers more information about where their food comes from, we should be willing to do the same to provide more information about how healthy their food is too.”

The George Institute was pleased to see Forum Ministers have confirmed some other important improvements to Health Stars. These include removing the ‘energy icon only’ option of the label, closing the ‘as prepared’ loophole, and reforming Health Stars governance to improve transparency and government leadership in the next phase of implementation.

The George Institute recognises that front-of-pack nutrition labelling is recommended by the World Health Organization as an important tool to promote healthier diets. The George Institute will continue to support food labelling reform to improve consumers’ ability to identify and avoid unhealthy foods.