NZ adopts food health star ratings

The Government's new health star labelling system is already gaining support from major stakeholders in the food industry.

The policy means New Zealand food products will be rated between a half and five stars, based on nutritional value ? the more stars, then healthier the product. It is already being used in Australia, where Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye made the announcement this afternoon.

"Having nutritional information on the front of the pack will make it easier for busy shoppers to make a healthier choice," says Ms Kaye.

It will not be compulsory for all manufacturers at first and products such as alcohol are excluded from the system.

"This system will encourage companies to change their products to be healthier," says Ms Kaye.

Sanitarium is already on board and plans do adopt the labelling system across its entire product range, including Weet-bix and Up&Go.

"This initiative is an opportunity for the food and beverage industry to help improve the health of New Zealanders," says Sanitarium general manager Pierre van Heerden.

"Sanitarium is a trusted and well-known brand in New Zealand and by providing transparent and easy to understand information through the health star rating system we will continue to deliver on the trust that consumers already place in us, our brands, and our heritage."

Mr van Heerden says current labelling on products can be confusing and time-consuming to read. However, the health star system is practical and easier for consumers to understand.

The labels will be on Sanitarium products over the next few months.

The New Zealand Food and Grocery Council is also behind the initiative.

"Though it's a voluntary system, I'm confident that a significant number of manufacturers will support the new scheme," says chief executive Katherine Rich.

But the system has drawn criticism from some experts who say it won't educate people to make healthy food choices.

"Any tool that's going to make people make better choices is good, however I do have concerns that people are going to take this at face value without really understand the nutritional value of the food," says nutritionist Sarah Elliot. "We'd rather see people educated and armed with the skills to make better food choices."

It will be at least six to 12 months before the stars appear on supermarket shelves, as the Ministry for Primary Industries needs to ensure manufacturers' labels meet the required standards.

"In joining the trans-Tasman system, the forum has agreed that New Zealand will be a member of a committee that has been established to oversee the implementation of the system. We are also contributing financially to assist with the ongoing operation of the scheme."

The labelling changes will be at the cost of food manufacturers, rather than the Government.

Source:  3 News