As you’ve no doubt heard, the Blewett Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (why do these things get released on a Friday, I wonder) has been released today.
It makes 61 recommendations.
A few of the more notable ones follow:
Recommendation 1: That the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 be amended to include a definition of public health to the effect that: ‘Public Health is the organised response by society to protect and promote health, and to prevent illness, injury and disability’.
Recommendation 2: That food labelling policy be guided by an issues hierarchy in descending order of food safety, preventative health, new technologies and consumer values issues. Regulatory action in relation to food safety, preventative health and new technologies should primarily be initiated by government and referenced in the Food Standards Code. Regulatory action in relation to consumer values issues should generally be initiated by industry and referenced to consumer protection legislation, with the possibility of some specific methods or processes of production being referenced in the Food Standards Code.
The modes of intervention should be mandatory for food safety; a mixture of mandatory and co-regulation for preventative health, the choice dependent on government health priorities and the effectiveness or otherwise of co-regulatory measures; and mandatory with time limits for new technologies. The modes of intervention for consumer values issues should be self-regulatory but subject to more prescriptive forms of intervention in cases of market failure or the ineffectiveness of self-regulatory schemes.
Recommendation 24: That generic alcohol warning messages be placed on alcohol labels but only as an element of a comprehensive multifaceted national campaign targeting the public health problems of alcohol in society.
Recommendation 25: That a suitably worded warning message about the risks of consuming alcohol while pregnant be mandated on individual containers of alcoholic beverages and at the point of sale for unpackaged alcoholic beverages, as support for ongoing broader community education.
Recommendation 26: That energy content be displayed on the labels of all alcoholic beverages, consistent with the requirements for other food products.
Recommendation 51: That a multiple traffic lights front-of-pack labelling system be introduced. Such a system to be voluntary in the first instance, except where general or high level health claims are made or equivalent endorsements/trade names/marks appear on the label, in which case it should be mandatory.
Recommendation 52: That government advice and support be provided to producers adopting the multiple traffic lights system and that its introduction be accompanied by comprehensive consumer education to explain and support the system.
Recommendation 53: That ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the multiple traffic lights system be undertaken to assess industry compliance and the effectiveness of the system in improving the food supply and influencing consumers’ food choices.
Recommendation 54: That chain food service outlets across Australia and New Zealand be encouraged to display the multiple traffic lights system on menus/menu boards. Such a system be mandatory where general or high level health claims are made or equivalent endorsements/trade names/marks are used.
Recommendation 55: That any beverages containing alcohol be exempt from nutrition- related front-of-pack labelling requirements.
Recommendation 56: That the potential of new information technologies be considered by consumer organisations, industry and government to provide extended product labelling for non-mandatory information.
Croakey hasn’t had a chance to read the full report yet, but has been contacted by one public health policy expert who found the whole thing “dazzlingly disappointing”.
This person said: “There are a couple of good things in it, but it’s more about what’s not there. See if you don’t think that it is just very, very tame.”
Meanwhile, the AMA has urged governments to adopt the review’s recommendations.
And below are some extracts from the Public Health Association of Australia statement (I may be wrong but it doesn’t sound like gushing enthusiasm):
“Protecting and promoting the health of communities is the critical issue in food labelling,” says Michael Moore, CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA). “This is why front of pack multiple traffic light labelling (MTL) of food is a fundamental preventive health measure.”
“Ordinary mums and dads ought not to be forced to plough through complex labelling when trying to make healthy decisions for their children. A traffic light for salt, another for fat and one for sugar would send a simple clear message to a consumer about factors that are the prime causes of chronic disease. The only disappointment with the recommendations is that the MTL is not to be mandatory across all foods in the first instance.”
…. The PHAA welcomes the structure which places Food Safety and Preventive Health as the top two priorities in food labelling.
The PHAA is delighted with the first recommendation of the Review because of the long term impacts that it will have across consideration of food issues: “that the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 be amended to include a definition of public health to the effect that: ‘Public Health is the organised response by society to protect and promote health, and to prevent illness, injury and disability’”.
Can any Croakey readers help?
In view of some of the comments above, are there any public health types who’d be interested in comparing the submissions to the review with its final recommendations? I am picturing a nice chart that makes it clear what is in and what is out…