New food standard to regulate nutrition content and health claims

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A new standard which regulates the way nutrition content and health claims are made on food labels and in advertisements will become law on 18 January 2013.

Once the standard is in effect, nutrition content and health claims can only be made in relation to a food if that food meets certain eligibility criteria. 

The new standard (Standard 1.2.7 Nutrition, Health and Related Claims) aims to reduce the risk of misleading and deceptive claims about food, expand the range of permitted health claims which can be made about certain products and encourage the food industry to give consumers a wider range of healthy and informed food choices.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?

Businesses will have a three year transitional period in which to ensure that their labels and advertisements are fully compliant with the new standard.  Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has indicated that there will be no additional allowances for stock in trade following the expiry of the transitional period.  

We recommend that businesses start planning now for the transition and consider new advertising and packaging in the context of the new standard. 

Importantly, the new standard and the existing transitional standard (Standard 1.1A.2) will operate concurrently for a period of three years.  Businesses can choose to rely on the new standard or the transitional standard (but not both).  Businesses who find that the new standard permits them to make desirable claims that they could not previously make in relation to their products, may wish to immediately start making claims in accordance with the new standard.

WHAT WILL CHANGE?

Health claims are currently regulated by the transitional standard, which generally prohibits the making of certain types of health claims on food labels and in advertising.  The new standard will allow businesses to make general and high level claims about the relationship between food and health provided that such claims are backed by scientific evidence.

The changes to the way in which nutrition claims are made are designed to more closely align mandatory standards with the voluntary Code of Practice on Nutrient Claims which is currently administered by the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

SCOPE OF THE NEW STANDARD

The new standard will regulate the voluntary claims that can be made about the nutritional content of food (for example “low in fat”) as well as claims that can be made about the relationship between food and health (for example “contains calcium for healthy bones”).  The definition of “claim” will also be amended to broadly refer to an “express or implied” statement, representation, design or information in relation to a food or property of food - which makes it clear that the overall representation conveyed by the labelling and advertising will always need to be considered.

The standard regulates three specific types of claims:

  1. Nutrition content claims which are claims about the content of certain nutrients or substances in a food, such as “no added salt” or “good source of dietary fibre.”  Before making these types of claims, businesses will need to ensure that their product meets the conditions set out in schedule 1 of the standard.  For example, if the label of a food claims that the product is a “good source of calcium,” the food will need to contain not less than the amount of calcium specified in the standard.  Comparative claims (i.e. claims that directly or indirectly compare the nutrition content of one food (or brand of food) with another, including claims using descriptions like “reduced”, “increased” or “light”) must identify the reference food and the difference between the amount of the relevant property in the claimed food and the reference food.
  2. General level health claims which are claims about a food or a nutrient or a substance in a food and its effect on health, such as “calcium is good for bones and teeth”.  These types of claims must not refer to a serious disease or to a biomarker of a serious disease.  General health claims must be based on, and meet the requirements of, one of the more than 200 pre-approved health claims set out in schedule 3 of the standard (which include some claims currently permitted in the US, Canada and the EU).  Alternatively, businesses can self-substantiate a food-health relationship in accordance with the process set out in the standard.
  3. High level health claims which are claims about food or a nutrient or a substance in a food and its relationship to a serious disease or to a biomarker of a serious disease.  Only those claims which are based on a food-health relationship which has been pre-approved by FSANZ may be made.  There are currently only 13 food-health relationships for high level health claims listed in schedule 2 of the new standard, for example “diets high in calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in people 65 years and over.”

In addition, health claims (general or high level):

  • must include a dietary context statement, which states that the health effect must be considered in the context of a healthy diet involving the consumption of a variety of foods, as well as any specific dietary context statement set out in the standard; and
  • will only be permitted on foods that meet the nutrient profiling scoring criterion set out in the standard.  This means that health claims will not be allowed on foods high in saturated fat, sugar or salt.

While FSANZ has considered health claims permitted in other countries, it has not attempted to specifically regulate health claims about probiotics or “fat free” or “percentage fat-fee” claims in the new standard.

Note that therapeutic claims in relation to foods (i.e. a reference to the prevention, diagnosis, cure or alleviation of a disease, disorder or condition) continue to be prohibited under the new standard.

Endorsements on food packaging or advertisements (i.e. nutrition content claim or health claim made with the permission of an endorsing body) are also permitted, provided the endorsing body is not related to, and is independent from, the food supplier and the endorsement otherwise complies with the requirements set out in the new standard.


The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication.


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Frances Wheelahan

Partner. Melbourne
+61 3 9672 3380

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Odette Gourley

Partner. Sydney
+61 2 9210 6066

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