A new regulation that will force changes to the way goods are labeled in Australia has spawned a serious debate between the members of the food manufacturing industry and health groups.
According to a report from The Financial Review’s Matthew Drummond, the same health campaigners who have been successful in forcing tobacco companies to adopt plain packaging for cigarettes now want to implement a star rating system for food products.
Simply put, the healthier foods will get most stars—a plan which would supposedly help customers pick healthier foods and ultimately combat obesity, diabetes, and other related chronic diseases.
Vlado Perkovic, Executive Director The George Institute says food is the number one cause of Australia and in many other countries around the world.
“The problem that we have at the moment is that the packaging that our food is provided in does not give people the information that they need to be able to make an informed choice about what they want to eat.”
Food industry lobbyists who represent big companies such as Nestle and Unilever say there is no proof that a star rating system will make people healthier. Implementing it would lead to higher costs and job losses.
According to the AFR report state and federal governments have given food companies two years to voluntarily take up the health star rating system and have threatened to make the rule mandatory if they do not comply.
Gary Dawson, Chief Executive of the Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) has expressed disappointment over the threat and said the new rule will add about $200 million in cost around the industry, in part due to the change in packaging of products which would take into consideration the design and certification elements.
Some food manufacturers however believe that the packaging is not the greatest issue at hand since they change packaging all the time.
“Any extra cost is no doubt a challenge for any industry but in the scheme of setting up further competitive advantage as an exporting country of food it’s not going to be the biggest issue,” said Rory Macleod, Managing Director, Freedom Foods.
Meanwhile Michael Moore, Chief Executive of Public Health Association of Australia and one of the proponents of the law said the costs are nothing compared to the costs brought about by all the diseases associated with obesity.
Moore also defended the star rating system against those who are claiming it has too many anomalies. Being one of the designers of the rating algorithm Moore said “less than 5 per cent of the 3000 items already tested had revealed anomalies and these would easily be sorted out.”
According to the article there are some suggestions that the AFGC began opposing the star system when some of its multinational food manufacturer members voiced their resistance during their general meeting.
Mr. Dawson denied that their stand serves to protect food companies who want to hide the unhealthiness of their products, saying they are more concerned that the new rule will add cost to an industry that is already struggling with high labor and energy costs.
“We’re an industry that’s under costs pressure so we’re applying tough scrutiny to anything that raises costs,” he said. “This will force up costs and shift production and jobs offshore.”