Q. What’s the best thing about the Health Star Rating?

A. New Zealand actually has a Front of Pack Labelling (FOPL) system.

According to my twitter feed I seem to be the only person who thinks the recent announcement* should be celebrated. As for the rest of you- all I hear is cynicism and complaining.

The Health Star Rating (HSR) system uses a star rating scale, like the energy stars on appliances, to help shoppers make informed and healthier food choices. Given how much people struggle to interpret food labels surely this is a step in the right direction?

Yeah, I hear you critics. Your points have merit- I’d just like to put them in perspective.

Firstly, yes there are anomalies. There always will be- no labelling system is perfect. Nope, not the Heart Foundation’s Tick nor the UK’s traffic lights. As a dietitian who has worked in food industry I have trialed a variety of nutrition-scoring systems and whenever you think you’ve found one that works you’ll stumble across another curve-ball product that damages the integrity of the system.

Secondly, food industry was involved in the advisory group. The calibre of this group, and the associated collaboration around this table is actually what I think should be celebrated the most. The majority of the group was made up of nutrition experts working in public health, academia and government. Five of the 11 members were from ‘food industry’.  I should hope that industry was involved. After all, they are the ones who work day in day out with product development, regulation and labelling. Their involvement gives me faith that the system is actually practical for companies to implement.

Thirdly, the system is currently voluntary. If you think all (if any) food companies are rolling in money you are delusional. Labeling changes are expensive and are done as infrequently as possible. Given that food companies are the ones footing the bill, not government; it is fair that companies should choose when and how they roll out the labelling changes.  Again, for those up in arms about the industry involvement in the advisory group, the fact that some of our biggest food companies are supportive of the system in a great start. Nestlé and Sanitarium have already publically pledged their support. Give them the chance to step up to the plate.

Don’t get me wrong- I have apprehensions about how it is all going to work, and what effect it will actually have on health outcomes.  But can we all just take a moment to acknowledge that with a little collaboration and faith we may have taken an extremely positive step.


* On 27 June 2014 the Minister for Food Safety, Nikki Kaye, announced that the Government will be joining with Australia’s (voluntary) Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling system. More information available here.


Categories: Food Industry, Health Promotion, Nutrition and Health