Six months until new food standard on nutrition and health claims bites

Food manufacturers and importers: now is the time to make a final review of your labels and marketing materials to ensure you’re ready for the new standard on nutrition and health claims.

From 18 January 2016 it will be mandatory to comply with Food Standard 1.2.7 on “Nutrition, Health and Related Claims”.

We are nearing the end of a 3 year transitional period during which the Food Standards Code has permitted food suppliers to choose to comply with either Standard 1.2.7 or the transitional standard on health claims (Standard 1.1A.2).

If you haven’t yet come to grips with Standard 1.2.7, now is the time to do so. You need to update your labels leaving enough time for all non-compliant stock in the marketplace to sell through to consumers before 18 January 2016.

Below we outline some of the key changes.

Nutrition content claims

Standard 1.2.7 tightens up the regulation of nutrition content claims.

These are claims about the presence or absence of nutrients or biologically active substances in a food, e.g. “Lactose free” or “Good source of protein”.

These claims can be made if they comply with the table of permitted claims in schedule 1 to Standard 1.2.7. Schedule 1 outlines a range of claims and the conditions that must be met before each claim can be made. For example, a “Low energy” claim can only be made if the average energy content of the food is no more than 170kJ per 100g, for solid food.

Claims not listed in schedule 1 generally can’t be made – except simple claims about the amount of a nutrient in the food, e.g. “Contains 200kJ per 100g”.

Previously, many nutrition content claims were covered by the voluntary (and outdated) Code of Practice on Nutrient Claims on Food Labels and in Advertisements, the regulatory status of which was unclear. Some nutrition content claims were also regulated by Standard 1.2.8.

Health claims

A health claim includes any claim that states or implies that a food has or may have an effect on the human body, e.g. an effect on a physiological process or outcome or an effect on a disease, disorder or condition.

Currently many types of health claim can be made without breaching the Food Standards Code. Of course, health claims must not be misleading and should be based on solid scientific evidence.

The new regime under Standard 1.2.7 is, generally speaking, more restrictive although it does provide pre-approval for the use of certain health claims in specific circumstances.

A health claim that refers to a serious disease (or a biological indicator that may predict a serious disease, e.g. high blood pressure) is known as a “high level health claim”. An example would be, a claim that consuming a food may reduce your risk of getting breast cancer. There are 13 high level health claims set out in Standard 1.2.7 that can be used in limited circumstances, e.g. “a diet high in fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of coronary heart disease”.

Any other health claim is known as a “general level health claim”. Certain pre-approved general level health claims (e.g. “Contains magnesium, which contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue”) can be used, but only subject to strict conditions. Other general level health claims can also be made, if they are “self substantiated” by the food supplier. Self substantiation is subject to strict conditions including providing a systematic review of the scientific evidence supporting the claim to the regulator, Food Standards ANZ.

Health claims can only be made for foods that satisfy the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion, which essentially means that health claims can’t be made for foods that are high in sugar, salt or saturated fat and low in fruit and vegetable content, protein and fibre.

A health claim must include, together with the health claim, a dietary context statement. This means that the permitted health claim wording can become quite complex and can lack marketing “punch”, e.g. “In the context of a healthy diet involving the consumption of a variety of foods, a diet high in calcium and adequate vitamin D reduces the risk of osteoporosis in persons aged 65 years and over”.

Six months to go – now is the time to review labels and marketing materials

We’re already most of the way through the transition period and there will not be any “stock in trade” period after 18 January 2016. You have 6 months left to ensure all labels and marketing material meet the new requirements.

When conducting your compliance review, don’t forget to include all types of marketing material including:

  • product names;
  • product packaging;
  • text and images on your website;
  • posts by your company on social media;
  • posts by consumers on your company’s Facebook page(s) (these are likely to be considered “advertising” by your company); and
  • “infomercials” and other “editorial” content for which your company is responsible, that promotes your products.

If you need to update your labels, consider adopting the new “5 star” health rating system at the same time. The 5 star system is voluntary but is starting to gain some traction amongst food suppliers.

If you haven’t yet come to grips with the new requirements for nutrition and health claims, you need to act now so that all of your products in the marketplace are compliant by 18 January 2016.

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