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Prevention: Food labelling

Improvements to sugars labelling

Last updated 06-06-2019

The Australian and New Zealand Governments are considering options for labelling of sugars on packaged food and drinks. Many Australians exceed the recommended intake of free sugars. A policy options paper says that information currently provided on food labels does not provide adequate context for consumers to make informed choices.

Key Evidence

01

Foods high in added sugars may contribute to weight gain

02

As many as 42 different names are used for added sugars

03

A pictorial representation of added sugars per serve is one of the options under consideration

A policy options paper for labelling of sugars on packaged food and drinks was released in July 2018 by the Food Regulation Standing Committee, at the request of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation.1 The paper notes that more than half of Australians (52%) exceed the World Health Organization recommendation to limit energy from free sugars to less than 10% of overall energy intake. Free sugars are sugars added to foods by manufacturers or consumers, and those naturally present in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

According to the options paper, information currently provided on food labels in Australia and New Zealand does not provide adequate contextual information to enable consumers to make informed choices in line with dietary guidelines.1 The paper cites evidence that foods high in added sugars may displace more nutritious foods in the diet and contribute to weight gain. It says people are confused about how much and what types of sugar they should be consuming; and may not be able to determine whether a single product is high or low in sugar.

In addition, health groups argue that added sugar information is needed to strengthen the Health Star Rating System, which fails to distinguish between naturally occurring sugars in dairy, fruits and vegetables and sugars added in the manufacturing process.

Under the status quo, manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order of ingoing weight1 but as many as 42 different names are used for added sugars,2 so consumers are unable to quickly determine what proportion of a particular product is sugar. The Australian Government’s 2011 Labelling Logic Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy recommended that where sugars are added as separate ingredients in a food, the term ‘added sugar’ should be used in the ingredient list as the generic term, followed by a bracketed list, for example: added sugars (fructose, glucose syrup, honey).3

The options paper identified seven options for sugar labelling of packaged food and drinks.1 The options identified were:

  • maintaining the status quo
  • educating consumers on reading and interpreting labelling information about sugars
  • changing the statement of ingredients to clearly identify sugar-based ingredients
  • quantifying added sugars in the Nutrition Information Panel
  • requiring advisory labels (health warnings) for foods high in added sugar
  • requiring pictorial displays of the amount of sugars and/or added sugars per serving
  • providing web links to information about added sugar content.

More than one option could be adopted, and implementation could be either voluntary, via a code of practice driven by industry or government, or regulated by government. After considering submissions on its options paper, the Food Regulation Standing Committee will recommend a preferred option and implementation mechanism for added sugar labelling to the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation.

References

1. Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. Labelling of sugars on packaged foods and drinks. 2018. Available from: http://foodregulation.gov.au
2. Day K and Clemons R. End the sugar-coating. Choice, 2017. Available from: https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/
3. Blewett N, Goddard N, Pettigrew S, Reynolds C, and Yeatman H. Labelling logic – the final report of the review of food labelling law and policy. Canberra, Australia 2011. Available from: http://webarchive.nla.gov.au/gov/20170215181007