Newly formed food body Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) this week warned that there are only two months left for those remaining food businesses that have not changed their food labels to be ready for the 20 December 2002 deadline. The agency also took the opportunity to express its concern over fat free claims from food companies.
Food producers and importers had been given two years to make any changes to their food labels to provide the information to consumers that is required under the new Food Standards Code. This period ends on 20 December 2002. Any packaged food that does not meet the new requirements and is produced and packaged after that date cannot be legally sold.
FSANZ's managing director, Ian Lindenmayer, gave the warning when speaking at the 29th National Conference of the Australian Institute of Environmental Health in Sydney this week. He also expressed concern that some food companies were breaking their own rules about percentage fat free claims.
"We are seeing a number of new food products being actively promoted as 93 per cent fat free or even 90 per cent fat free, this in fact means that these products are 7 per cent or 10 per cent fat respectively, which is not a low fat product.
"The Code of Practice on Nutrient Claims, which is administered by the food industry, only allows for 97 per cent and above fat free claims, which means the product must be no more than 3 per cent fat.
"FSANZ is currently reviewing nutrient and related claims. Our initial round of consultation showed that a majority of consumers and industry alike supported some form of regulation.
"Until our review is finalised I urge all companies to adhere to the Code of Practice. Our research shows that while many consumers read claims on the front of the product, they also check the nutrition panel on labels which contain details of energy (kilojoules), protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugar and sodium (salt) there is in a product.
"But those consumers who don't do this may be misled into believing that a product labelled as '90 per cent fat free' is a low fat product.
"When used correctly, nutrition claims are a useful tool to enable shoppers to make informed choices but, if they are misused, consumers will no longer trust these claims. The few food businesses that do not use nutrition claims correctly also disadvantage the majority of companies that do the right thing."
Lindenmayer further stressed that there was considerable consumer interest in the new labelling changes that will come in on 20 December 2002. The changes include nutrition information panels on nearly all packaged foods, listing the percentage of the characterising ingredient (for example how much meat is in a meat pie), and declaring the presence of any of the key allergens (however small the amount).
"It will not be an option for those few remaining food businesses who have not made the changes just to ignore them. Incorrectly labelled foods made on or after 20 December 2002 will be illegal and major retailers have indicated that they will not sell illegal foods."
Information about the new Food Standards Code in Australia can be obtained the website.