No More Sugar Coating: Government Orders Review of Nutrition Labelling for Added Sugars

They say you are what you eat….

But it’s doubtful that most Australians would be comfortable saying that they are the 10 (or more) teaspoons of sugar they consumed in their last can of soft drink.  However, we may well soon be confronted with these images given that labelling that displays this information pictorially is set to be considered by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) as part of a recently announced review of nutritional labelling for added sugars (the AS Review).

This comes as a timely reminder for businesses that manufacture, package and supply food and beverages to ensure that they comply with existing labelling requirements under the Food Standards Code (the Code), but also to closely watch the outcome of the AS Review for any additional labelling requirements relating to sugar that will come into effect.

Background

The AS Review was requested by the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (ANZMFFR) off the back of recently tabled Food Regulation Standing Committee policy papers on sugar content labelling (FRSC Policy Papers) which identified a gap in the Code with respect to the disclosure of added sugar in products.  The FRSC Policy Papers were also critical of existing labelling requirements on the basis that a lack of clarity and consistency in messaging is causing consumer confusion.

The main issues identified by the FRSC Policy Papers with respect to added sugar were, among other matters, that:

  • there are currently over 40 different names that manufacturers can use to describe added sugars in their lists of ingredients;
  • naturally occurring sugars and added sugars are not distinguished in a product’s nutritional information panel; and
  • existing kilojoule energy icons displayed on soft drink packaging in particular do not provide enough interpretive information for consumers to make an informed decision about the product’s nutritional value.

Possible Amendments

To address these issues, the FRSC Policy Papers recommended greater education of consumers around interpreting labelling information about sugar content in products, ensuring that added sugars are separated on nutrition information panels and exploring approaches to displaying images on product packaging to convey the amount of added sugars per serving.  It is this latter recommendation that will be considered by the AS Review.

If a decision is made to include pictorial representations of added sugar on product packaging, this would move Australia closer to jurisdictions like Chile where products must contain labelling that indicates where they are high in sugar, high in calories and high in saturated fats.

A formal decision on the addition of nutritional labelling for added sugars is expected to be reached by November 2019.  We will report on further developments.

This post was co-authored by Matthew Rozario (Paralegal), Valiant Warzecha, Jessie Buchan and Melinda Upton.