Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series
Policy name: Standard 1.2.7, or Health and Nutrition Claims Standard
Location: Australia and New Zealand
- Australia population: 23.13 million
- New Zealand population: 4.4 million
Food policy category: Diet and nutrition
- Ensure that food labels with nutrition or health claims provide sufficient information for consumers to make informed choices
- Prevent misleading or deceptive nutrition, health or related claims on food labels or in food advertising
- Ensure that nutrition and health claims about food products are scientifically valid
- Eliminate food nutrition and health claims that undermine or contradict government, community and industry initiatives that promote healthy food choices
- Enable the food industry to innovate and give consumers a broad range of healthy food options
- The standard was developed by Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) agency, a bi-national government agency with the power to write law that governs food in Australia and New Zealand
- FSANZ finalized the standard in 2012, and it became law in 2013. Companies were given until January 2016 to comply with the law.
How it works
There are four types of messages governed by this law: nutrition content claims, general level health claims, high level health claims, and endorsements. These claims may be placed on food products or used in advertisements for those products.
Nutrition content claims are about the presence or absence and amount of a substance in a food product. For example, a nutrition content claim might declare a product to be a good source of a particular nutrient (such as fiber, calcium, vitamin A, etc.) or declare that a product is low in a particular nutrient (such as fat or sodium). The standard designates the minimum or maximum amounts of nutrients or other substances that must be present in the food in order to make these types of claims.
For example, in order to declare a food product an “excellent source” of fiber, the product must contain at least 7 grams of fiber per serving. In order to label a food as “low fat,” the product must contain no more than 3 grams of fat for every 100 grams of the food.
General level health claims state that a substance in a food or a property of food has a general effect on health, such as, “calcium promotes healthy bones and teeth.” In order to make a general level health claim about a product, that product must at least meet the requirement for making a nutrition content claim.
For example, in order to label a product with the phrase, “calcium is necessary for normal bone and teeth structure,” the product must meet the requirement for making a nutrition content claim about calcium.
High level health claims are claims about a food’s ability to reduce one’s risk of serious diseases. An example would be, “Diets high in calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in people over 65.” The standard contains more specific requirements for making high level health claims. In order to make the aforementioned claim about preventing osteoporosis, a food must contain at least 290 mg of calcium per serving.
If a company wants to make a general level health claim that has not been pre-approved by FSANZ, it can collect evidence to substantiate the claim themselves and notify FSANZ that it has done so. To make a high level health claim, a company must first get approval from FSANZ.
The standard also requires foods carrying health claims to meet the requirements of the nutrient profiling scoring criterion. This means that health claims are not permitted on foods that are higher in saturated fat, sugar, or salt. The agency’s nutrient profiling scoring criterion determines whether a food is eligible make a health claim.
The standard also forbids companies from labeling their food products with claims that they can prevent or cure diseases, or claims that compare those food products to other health products such as medicines or supplements.
Finally, the standard governs when companies are allowed to use endorsements in marketing their products. Endorsements are nutrition content claims or health claims approved by an endorsing body. The standard requires that endorsing bodies be non-profits with nutrition- or health-related purposes, that they are free from influence by the food company, and that they give permission for the company to use their endorsement.
Progress to date
In January of 2016, the law’s transitional period ended. Since it was passed in 2013, the standard has been amended twice to change its content.
First, a permission was added to make nutrition content claims about the gluten content of foods containing alcohol. Second, the trademarked components of the Health Star Rating symbol were declared exempt from the standard’s requirements. The Health Star Rating is a front-of-pack labelling system developed by the Australian government that is derived from an assessment of the nutrient profile of the food.
Why the program is important
A recent global survey found that only 63 percent of consumers trust the health claims made on food and beverage packages, suggesting that there is need for stricter regulation of those types of claims.
The standard ensures that all health claims must be supported by a systematic review of the scientific literature which assesses the totality of evidence. Research has shown that a single study is much less reliable than a consensus of multiple studies.
- An article published in the Australian National University’s law review argues that Standard 1.2.7 does not go far enough to protect from misleading health claims, because it allows companies to conduct their own systematic review of scientific literature in order to substantiate general level health claims that have not been pre-approved by FSANZ.
- In 2004, the World Health Organization released a report that surveyed health and nutrition claims regulations around the world. One of the conclusions was that while nutrition labelling can help consumers make more healthy choices, there is too little evidence to determine whether health claims have an effect.
- A 2006 review of research on health claims found that health claims are unlikely to have an effect on purchasing on their own, though significant media attention and aggressive marketing, among other factors, can increase their influence on consumer behavior.
Point of contact
- The United States Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 regulates nutrition content and health claims that appear on food and dietary supplement labels.
- Since 2007, the European Union has regulated the nutrition claims and health claims that food producers can put on product packages and in advertisements.
- Canada recently launched a survey to assess whether consumers want to have legal standards for truthful health and nutrition claims on food packages, among other issues.