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Policy Paper: Labelling of sugars on packaged foods

This policy paper was written to provide advice to the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation to assist them in deciding on policy regarding the labelling of sugars on food and drinks. After a period of consultation, a total of 166 submissions were received and utilised in preparing the report. The contributing stakeholders were as follows:

Individuals: 74
Food industry: 31
Public health: 50
Governments: 7
Other: 4

The report concludes that information about sugar on food labels in Australia and New Zealand does not provide adequate contextual information to enable consumers to make informed choices in support of dietary guidelines.

The evidence supporting that a problem exists were:

  • Foods can contain added and naturally occurring sugars.
  • Foods high in added sugars may displace more nutritious foods and drinks in the diet.
  • Local and international dietary guidelines recommend limiting foods containing added sugars.
  • Health and nutrition surveys in Australia and New Zealand show over half the population exceeds the WHO sugar guidelines.
  • While overweight and obesity and dental caries are not solely caused by excessive added sugar consumption, these conditions place a significant cost burden.
  • Food labels currently provide limited and/or unclear information about which foods contain added sugars.
  • Consumer research shows there is confusion about how much sugar should be consumed, an inability to determine if a product is high in sugars and confusion as to what added sugars are and which type should be limited in the diet.
  • There is limited information, apart from food labels, about the added sugar content of foods.
  • Lack of information about added sugars intake may be hampering public health advice and initiatives.

Dietary guidelines about sugar in Australia & New Zealand - In Australia: Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol. In New Zealand: choose and/or prepare foods and drinks: with unsaturated fats, that are low in salt, with little or no added sugar, and that are mostly ‘whole’ and less processed.

The two aims of the Food Standards system are: (1) to enable consumers to make informed choices, and (2) to support public health objectives. A list of options to change added sugars labelling were made with these in mind:

  1. Status quo
  2. Education on how to read and interpret labelling information on sugars
  3. Change the statement of ingredients to overtly identify sugar-based ingredients
  4. Added sugars quantified in the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP)
  5. Advisory labels for foods high in added sugar
  6. Pictorial display of the amounts of sugars and/or added sugars in a serving of food
  7. Digital linking to off label web-based information about added sugar content.

The pros and cons of each are described, and a rating given as to how well each option addressed four criteria:

  • Dietary Guidelines (how well the option supports them).
  • Contextual information (information that can support consumers to use and interpret a food label)
  • Consumer understanding
  • New information (does it provide new information?)

Option 4 was found to best achieve the desired outcome. It was rated highest against the above criteria. Options 1,2,5 and 7 were discounted as they met at least one criterion poorly. The largest proportion of stakeholders (3/5) supported option 4 – to include added sugars in the NIP.

The report also states that applying option 6 only to sugar-sweetened beverages warrants further consideration.

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation will consider the report and are expected to make recommendations by the end of the year.

You can find the report here

NEXT: Sensory Science: What do we know?

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