Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has released a consultation paper about the qualifying criteria for dietary fibre nutrition content claims.
This call for submissions is especially relevant following the furore surrounding a report by an Australian consumer watchdog last month that branded the dietary claims by established liquid breakfast brands as “shonky”.
Then, the grocery industry hit out at what they saw as an ill-informed study by Choice, whose subjective use of current regulations highlighted the complex nature of the issue.
FSANZ chief executive Steve McCutcheon said the regulator had earlier resolved to consult further on the criteria for dietary fibre claims as part of a new nutrition and health claims standard, and is now seeking comments from government agencies, health professionals, the food industry and the community.
Views and evidence
“We are committed to considering this issue further during the three-year transition period for the new Standard,” he said. “We are seeking stakeholder views and evidence relating to the qualifying criteria for nutrition content claims about dietary fibre.
The New Zealand Food and Grocery Council has been among the first to welcome the consultation, with Katherine Rich, its chief executive, calling it an opportunity for its members to formally share their views on the issue.
“It’s such a complex issue that it makes sense to have a specific discussion on the topic and so we thank FSANZ for including this piece of work in their work programme,” she said.
“When we look at the reason claims are made on food, it is to inform and influence consumer and industry behaviour. Ideally society wants consumer behaviours to favour healthier choices and industry behaviours to deliver healthier products.
“With the current thresholds for dietary fibre claims in the voluntary Code of Practice used across Australia and New Zealand for the last 15 years, a popular, healthy wheat biscuit cereal can claim it is a good source of fibre, but at 97% whole wheat, the manufacturer has virtually no opportunity to increase the fibre content.”
Currently, consumer interests and industry behaviour are in alignment, but under the proposed levels for the new code, such a claim would have to be translated to simply a “source” of dietary fibre, along with a range of other breakfast cereals - something Rich considers is a “misalignment of a healthy product and consumer information”.
“The proposed changes to the levels of dietary fibre that can be claimed, by aligning with the likes of Canada, may result in a negative impact on consumer behaviour and this is the issue that we think needs to be worked through in detail.”