Survey takes aim at food star rating system

  • 10/09/2016

A majority of shoppers want changes to how voluntary health star ratings are displayed on sugary foods, according to a Consumer NZ survey.

Consumer NZ is recommending changes to the star rating system to prevent foods high in sugar earning high ratings.

Ratings are calculated on the positive and negative nutrients in a food. Positive nutrients, such as fibre and protein, can offset the negative such as sugar. As a result, some high-sugar products can achieve high star ratings.

Consumer NZ is recommending star ratings be capped at a low level on foods high in sugar, saturated fat or sodium.

"Our survey found 61 percent of consumers have seen the stars on food packaging and the majority would like to see them on more products," says Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin.

"Most thought ratings should be mandatory on foods high in sugar, fat or sodium. Just 13 percent were happy with the status quo."

If sugary snacks can qualify for high ratings, consumers will increasingly lose confidence in the system, Ms Chetwin says.

Together with Australian consumer organisation Choice, Consumer NZ has written to the trans-Tasman Health Star Rating Advisory Committee, which is carrying out a two-year progress review of the rating system.

"As well as asking the committee to look at ratings caps, we've asked it to investigate amending the rating calculations to specifically account for added sugars," Ms Chetwin said

The advisory committee is expected to provide its report to ministers by the end of this year.

Four out of five respondents to the Consumer NZ survey thought added sugars should be clearly labelled in the ingredients list while 71 per cent thought manufacturers should have to list both total and added sugars in the nutrition information panel.