Do you really know what is healthy and what is not when filling up your shopping trolley?

Key points:

  • Food Standards Australia New Zealand is developing a new database that will break down the nutritional value of food
  • The Branded Food Database will work alongside the Health Star Rating system and was requested by the Department of Health
  • Australia’s Health Star Ratings have been criticised by fruit growers and the Agriculture Minister for emphasis on sugar content

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has begun developing a database to help consumers understand the nutritional value of the food they eat. 

FSANZ General Manager of Science and Risk Assessment, Christel Leemhuis, said the new Branded Food Database will work alongside the Health Star Rating system (HSR) and was requested by the Department of Health. 

“It will allow us to track changes in the nutrient profile of foods over time, the database is targeted at providing a reliable source of information for modelling any future HSR changes.”

A consumer would be able to access the database online by entering barcode numbers to see a product’s information. No scanning app would initially be available but FSANZ hoped to add additional consumer-friendly features to the database in time. 

A person wearing a face mask stands in a supermarket aisle reading a phone.

The Branded Food Database will work alongside the Health Star Rating system and was requested by the Department of Health.(Unsplash: Viki Mohamad)

Despite FSANZ’s goal to include 85 per cent of food products available in Australia by 2023, it was up to food producers to opt-in, Ms Leemhuis said.

“But by providing information to the database manufactures and retailers will contribute to industry transparency,” she said.

“We will compare that to our existing food composition databases, so that will allow us to identify if there are any products with a nutrient profile that doesn’t look quite right [if we suspect a company is supplying inaccurate information].”

Orange juice bottle with health star rating of five, now downgraded because of sugar content.

Citrus producers are furious orange juice’s five star health rating has been downgraded.(ABC Rural: Nikolai Beilharz)

Recent changes to the HSR system that prioritise sugar content as an assessment criteria have received harsh criticism from fruit growers, as juices are now ranked below diet soft drinks due to the high fructose content.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud had also previously slammed the HSR labelling process as “madness” due to the emphasis on sugar content, but Ms Leemhuis said the new database would provide a more thorough breakdown of a food’s nutrients. 

“There are tremendous benefits for industry to submit data.”

“It’s a good opportunity for food brands to see where their products are benchmarked against other products in the market.”

Do you really know what’s healthy and what’s not when filling up your shopping trolley?
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