Food Law Update: Australia 12 Sep 2018 The changing form of the Health Star Ratings

From "as prepared" to "as sold"

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What you need to know

  • Following a Ministerial review of the "form of food" rules for the Health Start Rating (HSR) system, the HSR system will be changed so that HSRs are calculated and applied to products in their "as sold" form.
  • While this change was agreed on 29 June 2018, it will be implemented in conjunction with the recommendations of a five year review of the HSR system, which is currently due to finish in mid-2019.  

What you need to do

  • In preparation for this change, food manufacturers should review the HSRs of their food products and ensure any ratings calculated based on the product "as prepared" are recalculated to reflect the product's nutritional value "as sold".  

The fundamental purpose of the HSR system is to assist consumers to make fast and informed purchases and healthier eating choices. See our article in the November 2017 edition of Food Law Update which discussed the HSR system.

However, manufacturers and consumers alike have expressed confusion and frustration in relation to the system's "form of the food" step in the algorithm used to calculate the HSR. Currently this algorithm allows HSR labels of certain products to reflect the nutritional value of the product "as prepared", and in some cases this is resulting in skewed HSR scores. 

The "form of the food" rule and how it impacts a product's HSR

To understand how the "form of the food" step can impact a HSR, it is important to understand the algorithm underlying the HSR scoring system. A high level summary is as follows:

1) The category of the food is determined. There are six categories, namely non-dairy beverages, dairy beverages, oils and spreads, cheese and processed cheese, all other dairy foods, and all other non-dairy foods;

2) The form of the food is determined as: 

  • "as sold" if the food can be prepared with other foods or consumed as sold;
  • "as prepared", if the food is required to be prepared and consumed according to directions;
  • "after reconstitution" with water, if required; or
  • "after drained", if the food requires draining;

3) The "Baseline points" are calculated, based on energy, saturated fat, total sugar and sodium content per 100g;

4) The "Modifying points" are calculated, based on fruit, vegetable, nut and legume (FVNL) %, concentrated FVNL %, protein and fibre content;

5) The final HSR score is calculated, by subtracting the modifying points from the baseline points; and

6) The score is converted to a HSR based upon a defined scoring matrix that separates food into the six categories above.

Where a product may be prepared in a number of ways, it is open to manufacturers to maximise that product's HSR label by calculating the HSR "as prepared" with an external ingredient that offered the greatest number of "modifying points", despite how the product is typically consumed.

A useful case study of how a manufacturer may be publicly taken to task for using the "as prepared" step of the algorithm to maximise a product's HSR is the recent publicity surrounding Nestle's Milo product.

The Milo malt and chocolate powder product was marketed as having a HSR of 4.5 "as prepared". This rating was calculated in accordance with the "as prepared" rules of the HSR guidelines. However, the product was only eligible for this rating when served "as prepared" with three teaspoons of powder to 200mL of skim milk. That is, the 4.5 star was only valid when the 200mL of skim milk was included in the HSR calculation. When prepared with 200 mL full cream milk, it was eligible for a 2.5 star rating. When calculated as a stand-alone product, the powder was only eligible for a 1.5 star rating.

Removal of the "as prepared" rules

In light of stakeholder concern, and an erosion in public confidence in the system, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation asked the HSR Advisory Committee in late April 2017 to review the "as prepared" rules as a matter of priority.

Public consultation was sought, and on 29 June 2018 Ministers agreed to limit the application of the HSR system to the product in its "as sold" form.

As a result of this decision, a product's HSR should be calculated and displayed on packaging based on the product as it appears on the shelf. Specific exemptions will apply for products that must be rehydrated or diluted with water, or drained of water or brine.

The Ministerial decision will be implemented together with, and in the context of, the recommendations of a five year review into the HSR system, which is currently due to be provided to the ANZ Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation in 2019.

It is expected that a further discussion paper will be released in October 2018 and stakeholder workshops will take place in November 2018.


Authors: Annika Barrett, Senior Expertise Lawyer; Melanie Kitchin, Lawyer and Emily Smith, Graduate

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The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.

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