Australians face being misled by false claims about the health benefits of packaged foods, following a meeting of government ministers from all jurisdictions today.
Cancer Council and the National Heart Foundation are concerned about an announcement from the intergovernmental forum on food regulation which supports “self-substantiation” of health claims on foods – in effect, enabling food companies to claim a health benefit without any independent verification.
Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Ian Olver, said it appears that governments may be prepared to let the food industry treat the public with contempt by enabling companies to claim a health benefit without any independent analysis.
“In Europe, where claims of a health benefit are assessed by a government agency, only about one in 10 claims stands up to independent analysis,” Professor Olver said.
“Self-substantiation will mean open slather on companies misleading buyers into purchasing products that they think will provide a health benefit, without any independent verification.”
CEO of the National Heart Foundation of Australia, Dr Lyn Roberts, said diet choices were becoming increasingly important as Australians sought to take responsibility for their own health.
“If food companies are permitted to use health claims as a marketing tool with no verification, Australians will end up having no confidence in the nation’s food labelling system,” Dr Roberts said.
“Worse, we will be at risk of being deceived into purchasing food items that we think are good for us, at a time when diet-related illness is on the increase.”
Professor Olver and Dr Roberts urged the government to add greater rigour to the system to protect Australians from unsubstantiated health claims.