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Label detective: Added-sugar labelling changes on the horizon?

Label detective: Added-sugar labelling changes on the horizon?

Simpson Grierson food law specialists investigate changes we can expect to see when it comes to sugar in nutrition panels.

Claims that a food product is ‘healthier’ have the power to sway purchasing decisions. But do we actually know what these claims mean, or if they even all mean the same thing?

Most consumers are not aware that sugar can come in various forms, including fruit juice, honey, syrups or molasses. Sugars might appear naturally in a product, lactose in milk or fructose in fruit, for example, or they can be added. The savvy consumer regularly checks the nutrition information panel (NiP) on the food label to determine if there is sugar in a product. But that’s where the transparency stops.

Consumer tip

‘No added sugar’ or ‘refined sugar free’ does not necessarily mean no sugar. Be aware that sugar can come in many forms and don’t rely on the claims made on labels when choosing products. Always read the nutrition information panel on food labels and the statement of ingredients and keep your eye out for upcoming labelling changes.

What’s the law got to say?

Currently, under the Food code, a NIP must state the average quantity of sugars, among other nutrients, in a food. Although a NIP can show a sub-group nutrient of sugar (monosaccharides or disaccharides), there is no requirement to do so. Looking at a NIP will only tell you how much total sugar is in the food, without any indication as to the form of that sugar and whether it is naturally occurring sugar or a refined added sugar. It can be difficult as consumers to know what ‘no added sugar’ means.

Currently, under the Food Standards code, when a product claims to have ‘no added sugar’, this means that sugar, starch hydrolysate, maltodextrin, honey, malt, concentrated fruit juice or deionised fruit juice (with some exceptions) have not been added in creating the final product.

However, this can be confusing as a product still might contain high levels of naturally occurring sugar, for example cereals or muesli bars that contain dried fruit.
There is limited information on a label available to consumers about added sugar, but this is about to change.

What’s coming up?

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation have requested that Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) review these options and the law around nutritional labelling for added sugars.

The favoured option is to quantify the added sugars in the NIP, alongside the total sugars of the product. It might also include additional contextual information such as the percentage of daily intake or high/medium/low labelling in relation to the sugar content.

Another option is to place pictorials on packaging to convey the amount of sugars per serving of food.

It is now up to FSANZ to consider the proposed options and we can expect to see some of these changes implemented in the near future.

First published: Nov 2019

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