Fruit juice decision “against all logic”
The Australian citrus industry is “shocked and disappointed” with last Friday’s decision by state and territory ministers to endorse a Health Star Rating system that suggests diet cola is a healthier choice than fresh Australian juice.
The Food Regulation Forum, comprising ministers from every Australian state and territory, met last week and rejected Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud’s proposal to award fresh juice 4 stars in recognition of its nutritional value. The decision slashes the health ratings of 100 percent, no added sugar juices from 5 stars to as low as 2.5.
While NSW and South Australia supported Minister Littleproud’s proposal, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia, the NT, ACT and New Zealand rejected it.
Citrus Australia CEO Nathan Hancock says these governments have “lost their way”.
“We are gutted for our growers that produce world class juice for the Australian population, only to be told Diet Coke is the better option,” he says. “What message does that tell the Australian agriculture industry and Australian consumers?”
Hancock claims that governments have missed a chance to encourage Australians to consume more fruit and vegetables in the form of juice, instead choosing to “cave to the anti-sugar brigade against all logic”.
“It is a sad day not only for juice growers who already do it tough, and who now have a question mark over the long-term viability of their industry as a result of the lost sales that will result from this decision, but for the entire agricultural industry who have been let down by their elected representatives,” he says.
Hancock says he is particularly upset with the Western Australian, Victorian and Queensland governments, as these states reap the reward of strong citrus growing sectors.
Minister Littleproud has called the move “madness” and says rejecting his proposal to increase the rating of fresh juice “lacks common sense”.
“Fresh, vitamin-rich OJ is better than soft drink every day of the week and our Health Star Rating system should reflect this,” he says. “At a time when we need more jobs, and our farm and food processing sectors need more support, governments are abandoning them.”
The minister also believes the new rating will cause consumer confusion, and will also impact sales in an already difficult year for farmers.
“The disgraceful decision has undermined the integrity of the entire Health Star Rating system, and will lead to juice manufacturers dropping the health label altogether, leaving consumers worse off,” he says.
Hancock says the integrity of the Health Star Rating system was already in question – for instance, chips can earn 3 stars – and this will likely be the final nail in the coffin.
“Australians can have no confidence in this system to provide them with any advice on what to eat or drink,” he says. “It’s government intervention where it isn’t needed and is a mockery on the Australian consumer’s good sense.”