Ever wondered why your potato chips have nutrition information on the label but your bottle of beer doesn’t? The food law team at Simpson Grierson explain what’s legally required when it comes to nutrition labelling.
What’s the law got to say?
Under the Food Standards Code, most foods must carry a nutritional information panel (NIP). A NIP on a food label provides information on the nutrients contained within that food. A NIP must display the average amount of energy (kilojoules) of a food, and the average quantity of protein, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sugars and sodium.
If a nutrition claim is made about a particular nutrient, NIPs must also provide information about that nutrient. For example, if a ‘High in omega-3’ claim is made, then the NIP must also include the omega-3 values.
The nutrient values must be shown as the average amount per serve, as well as per 100 grams or millilitres of the food.
Why is alcohol exempt?
Certain foods are not required to display a NIP. Food in small packaging (think chewing gum) and food with minimal nutritional value are exempt. These include herbs, spices, infusions, tea, coffee, salt etc. Likewise, because alcoholic beverages are considered to be of minimum nutritional value, those containing more than 0.5 per cent alcohol by volume do not require a NIP.
But, if a claim requiring nutrition information is made for any of these exempt foods, a NIP is required that must show the values for energy and the mandatory nutrients, as well as the values for any other nutrient a claim is made about. This claim can be either a nutrition content claim (such as ‘low fat’) or a health claim (such as ‘vitamin B helps energy levels’). There is nothing preventing manufacturers of exempt foods from displaying NIPs but, if they do, they must comply with Food Code format.
Last year, a few major producers in New Zealand’s beer industry decided to voluntarily include nutritional information on their labels, even though they’re not legally required to. The decision was prompted by the recognition that consumers are increasingly interested in nutrition information. By providing this information, producers are offering transparency and helping consumers make informed choices.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation is considering energy labelling of alcoholic beverages, based on information provided by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. FSANZ, which develops the Food Code, has conducted research, completed a cost-benefit analysis and held industry consultation sessions in relation to having nutritional information available on alcohol. It is expected that policies will be developed and a public consultation be held in 2018.
What’s happening over the ditch?
Some alcohol manufacturers in Australia have also started voluntarily including nutritional information on their products. Australian consumer advocacy group Choice has launched a campaign calling for the mandatory inclusion of kilojoule information on alcoholic beverages.
Watch this space!