Only 36 per cent of products on supermarket shelves that should display the Health Star Rating (HSR) are currently doing so, reveals new report.
The 2023 State of the Food Supply Report released by The George Institute for Global Health has shown that the number of products displaying the HSR has remained at 36 per cent for the past three years, well below the government’s 50 per cent uptake target for 2023.
Dr Alexandra Jones, Senior Research Fellow in Food Policy at The George Institute, said the industry’s poor performance in both displaying the label and improving the healthiness of foods compelled the Institute to call out the failure of a voluntary approach.
“Time’s up for the industry to demonstrate what they can do on a voluntary basis. It’s clear that they are not going to act without being compelled to do so. The HSR program will be 10 years old in 2024, however its uptake is slower than in at least 15 other countries where front of pack nutrition labelling is mandatory.
“We’re now making a direct and urgent call for the Government to stipulate mandatory HSR usage on all eligible products, with appropriate penalties for non-compliance, and to start that process now to stop industry actively exploiting the system at the expense of consumers’ health.”
The food industry has resisted mandatory HSRs to date on the basis that it would be costly and time-consuming to implement, yet Dr Jones says a strong precedent exists.
“In 2019, companies were given two years to apply country of origin labelling on almost all products and our 2021 report showed 90 per cent had complied. They have shown that it can be achieved but only when mandated.
“Until HSR is mandatory, we recommend consumers exercise caution – if a product is failing to display HSR on pack, there’s a good chance it’s a less healthy item.”
The HSR system is supposed to be the government’s flagship initiative to improve Australians’ diets, says Dr Jones, but while manufacturers can pick and choose what products they want to display the ratings on, the food industry is actively eroding the ability for consumers to trust the system and make healthier choices about what they eat.
“We commend the companies that are proactively applying the HSR and making changes to recipes to improve their ratings. For all others, the voluntary approach appears to have provided little incentive to provide information transparently to consumers to improve public health.
“The rating is a tool to improve the accountability of the food industry for its products – it’s time they stepped up and took responsibility for the healthiness of their products. That means displaying the rating, and improving nutritional quality if they want to get a higher rating.”