More reforms needed for sugar content claims

A comprehensive definition for added sugars in processed foods is needed, says new research from The George Institute for Global Health.

Last year, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) announced tighter restrictions on voluntary ‘no added sugar’ claims that will mean products high in sugars can no longer make these claims, but research published in Current Developments in Nutrition says more reforms must proceed.

Dr Alexandra Jones, Senior Research Fellow in Food Policy at The George Institute for Global Health and Conjoint Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at UNSW Sydney, who is senior author of the new research, explained the situation.

“We recognise that Food Ministers and FSANZ needed to address the proliferation of potentially misleading ‘no added sugar’ claims in the market and commend them for adopting a pragmatic solution to that problem based on total sugar content.

“However, The George Institute is concerned that these changes to ‘no added sugar’ claims may delay or see abandoned the original purpose of FSANZ’s work on added sugars, which was to require the disclosure of added sugars in the nutrition information panel (NIP).

“To enable this disclosure, a comprehensive definition of added sugars is needed, and we are calling on FSANZ to progress development and implementation of this definition.”

Without a comprehensive definition of added sugars in Australia, Dr Jones says highly processed, concentrated fruit and vegetable sugars can potentially remain ‘hidden’ in foods that can still be presented by the food industry as ‘healthy’.

Under the new rule, a rolled fruit strap that can no longer claim to have ‘no added sugar’ can still claim to be ‘100 per cent fruit’ or ‘made from real fruit’. This suggests the strap is as healthy as the whole fruit. After intensive heating and compression, however, the nutritional value in original fruits or vegetables, such as fibre and water, are removed, leaving only concentrated sugars.

Jane Martin, Executive Manager of the Food for Health Alliance, said these processed fruit and vegetable sugars are found in popular foods – many targeting children – such as fruit straps, flavoured yoghurt pouches, infant foods, muesli bars and cereals. People are buying these products believing them to be healthy, when really, they are not.

“If we do not include processed fruit and vegetable sugars in the form of pastes, powders, pulps and purees, as well as dried fruits, in a comprehensive definition of added sugars within the regulations, we are creating loopholes that can be exploited by the food industry.”

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