The Food Regulation Forum* must use the next six months to lead the development of an effective, easy to understand front-of-pack labelling system that puts the health of Australians above corporate profits, according to the Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC).
The Forum met today to finalise its response to the recommendations in Dr Neal Blewett's Labelling Logic report - the result of an ndependent, expert review of food labelling law and policy in Australia.
In a communiqué released this afternoon the Forum confirmed that significant progress on a front-of-pack food labelling system would be made by 1 June 2012, with a system in place by the end of 2012.
Senior policy adviser for the OPC, Jane Martin said she was pleased the Forum had set definitive timelines for implementation, but that the final decision about what system of labelling to implement must be made on sound evidence and the members must resist bowing to industry pressure.
"All the evidence shows that traffic light labels are the best option to provide consumers with the information they need to make healthier choices.
"If this system is off the table, then the Forum must be very careful to ensure that it develops a system that encourages healthier food choices, including among vulnerable groups, and doesn't compromise consumer health.
"It is not possible to balance the interests of public health with those of companies whose focus is to maximise sales and profits. By appeasing both sides, we are unlikely to get the best outcome for the health of Australians.
"With obesity at record levels, it is critical that consumers are empowered to make healthier choices in the supermarket or at fast food outlets," said Ms Martin.
Research has shown that traffic light labels are better understood by consumers, including those with poor literacy and numeracy skills, to assess and compare the nutritional value of foods and make healthier choices. The system also has high consumer acceptance. A national survey conducted by Cancer Council Victoria found that 87% of consumers said they would use traffic lights to help them shop more healthily and over 80,000 consumers have downloaded the OPC's traffic light mobile phone app.
*The Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation replaces the Food Regulation Ministerial Council which includes representatives from Federal Government and all states and territories.
The Obesity Policy Coalition is a group of leading public health agencies who are concerned about the escalating levels of overweight and obesity, particularly in children.
The Obesity Policy Coalition partners include Diabetes Australia Victoria, The Cancer Council Victoria, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University.