Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye today announced research has been commissioned to assess New Zealand consumer understanding and the impact of nutrition labelling on food.
"I have asked the Ministry for Primary Industries to commission social research about how a Health Star Rating System might be perceived and understood in New Zealand," Ms Kaye says.
"Over the past 18 months the New Zealand Front of Pack Labelling Advisory Group has been considering principles for voluntary front of pack nutrition labelling and reviewing proposals that are being developed in Australia, specifically the proposal for a star rating system. The group is made up of food safety officials, public health and consumer groups, and the food industry.
"The group indicated an interpretive system of marks such as ticks or stars, that focuses on the nutritional value of the whole food, is preferable to alternative systems like traffic light labelling which focuses on individual nutrients.
"The aim of nutrition labelling on the front of food packaging is to give consumers greater choice in identifying healthy food.
"The star system gives consumers at-a-glance nutrition information about the food they are buying using a five-star rating scale. A higher star rating means better nutritional value.
"The system also includes nutritional information icons for energy, saturated fat, sodium, and sugars. It can include one positive nutrient such as calcium or fibre.
"A potential benefit of the simpler front of pack nutrition labelling could be the changes that food companies decide to make to their products to make them healthier and get higher star rating.
"Trans-Tasman cooperation is vital in the food area as we share many foods with our closest neighbour, Australia. That is why we are doing this research to look at whether a star rating system like the one the Australians are working on will be useful for New Zealanders.
"The purpose of the research is to get a gauge of the impact of a voluntary star rating system. The results will be fed into the decision making process.
"We want to know what consumers think about using such a system and about how it may impact their choices in the supermarket," Ms Kaye says.
The proposed Australian system was presented to the Australia-New Zealand Forum on Food Regulation (FoFR) in June this year. Since then more technical work has been done and the final system will be presented at the next FoFR meeting in December.
It is anticipated that the research will be completed within the next month.