Health claims

7 January 2014

by Dr Jocelyn Eason

The new Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) regulations have made some fundamental changes to what food producers can say about their products. The introduction of Standard 1.2.7 in January 2013 means that specific health benefits can now be marketed on food packaging. This provides more opportunity for food manufacturers to communicate the specific benefits of eating healthy foods and because of the tight regulations provides more assurance to consumers.

For the fresh produce industry, diets with high fruit and vegetable intake have been successfully linked to health benefits, supported through marketing campaigns such as 5+ in New Zealand and the NHS’ 5 a day programme in the UK. The introduction of Standard 1.2.7 means that fresh produce, known to be high in a number of beneficial nutrients, can begin to be marketed in a new, more targeted way. Consumers are becoming more aware of the specific benefits they require from their food and are seeking products that meet their personal requirements for health.

The introduction of the vitalvegetables™ range, with each product developed to meet a specific health claim, is the first step in introducing this type of marketing into New Zealand. Similarly, the veggycation™ programme, developed for the Australian market, has started the conversation with the Australian fresh produce industry. Over the next few years, we can expect to see more and more products released into the market with health claims, and the fresh produce industry needs to take advantage of this marketing opportunity to meet its full potential.

There are now two levels of health claims that are now permitted on food products in Australia and New Zealand. Each claim is based on the scientific knowledge that a nutrient or food type is linked to a human health benefit.

A general level health claim may be used for a food that contains a nutrient has been scientifically proven to be of benefit to health when it is present in a single serve of the food at amounts set out in the Standard (typically greater than or equal to 10% of the Recommended Dietary Intake, RDI). The claim cannot be therapeutic; rather, the nutrient(s) ‘supports’ wellness (i.e. has an effect on a health function rather than a disease). Over 200 general level health claims have been allowed by FSANZ; for example, “vitamin A is necessary for normal vision”. Carrots contain large concentrations of carotenoids which are converted to vitamin A in our bodies, and so we can claim “carrots are a good source of vitamin A, which supports eye health”. If a food manufacturer believed their product to have a health benefit that was not covered by the pre-approved general level health claims, they could develop a self-substantiated claim - a dossier of scientific evidence to support the claim. This evidence is made available to FSANZ but remains confidential to the food manufacturer.

In the fresh produce industry, this is where the vitalvegetables™ products sit. The vitalbones™ slaw product, for example has the following claim: “Designed with your bone health in mind – a good source of vitamin K and vitamin C to support bone structure”.

The high level health claims can be used when a food group or nutrient present in the food can be linked to the modulation of a serious disease or a biomarker of a serious disease, for example “calcium reduces the risk of osteoporosis” or “phytosterols may reduce blood cholesterol”. These claims cannot be therapeutic, i.e. must not refer to the prevention, diagnosis, cure or alleviation of a disease (e.g. can’t claim to cure or prevent cancer). There are currently 13 approved high level claims, including “a diet rich in both fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease”. New high level claims require application to FSANZ and, when approved, these are made available to the wider industry via the pre-approved list.

Emma Timewell
Communications Manager, Corporate Communications,
Plant & Food Research Mt Albert,
120 Mt Albert Road, Sandringham
Auckland, 1025, New Zealand
Telephone: +64-9-925 8692
Mobile: +64-21-2429 365

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