Health claims refer to a relationship between a food and its health benefits, and are only permitted on foods that meet the nutrient profiling scoring criterion, meaning claims are restricted to foods which may support overall health.
Nutrition content claims are claims about the content of certain nutrients or substances in a food, such as 'low in fat'.
The Food Standard Code contains 200 pre-approved food–health relationships that any health claim must comply with.
From January 2016, food businesses must comply with criteria set out in Standard 1.2.7 (Nutrition, health and related claims) for food labels and advertisements. However, there is an exception for nutrition content claims about dietary fibre, where food businesses have until 18 January 2017 before they need to comply (see nutrition content claims about dietary fibre).
Types of health claims
There are 2 types of health claims for food labels:
General level health claim - this refers to a nutrient or substance in a food and its effect on a health function, such as ‘Fibre helps keep you regular’. General health claims are prohibited from referring to a serious disease or biomarker of a serious disease.
Businesses must base these claims on one of 200+ pre-approved food-health relationships in the Food Standard Code, or self-substantiate a food-health relationship by following the process outlined in Schedule 6 of the Food Standards Code.
High level health claims - this refers to a nutrient or substance in a food and its relationship to a serious disease or a biomarker of a serious disease, such as ‘Diets high in calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in people 65 years of age and over’.
Businesses must base these claims on one of 13 pre-approved food-health relationships in the Food Standards Code. Food businesses can apply to FSANZ for pre-approval of a food-health relationship underpinning a health claim.
All health claims
Foods carrying health claims must meet certain compositional requirements set out in in Standard 1.2.7, including the nutrient profiling scoring criterion (NPSC). An online calculator is available to businesses to determine a food’s nutrient profiling score.
Other conditions in the Standard must also be met before a health claim can be made. Information on a food label is also subject to Australian Consumer Law, which prohibits false, misleading or deceptive representations (see Truth in Labelling). There are also parts of the Australian Competition and Consumer Act 2010 that may apply to nutrition content and health claims.
All health claims such as ‘This food is low in sodium (salt). A diet low in sodium may help reduce blood pressure’, are required to be supported by scientific evidence, whether they meet the pre-approved claims by FSANZ or can be self-substantiated by the food business.
Food businesses choosing to self-substantiate a food-health relationship must notify FSANZ of the relationship before making a general level health claim. Additional information on self-substantiation and the notification process is provided on the FSANZ website.