HEALTH Minister Peter Dutton is facing a backbench revolt with demands he dump proposed packaging requirements that use a star system to show the nutritional value of food.
Mr Dutton will meet with his state colleagues today as part of the Council of Australian Governments process, with separate discussions on food regulation also scheduled to take place.
Critics say the scheme is unproven, inconsistent and confusing and will increase the burden on the country’s already strained food manufacturers.
“I like a policy that is information-based and informed by good research, and this isn’t,” Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie told The Australian.
“Obesity is a multi-factor problem. Something as simple as a star system is not going to address it.
“We need targeted strategies.”
Senator McKenzie questioned the value of the scheme, devised under Labor, after an admission from the Health Department in a Senate estimates hearing last month that “there is very little research on whether or not a system actually changes behaviour”.
She pointed to its treatment of dairy products as a sign of further flaws. “The algorithm that they are using isn’t able to be adapted,” she said. “When you’re looking at something like full cream milk, it doesn’t include the health benefits of some of the minerals in the product.”
Senator McKenzie expressed concern no regulatory impact statement had been prepared for the proposal.
“Our government has made it clear we’re going to assess the regulatory burdens of all our legislation,” she said. Senator McKenzie added she had written to Mr Dutton and the Liberal minister in her home state, Victoria, David Davis, about the matter.
The Australian understands her views are widely shared by Nationals across government.
Terry O’Brien, the managing director of food manufacturers Simplot, warned it could cost his company as much as $2.5 million to redo its packing. “The cost of manufacturing anything in Australia is high,” he warned.
Simplot, whose brands include Edgell, John West and Leggo’s, has battled in recent months to preserve plants at Bathurst in NSW and Devonport, Tasmania.
Mr O’Brien said a star system for food would be more confusing than the current percentage of daily intake guide provided on packaging. He said it could not be compared with the star rating used on whitegoods as a guide to power consumption