A NATIONAL citrus body has expressed concern about the long-term effects of a trans-Tasman decision on the health benefits of fresh juice.
As part of a five-year review into the health star ratings on several products, including "minimally processed fruits and vegetables, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand forum late last week decided against a proposal to automatically award juice with no sugar added a five-star health rating.
The Australian government had recommended that 100 per cent fresh fruit and vegetable juice - with no added sugar - should receive an automatic HSR score of five stars, or be included within the definition of a "minimally processed fruit and vegetables".
The forum, made up of representatives from each state and territory, and New Zealand, did not support the proposal but said it would consider further advice on the "treatment of artificially sweetened beverages and 100pc vegetable and fruit beverages" at its meeting in November.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said he was disappointed the forum had failed to recognise the nutritional benefits of 100pc fresh fruit and vegetable juice.
"The FSANZ have imposed the illogical regulation that will potentially see fruit juice end up having the same or lower star rating as diet cola," he said.
"We were on the side our $800 million dollar fruit juice industry and our nation's 1900 citrus growers.
"Looking at the results of the Forum's November 2019 decision health star rating decision, I put in a proposal to get it reconsidered.
"It seemed obvious to me that that 100pc fresh fruit and vegetable juice with no added sugar should have a 5 star rating.
"It didn't pass the pub test then and doesn't pass the pub test now."
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Mr Littleproud said SA and NSW representatives had given "pragmatic support" with an "amendment recognising the absurdity of the situation to rate at 4 Stars as a compromise".
"But this too was rejected the other states, territories and New Zealand," he said.
"In all of this, the Forum lost the point of encouraging consumers to make healthy choices."
Mr Littleproud said Australian Dietary Guidelines encouraged people to consumer more fresh fruit and vegetables and 100pc fresh fruit and vegetable juice could make a "healthy contribution".
"With this latest decision, it is the Food Forum's star that has fallen," he said.
Citrus Australia has also expressed its disappointment in the decision.
The body said fresh juice had held a 5-Star rating since the HSR was implemented in 2014 but under the revised HSR system, diet cola would receive 4-stars while 100pc fresh juice with no added sugar, preservatives or additions would receive 2.5 stars.
Citrus Australia chief executive officer, Nathan Hancock, said the effective demonisation of fresh juice defied common sense.
"Under the revised HSR system as it stands, 100pc fresh juice would receive less stars than diet cola which contains additives and preservatives and no nutritional benefits," he said.
"The algorithm that underpins the new HSR assesses fresh juice on sugar content alone and does not consider essential nutrients, such as Vitamin C, Potassium, Folate and magnesium, or antioxidants.
"It also contradicts the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which places fresh juice in the 'eat more of' category. There are allowances in the ADG for the substitution of fruit juice for a whole piece of fruit in the diet.
"Vitamin C contributes to immune defence and one 125mL glass of fresh orange juice contains half the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C."
Mr Hancock said Citrus Australia would continue to work with Australian growers to promote the health benefits of fresh juice to consumers and reassure them that the contents within the bottle have not changed, despite the new rating.
"We are genuinely concerned that the suggestion that fresh fruit juice is unhealthy will have a detrimental health effect on the community, particularly in winter," he said.
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