Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) today [Thursday] launched a shopper's guide to assist shoppers to understand the new food labels being introduced later this year.

Nearly all packaged food manufactured on or after 20 December 2002 must adhere to the new labelling requirements of the Food Standards Code including nutrition information panels, percentage of main ingredient, new date markings and full disclosure of major allergens.

The Managing Director of FSANZ, Ian Lindenmayer said that the shopper's guide was developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand following research which found that, while over 90% of consumers welcomed these changes, approximately 80% felt they could not fully understand the new labels.

"It is estimated that mandatory nutrition information labelling alone will result in between 320 to 460 fewer deaths from diet related disease each year. Diet related risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity (in both adults and children) and Type 2 diabetes, account for 13% of Australia and New Zealand's burden of disease. Experience in the United States, shows that, when mandatory nutrition labelling was introduced there, a significant proportion of consumers began to make healthier food choices.

"However these health advantages will not be achieved if consumers don't have enough information on how to interpret these new labels, particularly nutrition information panels. This is why Food Standards
Australia New Zealand, the national food regulator, has developed the Official Shopper's Guide to Food Additives and Labels," Lindenmayer said.

When launching the guide, one of  Australia's leading nutritionists and food commentators, Catherine Saxelby, said that food labels were the single most important link between the food manufacturer and the consumer.

"There is a wealth of information on food labels but this information can often be confusing for consumers. This shopper's guide unravels this information as it can help consumers interpret nutrition information panels to choose healthier foods, for example by knowing what types of fat to avoid or how much salt they are consuming.

"There has been a lot of talk about fighting obesity and other diet related diseases recently. Buying this book and taking it shopping with you could be the first practical step you make for better health for you and your family," Saxelby concluded.

The book also contains advice on 'use by' and 'best before' dates and how to understand the percentage of the characterising ingredient (for example the percentage of strawberry in a strawberry yoghurt). It also sets out the full list of approved food additives by name and by number.

The Shopper's Guide is published by Murdoch Books and will be sold at a recommended retail price of A$4.95 (US$2.72) in Australia through bookshops and variety stores.