Food Standards Australia is reviewing a proposal that would make it easier for food manufacturers to make genuine health claims about their products and discourage those making dubious or unhelpful claims.

If the proposal gets the green light, companies would need to submit to Food Standards Australia scientific proof that a food can reduce the risk of a certain disease or improve cholesterol, for example.

However, they would not need to submit evidence backing up more general health claims such as “calcium builds strong bones” – although they would have to have the evidence in case it was requested.

The regulator will also scrutinise nebulous marketing terms such as lite, lactose-free or slimming. It is hoped that the new rules will also make it harder for manufacturers to make unsubstantiated health claims.

Claims on labels that a food can reduce the risk of a serious disease are currently not permitted, apart from that the consumption of folate by pregnant women can reduce the risk of neural tube defects in babies.

However, loopholes have been exploited and a supermarket survey by the Australian Consumers Association this year found more than 30 foods made “quasi-health claims” that were unsubstantiated, relating to Omega-3 fats, low GI (glycemic index), heart health, dietary fibre for the digestive system, and calcium for strong bones, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.