Health Ministers meeting in Canberra at the end of November are expected to decide that all will be revealed when they debate the new labelling rules developed during a six-year review process by the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (Anzfa). The tough standards are expected to provide better protection for those with allergies to certain foods, and mandatory nutritional information panels are also planned to improve the dietary habits of consumers.

Some 70 % of manufactured food in Australia and New Zealand currently carries nutritional and allergy information, but the managing director of Anzfa, Ian Lindenmayer, commented that: "Some of our standards have not been reviewed for 20 or 30 years and don't reflect contemporary scientific and medical knowledge about the impact of particular food or food ingredients on health and safety."

Features proposed for the new labelling include:
  • Listing ingredients: List going from greatest to smallest proportion - including percentages

  • Listing nutritional information: Information about fat, protein, energy, sodium and carbohydrate

  • Listing food additives: By number

  • Best before/use by date: For all foods with a shelf life of up to 2 years

  • Storage requirements: To be mandatory, not voluntary

  • Supplier's address and lot number: to make recalls more efficient

  • Food allergies or intolerances: Three levels of advice, warning to listing

  • Country of origin

  • Definitions: Stating ingredients that are necessary in the product labelled. For example, the proportion of cream in ice cream, or meat in meat pies

  • Legibility: Labels must be legible, prominent, and in English
The draft code has proved controversial amongst a certain sector of the grocery industry, however, which argues that the information is not always useful to the consumer. Brenda Cutress, executive of the New Zealand Grocery Markets Association, revealed that while the association supports most of the code it believes that: "Percentage labelling is going to be costly and not necessarily helpful. If, for instance, you say one pie has 5% meat and another 10%, the 5% could be high quality meat, and the 10% may be lower quality."

Mitchell Hooke, CEO of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, conceded that the code improved on current rules but commented that it still required "surgery" to meet consumer needs. The main problem, as he perceives it, is the requirement that the key "characterising" ingredient is shown as a percentage of the product. Food producers may not, he argues, be able to determine exactly what the consumer sees as the key ingredient.

Lindenmayer has said that he expects health ministers to agree on the majority of the draft code. If this is the case, it could mean that consumer information will be significantly enhanced within two years, when all packaged foods sold in Australia and New Zealand will be required to display a comprehensive, extensive list of ingredients.