Anger over fruit juice health star rating

By Geoff Adams

Citrus growers are unhappy over a multi-national government decision to give juice a lower health rating than diet cola.

The bizarre outcome has come about because the health rating is determined by the level of juice in food — natural or added.

Riverina citrus grower Justin Davidson is hoping the decision by an inter-government forum doesn't harm the juice industry's reputation and damage market sales for his juice.

The Riverina is the largest juice producing area in Australia.

The Food Regulation Forum, comprising ministers from every Australian state and territory, met on July 17 and rejected Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud’s proposals to retain the current five-star rating for juice.

Citrus Australia said Mr Littleproud, and also the NSW and South Australian ministers, supported the industry but they were unsuccessful.

Fresh juice has held a five-star rating since the Health Star Rating system was implemented in 2014.

Under the revised HSR system as it stands, diet cola would receive four stars, while 100 per cent fresh juice with no added sugar, preservatives or additions would receive 2.5 stars.

Mr Davidson, who has about 100 ha of Valencia juicing oranges, said the industry had been under threat for some time, and it did not need questions raised over health value.

“To be downgraded to a two-and-a-half star rating is just not right.

“It's not taking into account other important components in the juice."

Mr Littleproud said despite the Commonwealth's strong advocacy in support of agriculture, farmers and common sense, the Food Regulation Forum had imposed this "bad decision".

“We were on the side our $800 million dollar fruit juice industry and our nation’s 1900 citrus growers,” he said.

“It seemed obvious to me that that 100 per cent fresh fruit and vegetable juice with no added sugar should have a five-star rating.

“It didn’t pass the pub test then and doesn’t pass the pub test now.”

Citrus Australia chief executive officer Nathan Hancock said the effective demonisation of fresh juice — a 100 per cent natural product with no additives or preservatives — defied common sense.

“Under the revised HSR system as it stands, 100 per cent fresh juice would receive less stars than diet cola which contains additives and preservatives and no nutritional benefits,” Mr Hancock 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 125 ml glass of fresh orange juice contains half the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.”

The Australian Healthy Kids Association recommends tap water be the first drink of choice second to reduced-fat milk, with one small glass (125 ml) of 99 per cent fruit juice being allowed daily for all ages.