IT seems the fight to lift fresh juice's Health Star Rating above that of diet cola is not over yet with a possible change to how its rating is calculated.
Last Friday, the Food Regulation Forum decided to maintain fresh fruit juice's 2.5 Health Star Rating, despite outcries from various horticulture groups as well as federal agriculture minister, David Littleproud.
But a communique from the forum released that day stated the issue will continue to be examined until February next year.
It's another twist in what has become a curious back-and-forth situation over the rating.
In the statement, the forum supported a proposal for a "minor adjustment" to the HSR review calculator to address an anomaly.
"Diet beverages will now achieve no more than 3.5 stars, as this option best aligns with the intention from the HSR Five-Year Review recommendations and with the Australian and New Zealand dietary guidelines," the communique said.
"The Forum noted the Australian Government Department of Health will provide further advice in relation to adjusting the HSR calculator for 100 per cent fruit and vegetable juices (no added sugar) for discussion at the next meeting, to be held in February 2021."
Citrus Australia chief executive officer, Nathan Hancock said the decision was respectful of a fresh, healthy product and the Australian growers that produce it.
"We are pleased that the Forum has heard us and that the nutritional benefits a glass of fresh Aussie juice provides have been acknowledged," Mr Hancock said.
"Although orange juice does contain natural sugars, it also contains Vitamin C, folate and thiamine, and is recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines as an occasional substitute for a serve of fresh fruit.
"With 94 per cent of all Australians not eating the recommended serving of fruit each day, an occasional small glass of juice has the ability to reverse this trend.
Other groups weigh in
THE Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) participated in the review of the Health Star Rating (HSR) system, and expressed its concern about the possibility of 100 per cent fresh fruit and vegetable juices receiving a lower star rating than diet beverages.
AFGC CEO Tanya Barden said the group welcomed the further consideration that ministers will give to the matter.
"We want to see a health star rating system that consumers can trust," Ms Barden said.
"Australian consumers and food and beverage manufacturers want an easy to understand and trustworthy system, which means it must be based on evidence and not political interference.
"The AFGC stands by the HSR, which is a gold standard for front of pack nutrition labelling.
"There just needs to be common sense in how categories are treated and that the system maintains its integrity."
In better news for fresh produce, ministers at the form affirmed the application of an automatic five-star rating to all fresh and minimally processed fruit and vegetable products.
The Australian Beverages Council also praised the forum for postponing the decision on altering juice's Health Star Rating (HSR) and continuing the review.
Australian Beverages Council CEO, Geoff Parker, said the ABCL continues to support an evidence-based review approach as the Forum reconsiders the HSR of juice with no added sugar over the next few months.
"Our position remains that juice must receive a fair Health Star Rating that takes into account juice as a natural way to boost consumer intake of vitamins and minerals," Mr Parker said.
"Packed with nutrients and health benefits, juice plays an important role in providing vitamin C, potassium and folate.
"With 94 per cent of Australians failing to meet Australian Dietary Guidelines recommended one to two servings of fruit a day, an occasional small glass of juice with no added sugar is a great way to fill this gap."
"As the peak body representing 95pc of the beverage industry volume, the ABCL will continue to urge policy makers to ensure beverage products have a balanced Health Star Rating that acknowledges the need for choice, clarity and transparency for Australian consumers."
Citrus Australia's Mr Hancock thanked the members of the forum for recognising the nutritional benefits of fresh juice as they continue their review.