By Growcom CEO Stephen Barnard

The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation will meet on 12 February.

The Forum is responsible for approving food policy and reviewing all food standards, and comprises Ministers from all Australian States and Territories, as well Ministers from the Australian and New Zealand federal governments.

While normally meetings of the Forum would come and go without much fuss, the February meeting promises to be controversial due to one agenda item in particular.

As part of proposed changes, the Forum will vote on whether fresh juice with no added sugar will lose its current 5-Star health rating, and drop to between 2 and 3½-Stars. As a result it will be possible for diet soft drinks to rate as highly as fresh juice.

The horticulture industry is advocating against the change for a number of different reasons.

First, the downgraded rating appears to be driven primarily by sugar content, which freshly squeezed juice naturally contains, and doesn’t take into account all the essential nutrients fresh juice also includes.

In this way, the lower rating conflicts with the bible of what we should be eating, the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which differentiates between fresh juice and other beverages that are comparatively low in nutrients.

The downgrade also creates an unnecessary headache for public health communicators, who will need to explain why a freshly squeezed juice without any additional sugar receives 2-Stars while the fruit it comes from receives 5-Stars.

We struggle enough already getting any Australians to meet their recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables without risking them choose a diet soft drink over fresh juice.

The horticulture industry is requesting that 100% fresh fruit and vegetable juice with no added sugar receive a Health Star Rating score of 4-Stars.

Growcom this week will be making this request directly to Queensland Government representatives on the Forum, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath and Agriculture Minister Mark Furner.

With up to 70% of the fruit used in juice nationwide grown in Queensland, it will be our growers more than others who’ll be left with a lingering sour taste should the proposed downgrade be approved.