Farmers fume over fears juice rated same as soft drinks
Queensland fruit growers fear they will go out of business as a looming health rating shake-up could bring 'no-added sugar' juice in line with some soft drinks.
A review of the system proposes scrapping fresh juice's five-star rating to as low as two stars, because juice contains naturally occurring sugar.
The move is expected to be another blow for already struggling Queenslander farmers, who grow 70 per cent of the fruit used in Australian juices.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, which Queensland ministers Yvette D'Ath and Mark Furner sit on, will vote on the health rating on February 12.
A proposal to give fresh juice an automatic four-star rating was rejected at the forum's November meeting.
Cathy Cook, from Beverages Australia, said the change sent a confusing message to consumers and could close the doors of local businesses. "Consumers are going to get confused and they will stop buying it, and when they stop buying it the juice processors won't need as much of it and the hurt is passed on to the growers," she said.
Queensland has more than 1000 growers and some small players feared they would go out of business.
Growcom chief executive Stephen Barnard wrote to his Queensland members to warn about the looming change.
"As a result it will be possible for diet soft drinks to rate as highly as fresh juice," he wrote. "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 two stars while the fruit it comes from receives five stars.
Nutritionist and dietitian Rachael Bradford said that in theory the health star rating was to help consumers compare nutritional profiles of similar packaged foods.
"Health star ratings only takes into account certain nutrients, for example protein and fibre, and energy, fats, sugar and salt," she said.
"It does not differentiate added sugars versus natural sugars that are in foods."
Dad Rigo Molina agreed.
"Everything should be in moderation," he said.
"A bit of juice is OK, especially for very active kids, but we use it as a treat."
A spokeswoman for Ms D'Ath said: "Ahead of the forum, consultation is continuing to take place."
Originally published as Farmers fume over fears fresh juice rated the same as soft drinks