New South Wales Premier Kristina Kenneally yesterday announced that menus for fast-food outlets across NSW will be required to display kilojoule information on their printed and menu boards, as of February 1st 2011.
The regulations will apply to any food outlet with twenty or more stores in NSW, or 50 or more stores across Australia.
The move follows a similar decision to put nutritional information on Victorian menus by 2012, but will affect smaller chains, with the Victorian regulations covering only restaurants with 50 or more outlets in the state or 200 nationwide.
The decision follows outcomes from the Fast Food Forum in August this year, hosted by Premier Keneally in August and co-chaired by former NSW Premier and healthy food advocate, Bob Carr, and Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Patricia Forsythe.
The Fast Food Forum brought together Government, industry, public health professionals and stakeholders to discuss food content and how to give consumers better nutritional information at the point of sale.
“This is a responsible approach to healthy living. It’s clear that people want to make an informed choice about their food,” Keneally said. “More and more NSW families are eating fast food, and if they’re not preparing food themselves, they want more information about what they are eating. NSW consumers will now have the benefit of clear information about the kilojoule content of the food they order from fast food businesses.”
Previously, most fast-food chains made their nutritional information available online, and through in-store nutrition leaflets.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan said the new rules would establish a level playing field across traditional fast food chains as well as café and coffee chains, bakery chains, snack food chains, juice bars and ice cream chains.
“Any ‘healthy image’ conveyed by these businesses will have to be supported by genuine nutritional data,” he said. “Similar models overseas – such as the United States and the United Kingdom – are beginning to demonstrate long term benefits to community health, including moves by the standard menu food retail industry to produce and market healthier product ranges.”
NSW Minister for Health Carmel Tebbutt said the 2009 NSW Population Health Survey showed more than half of adults in NSW are overweight or obese.
“Sadly, the financial and health costs of obesity and associated chronic disease are significant,” Tebbutt said. “This model will allow consumers to consider the complete picture and take into account their own total daily energy requirements before they buy.”
The move has been welcomed by major fast food companies and health organisations.
“There is building evidence that menu labelling encourages people to make healthier choices, especially parents choosing meals for their children,” said Tony Thirlwell, CEO of the NSW Heart Foundation. “Given the fact that 4.5 million Australians eat out at fast food or snack food outlets everyday, we must learn by doing.
“Labelling information needs to be on menus where it’s going to be noticed if we’re serious about helping people make healthier choices and reducing the risk of heart disease, the number one killer of Australian men and women.
“We think the Premier has set the standard for industry consultation,” said Albert Baladi, Managing Director of KFC and Pizza Hut Australia. “We share her vision of providing consumers with information to make sensible dietary choices.
“By bringing together industry, health experts and government, we believe we have arrived at a solution that achieves that aim. It supplements the information we already provide freely on packaging, in store and on our website.
“While we will always serve that great taste that our customers crave, we also will continue to provide more nutritious food, through reducing salt, introducing low saturated fat oils and providing grilled options.”
McDonalds CEO Catriona Noble also welcomed the decision.
“McDonald’s Australia is committed to helping our customers make informed decisions about their food choices,” said Noble. “Nutrition information has always been available in our restaurants, and we were the first Quick Service Restaurant in Australia to introduce nutrition labelling on our packaging.”
“We believe menu board labelling is another way we can help Australians make informed food choices and forms one part of a broader solution working in collaboration with the government to address the public health issue of obesity. We are committed to continue to collaborate with government to help evaluate the menu board labelling scheme.”
The initiative will be evaluated over twelve months, although it is not clear whether this will be the same twelve months as the implementation period. The $1.5 million evaluation will include consumer education, as well as consultation with the industry, consumer advocate and health bodies who helped develop the policy. The evaluation will also investigate the possibility of expanding the scheme to include other nutrients, such as saturated fat and sodium content.