By Rowan Robinson
Superfoods – Fact or Fiction ?
We have all seen the headlines with claims that they can cure cancer, reduce ageing and promote weight loss. But what are the scientific facts, legislation, and consumer protections behind the ‘superfood’ stories?
The fact is, for all of our perceived health awareness, we simply don’t know all that much about our food, and we certainly don’t know enough to say exactly what makes a true “superfood”.
The Term “Superfood”
First off, lets look at the term “Superfood”. What does it mean, and what does it take to be one ?
Where Did I Go For Answers?
I reached out for positions and opinions about “Superfoods” from some government departments and reputable peak bodies such as the ACCC, FSANZ, Consumer Affairs Victoria, and the Dietitians Association of Australia in order to give a balanced perspective and where possible a more authoritative understanding.
I have also contacted the State and Federal Health Ministers for comment.
What About Legislation?
Like any good do-it-yourself lawyer I hit the Internet in search of some legal definition and/or criteria that a “superfood” has to meet in order to call itself a superfood.
Who Said What
I received the following document via email communication from a representative of the Department of Health on 15.02.2017
A pdf statement from the Department of Health relating to superfoods.
Federal Department of Health
I received the following email communication from the Dietitians Association of Australia on 15.02.2017
A statement from DAA outlining a position on superfoods.
- The word ‘superfood’ has no official definition, and there are no rules around what foods it applies to, so it pays to be wary of the term.
- Often the term ‘superfood’ is paired with exotic sounding, usually pricey foods, like chia seeds, goji berries, and quinoa.
- Although many of these are indeed healthy, more accessible and affordable foods are often just as healthy as these. (For example, broccoli vs kale, blueberries vs goji berries).
- People are busier than ever and want to get the best ‘bang for their buck,’ but in reality, we know there is no one magic food to eat for good health.
- The best recipe for healthy eating is choosing a variety of whole foods from the core food groups.
The Food Standards Code does not contain definitions for terms such as superfood. Health claims are voluntary statements made by manufacturers which must be based on food-health relationships that have been substantiated according to Standard 1.2.7 of the Code. There are different levels of health claims and different requirements for manufacturers who wish to use them. You can find out more about these claims here .
Fair trading and food laws in Australia and New Zealand require that labels do not misinform consumers through false, misleading or deceptive representations. In Australia, this legislation includes the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) contained in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, and state and territory Fair Trading Acts and Food Acts. In New Zealand, this legislation includes the Food Act 2014 and Fair Trading Act 1986.
In Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) enforces the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. In New Zealand, the Commerce Commission is responsible for enforcing the Fair Trading Act 1986.
The Federal Department of Health’s Healthy Food Partnership aims to improve the dietary habits of Australians by making healthier food choices easier and more accessible and by raising awareness of better food choices and portion sizes. You can find out more about this initiative here . It also important to note that food regulation policy is undertaken by ministers from Australia and New Zealand who make up the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation . The Forum has two distinct roles as a decision maker. It must carry out its responsibilities as outlined at the link above, and is also required to be the food regulation system arbitrator. To do this, the Forum must balance food regulation in the bi-national interest with potentially competing views from consumers, from industry and from itself.
As an industry association, we make no claims about wine being a ‘superfood’, and we encourage all our members and the broader industry to abide by the comprehensive food labelling and related regulations regarding health (and any other) claims/descriptions about their products.Winemakers Federation of Australia spokesperson
From my conversation it appears that CAV do not have an official position on “superfoods”. If it was not covered by the articles on Misleading or deceptive conduct or Health claims then it would be best to approach the ACCC.