The issue of whether or not olive oil should receive spe­cial treat­ment in Australia’s national Health Star Rating (HSR) sys­tem will be brought up at the next meet­ing of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on food reg­u­la­tion.

Currently, olive oil is ranked as less healthy than canola or sun­flower oil by the sys­tem due to its sat­u­rated fat con­tent and with­out tak­ing into account health­ful con­tent, such as polyphe­nols or omega‑3 fatty acids.

There will be no per­fect sys­tem for every sin­gle food but, once you’ve taken account of all the evi­dence, it has to have some sort of log­i­cal con­sis­tency.- Anna Peeters, Deakin University

In the run-​up to the reg­u­la­tory meet­ing, the Australian gov­ern­ment hired a con­sult­ing firm to audit the HSR sys­tem and to deter­mine whether olive oil’s rat­ing should be changed based on fac­tors not cur­rently taken into con­sid­er­a­tion by the sys­tem.

“The review acknowl­edges the evi­dence sub­mit­ted by stake­hold­ers regard­ing the their report. “However, the review is mind­ful that the HSR cal­cu­la­tor can only draw on a finite set of fac­tors to deter­mine a pro­duc­t’s HSR.”

See more: Australia and New Zealand Olive Oil News

“While olive oil has cer­tain health ben­e­fits, it is also higher in sat­u­rated fats than some other oils,” the authors of the report added.

The HSR sys­tem, which gives all pack­aged foods in the two coun­tries a grade rang­ing from one star (least healthy) to five stars (most healthy), takes calo­ries, sodium con­tent, sat­u­rated fat, total sug­ars, pro­tein and fiber into account when deter­min­ing the rat­ing.

Several health experts have warned that the nar­row scope of the HSR sys­tem under­mines the idea of the rat­ing sys­tem.

“There will be no per­fect sys­tem for every sin­gle food but, once you’ve taken account of all the evi­dence, it has to have some sort of log­i­cal con­sis­tency — oth­er­wise it gets under­mined and peo­ple don’t under­stand what’s right and not right and why,” Anna Peeters, the direc­tor of the Institute for Health Transformation at Deakin University, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Peeters has asked Australian politi­cians not to dis­count olive oil’s unique health prop­er­ties and instead sug­gested that the HSR sys­tem should align more closely with “what con­sumers log­i­cally under­stand about healthy food choices.”

In its report, MPS Consulting insisted that olive oil could not be dif­fer­en­ti­ated from other cook­ing oils “on the basis of fac­tors not con­sid­ered for any other prod­uct.”

Other advo­cates for a change in olive oil’s health rank­ing argued that instead of scrap­ping the whole sys­tem, the amount of sat­u­rated fats allowed in foods with an HSR score of five (the health­i­est) should be increased.

At present, pack­aged foods are required to have a sat­u­rated fat con­tent of less than 12 per­cent to be con­sid­ered for the five-​star rat­ing. Olive oil has a sat­u­rated fat con­tent of 14 per­cent and receives an HSR of three to 3.5 (depend­ing on its grade).

“Some stake­hold­ers sug­gested that all edi­ble oils with less than or equal to 15 per­cent sat­u­rated fat should auto­mat­i­cally score an HSR of five,” MPS Consulting wrote. “However, this result can­not be achieved through the HSR cal­cu­la­tor with­out equally increas­ing the HSRs of mar­garines and non-​dairy blends with sat­u­rated fat less than or equal to 15 per­cent, sig­nif­i­cantly reduc­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion between prod­ucts in this cat­e­gory.”

Joanna McMillan, a nutri­tion sci­en­tist and dieti­cian at Latrobe University, in Melbourne, and sci­en­tific advi­sor for Boundary Bend, thinks that the HSR sys­tem is too nar­rowly focused on sin­gle ingre­di­ents and should instead focus on entire diets.

“Nutritional sci­ence has moved away from sin­gle nutri­ents like sat­u­rated fat and more into dietary pat­terns,” McMillan told The Sydney Morning Herald. “Eating a party pie is not the same as eat­ing a piece of cheese even if they have the same sat­u­rated fat.”

Other advo­cates for chang­ing olive oil’s health rank­ing have called for edi­ble oils to be exempt from the HRS sys­tem, sim­i­lar to single-​ingredient foods such as salt and sugar.

However, MPS Consulting responded that other single-​ingredient pack­aged food items, such as fruits, veg­eta­bles, meats and rice all received a rat­ing, which helps cus­tomers make informed deci­sions.

“Removing edi­ble oils from the sys­tem would limit the infor­ma­tion avail­able to con­sumers to make health­ier choices in this cat­e­gory,” the authors of the report wrote.

State and fed­eral min­is­ters from both coun­tries are expected to make their final deci­sion on the issue at the food reg­u­la­tion meet­ing in November.


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