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Letter to the Editor: Heart Foundation responds to FoodLegal Bulletin Article about Heart Tick Criteria

Published: 4 May 2009

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On 22 April 2009, Ms Susan Anderson, as National Director (Healthy Weight) of the Australian Heart Foundation, wrote a letter to FoodLegal Bulletin editor in response to our article published in the April 2009 issue of FoodLegal Bulletin.

In our April issue of FoodLegal Bulletin, we published our article “Heart Foundation Tick criteria re-assessed”, which is available only to subscribers of the FoodLegal Bulletin. In response, we have received the following letter to the editor:

Dear Mr Lederman

Letter to the Editor the Heart Foundation Tick criteria re-assessed

Being a trusted public health program is something the Heart Foundation Tick takes very seriously.

The Tick complies with certification rules of operation lodged with and approved by the ACCC and IP Australia. This includes any amendments made to the certification rules.

The Tick has continued to be successful in driving food companies - big and small - to take nutritional responsibility for their foods. While challenging food companies to provide healthier foods is the main objective of the Tick, we also require that companies seeking to earn the Tick meet a range of other requirements too.

The Heart Foundation Tick on a food indicates it has been independently tested and shown to meet the comprehensive, category-specific nutrition criteria. It is a healthier choice compared to similar foods. Tick does not make a specific nutrient content claim.

Foods displaying the Tick must however, be compliant with the FSANZ Code and the voluntary Code of Practice on Nutrition Claims. So a product with the Tick cannot make a 'low in salt' claim, for example, unless it also meets the FSANZ Code and Code of Practice on Nutrition Claims.

Heart Foundation scrutiny extends to every promotional item featuring the Tick, ensuring consumers are clear on which foods have earned the Tick. For foods eaten out, additional quality and food safety requirements must also be met.

Some food companies which use Tick criteria to create healthier foods both in the supermarket and for eating out, argue our challenges are unreasonable - 'it can't be done'. Despite this, many healthier Tick choices have resulted indicating that Tick's challenges are tough, but realistic.

Being realistic means requiring incremental improvements to the nutrition of foods, ensuring ongoing consumer taste acceptance so food companies can deliver healthier foods that Australians will eat.

The continued support of Tick by both consumers and food companies is proof that this realistic approach works.

We are proud of what the Tick has achieved for Australians in its 20 years of operation and we will continue in our efforts to improve the food supply.

Yours sincerely
Susan Anderson
National Director Healthy Weight, Heart Foundation

FoodLegal’s response:

The Heart Foundation’s letter is making the point that the Heart Tick licensee cannot make any other express claim that does not comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code and the Trade Practices Act and the voluntary Code of Practice on Nutrient Claims in Food Labels and in Advertisements.

The following issues, however, need to be considered:

  1. That the Heart Tick itself may carry an inferred claim that the Heart Foundation may not intend. The Tick is supposed to show that a food product is at the healthier end of the spectrum for that category. The problem is that a product with a Heart Tick may be interpreted by consumers as being, for example, low in salt when that product does not meet the Food Standards Code definition of “low in salt”.
  2. Furthermore, Australian Food News had recently reported on an American study which found that consumers are much more likely to choose an unhealthy food option if they are presented with a range of food options that include a healthy item like a salad, than if they are presented with a menu of unhealthy items only. Therefore, endorsing one item on a menu when that restaurant predominantly sells unhealthier products may in fact lead to consumers choosing more unhealthy options than previously.

However, FoodLegal also acknowledges that companies are not being allowed to do whatever they might like to do. Australian Food News reported 29 April 2009 that Nestle will phase out the Heart Tick logo on its Milo products in New Zealand, which follows controversy and some pressure on the company since it was granted the tick by the National Heart Foundation of New Zealand last year. Nestle has said that the change is part of its new commercial direction.