Heart Foundation Tick raises further concerns


By Joe Lederman
FoodLegal Lawyers and Consultants
© Lawmedia Pty Ltd, March 2011

FoodLegal Bulletin has previously examined the Tick logo criteria back in 2009. This FREE article of approximately 750 words examines similar issues raised in a recent article medical journal.

In an article published in February 2011 in the Medical Journal of Australia, leading Australian nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton set out a number of her criticisms concerning the Heart Foundation Tick, branding it a ‘distraction’ that may perpetuate the high incidence of diet-related health problems rather than reduce it.

In April 2009, our FoodLegal Bulletin article “Heart Foundation Tick criteria re-assessed” raised similar concerns about the eligibility criteria for the Tick logo endorsement scheme.


Product Categorization

Dr Rosemary Stanton now argues that the Heart Foundation’s criteria for being awarded the Tick are problematic as they vary for different product categories. For example, ‘[t]o earn the Tick, tomato sauce must have no added salt, but a similar restriction does not apply to salad dressings’. Dr Stanton argues that awarding Ticks in ‘food categories such as pies, frozen pizza, fast foods, sweet biscuits, rolled fruit confectionery and frozen meals’ sends the message that certain products within these categories may have a healthier nutritional profile than others in the same category, yet ‘the appropriate message to send to an overweight population is to avoid such products’ and to consume less-processed food.

This is similar to a point made by FoodLegal Bulletin in our abovementioned 2009 article in relation to processed breakfast cereals: 

The Heart Foundation believes that by giving the Tick endorsement to some processed breakfast cereals that provide healthier reformulations, this means that the Heart Foundation Tick is encouraging food processing companies to improve the nutritional profiles of their foods, even when there might be more natural wholefood or less-processed products without a voluntary heart tick that might be healthier than the Tick endorsed products. There remains a legal risk that consumers will not understand this and, if so, they will be misled. 


Lenient Sodium Requirements

Dr Stanton criticised the salt and fat criteria of the Tick logo program. For example, Dr Stanton cites some ready-made soup products carrying the Tick logo as containing around 1280 mg sodium per serve, when the adequate daily intake for sodium is 460–920 mg, with an upper limit of 2300 mg per day.

This leniency towards sodium content was noted by FoodLegal Bulletin back in 2009, particularly in the context of inconsistency between the Heart Foundation Tick Logo criteria and the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Standard 1.2.8 provides that “[a] claim to the effect that a food is low in salt or sodium content must not be made unless the food contains no more than 120 mg of sodium per 100 g of the food”. Yet the criterion for the Tick (for bread and breakfast cereals) sets the maximum level of sodium at 400mg per 100 g, over 3 times more than the amount permitted under Standard 1.2.8 of the Food Standards Code.

In other words, the Heart Foundation Tick appears to be giving an endorsement of relative healthiness to products that would never be permitted to carry “low sodium” or “low salt” claims under the requirements of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.


Lack of an Added Sugar Criterion

Added sugar is not a separate criterion in the Tick logo program, because the Heart Foundation believes that there is a common misunderstanding that added sugars and sugars naturally present in products like milk and fruit are inherently different. But as Dr Rosemary Stanton has now pointed out, this view fails to take into account the totality of a food’s nutrient profile.

fruit and milk contain a range of essential nutrients with their intrinsic sugars, whereas added sugar does not, and dietary guidelines for Australia and most other countries recommend limiting added sugar. 



The Cost of a Tick

The Tick logo implicitly represents that consumption has health implications. The Heart Foundation denies this but consumer expectations of the Heart Tick are that a food with the Heart Tick is the healthiest available option.

Yet as FoodLegal pointed out in our April 2009 article, the implications for food companies is that in order to use the Tick logo, a company must pay an annual licensing fee once it meets the criteria. As a result, there are products on the market that do not use the Tick logo for commercial reasons but are in actual fact healthier than products with the Tick logo.

For consumers, Dr Stanton notes that food products bearing the Tick almost invariably come at a higher price, while cheaper products that are comparable might have a similar or sometimes better nutritional profile. The cost of the Tick logo is passed on to the consumers, without necessarily promoting healthier diets across the board or a public change in attitude to food. The counter-argument is that the Heart Tick encourages food companies to improve the healthiness of their food on a continuing basis. It is a voluntary scheme.

 The Heart Foundation has also responded to Dr Rosemary Stanton’s criticisms in the same issue of the Medical Journal of Australia. 

This is general information rather than legal advice and is current as of 12 Dec 2015. We therefore recommend you seek legal advice for your particular circumstances if you want to rely on advice or information to be a basis for any commercial decision-making by you or your business.