FRESH juice's Health Star Rating will remain at 2.5 stars.
The outcome emerged Friday from the Food Regulation Forum, comprising ministers from every Australian state and territory who met to review the rating.
NSW and SA supported a proposal to give fresh juice a four star rating, however, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, ACT and New Zealand rejected the proposal.
Citrus Australia chief executive officer, Nathan Hancock, said his organisation was "gutted" and that the state governments that opposed the decision had "lost their way".
Citrus Australia has continually proclaimed that Diet Coke (3.5 stars) would be rated healthier than fresh juice.
"What message does that tell the Australian agriculture industry and Australian consumers?" Mr Hancock said.
"Despite evidence that fresh juice contains nutrients vital to physical and mental well-being, these governments have deferred to the anti-sugar lobby, which has had fresh juice in its sights since the Health Star Rating system was formed.
"Governments have missed a chance to encourage consumption of fruit and vegetables in the form of juice, choosing to cave to the anti-sugar brigade against all logic.
"It is a sad day not only for juice growers who already do it tough, and who now have a question mark over the long term viability of their industry as a result of the lost sales that will result from this decision, but for the entire agricultural industry who have been let down by their elected representatives."
Littleproud's idea shunned
FEDERAL agriculture minister, David Littleproud, who proposed the review of fresh juice's rating to four stars, said it was "madness".
"Fresh, pure, vitamin-rich Aussie OJ is better than soft drink every day of the week and our Health Star Rating system should reflect this," Mr Littleproud said.
"At a time when we need more jobs, and our farm and food processing sector need more support, governments are abandoning them."
He said the decision will cause consumer confusion and impact sales in an already difficult year for farmers.
"The disgraceful decision has undermined the integrity of the entire Health Star Rating system, and will lead to juice manufacturers dropping the health label altogether, leaving consumers worse off," Mr Littleproud said.
Earlier this week, major horticulture group Ausveg showed its support for a higher rating for fresh juice.
These governments may as well just relabel the Health Star Rating system as the Hate Sugar Rating system and be done with it.- Nathan Hancock, CEO, Citrus Australia
Ausveg CEO, James Whiteside, said that the broader health benefits of natural fruit and vegetable juices must be taken into account with decisions around HSRs, especially for natural products such as fruit and vegetable juices.
"While about 3 per cent, or 93,000 tonnes, of total annual vegetable production in Australia is consumed in juice form each year, it is important the messaging around the Health Star Rating system doesn't confuse consumers," Mr Whiteside said.
"People reading labels that tell them a soft drink, which has added sugars and artificial sweeteners, has a higher HSR than a natural juice would be confused and could be led to believe that fruits and vegetables are not healthy, which is simply not the case."
"We should be making it easier for people to decide what is healthy and what is not; myriad research and advice from nutritionists and scientists highlights the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables for maintaining a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle."
Unsupportive states cop it
BOTH Mr Littleproud and Citrus Australia's Mr Hancock took particularly aim at the Western Australian, Victorian and Queensland governments.
"These states reap the reward of strong citrus growing sectors, who provide financial and social benefits to rural and regional communities," Mr Hancock said.
"These family operations received no support from their state governments, who deferred to their health departments that had a laser-like focus on one element of juice.
"These governments may as well just relabel the Health Star Rating system as the Hate Sugar Rating system and be done with it.
"The average consumer in Australia is consuming sugar in products like white bread, breakfast cereal, tinned products and diet yoghurt.
"Instead of supporting an Australian grown and produced product, governments have sent a clumsy message about the relative health benefits of diet soft drink."
Mr Hancock thanked Mr Littleproud and the SA and NSW governments for their support.
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