The profitability of Victorian fruit and vegetable growers will be carved up after the Andrews Labor Government refused to fight a decision to label locally-produced fruit juice less healthy than diet soft drink.
The controversial decision comes as part of a review of the health star rating (HSR) system by the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, which includes two Victorian representatives – Health Minister Martin Foley and Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas.
The HSR changes will see 100 per cent natural Victorian fruit juice (no added sugar) labelled with less stars than highly-processed diet soft drinks which have no nutritional content.
Shadow Minister for Agriculture Peter Walsh said the Andrews Labor Government ignored the industry’s economic contribution to rural communities by failing to stand against the changes.
“What message are we sending our kids by telling them that soft drinks are healthier than locally-produced, natural fruit and vegetable juices,” Mr Walsh said.
“Victorians want to live a healthy lifestyle, and make sure our kids do too, but this decision actually has the opposite effect.
“Before these changes, fruit juices averaged about 4.9 stars, but now they’ll fall to a rating of between two and 3.3 stars, meanwhile, diet soft drinks actually increase from two to 3.5 stars.
“By refusing to stop these changes, Martin Foley and Mary-Anne Thomas are standing by as the life is squeezed out of Victoria’s fresh fruit and vegetable juice industry.”
The decision was bitterly opposed by representative body Citrus Australia, which says the changes will further threaten the $736 million Australian fruit juice industry.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud put up a proposal last year to automatically grant a four-star HSR to 100 per cent, no added sugar, fruit and vegetable juice. But this was knocked back.
“Juice manufacturers who buy fruit and vegetables from Victorian farmers are questioning the value of even being involved in the health star rating system when it delivers a blow like this to Victorian growers and processors,” Mr Walsh said.