Exclusive: Shoppers will soon have at-a-glance health info as Govt plans star ratings for food products.

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Shoppers will soon know which foods are healthiest as the Government introduces a system to rate nutritional value. The Herald understands the Government is poised to confirm New Zealand will adopt the Healthy Star Rating system used in Australia -- albeit on an opt-in basis. The Australian system is similar to our energy-use ratings for domestic appliances. It rates packaged foods from half a star to five stars. The most unhealthy products, such as soft drinks, rank one star. Most cereals rank around two and a half. The healthiest, five-star products, include trim milk and plain yoghurt. The decision is likely to be welcomed by health and consumer advocates who have long called for clearer, more comprehensive nutrition labelling. Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye is meeting the Australian and New Zealand Ministers Food Regulation Forum today and is expected to tell her counterparts NZ will immediately adopt the packaging regime. Companies will be given the tools to calculate their rating and three choices -- publishing them on their packaging, reformulating their ingredients, or ignoring the rating. The results of a major cross-party health inquiry released last November recommended that NZ immediately adopt the star system on a trial basis and make it mandatory within three years if compliance was low. The Government would be reluctant to force all firms to change their labelling because the cost to a small business is estimated at $12,000. It has been grappling with ways to provide simple, at-a-glance information about nutrition that helps consumers without penalising the food industry. Some health groups have lobbied for the adoption of the British "traffic light" system, which grades salt, sugar, and fat levels by ranking each with a red, amber, or green light. Officials felt this system emphasised negative qualities and would have unintended consequences, such as making soft drinks appear healthier than milk. The star system looks at four aspects of food associated with increasing risk factors for chronic disease, energy, saturated fat, sodium and total sugars. It also considers positive aspects such as fruit and vegetable content, dietary fibre and protein content. The Food & Grocery Council has previously warned of anomalies. Because the rankings are calculated per 100g or per 100ml, products like Marmite could get a bad ranking for their salt content even though 100g is significantly higher than the recommended single serving. There were also concerns about how some companies could fit the rankings on their labels. But it's understood the Government is going with star ratings because they are easy to understand, emphasise healthy qualities and give companies an incentive to recalibrate their ingredients.

Reader opinions

Would you like to know more about the food you are buying? Should a star-rating system be compulsory? Ross Burnett, 58, Manawatu I'm a diabetic so sugar content is what I look for when I buy our food. At the moment, I'm trying to grow my own food. I'm a farmer so I eat my own beef. I know where that's come from and what's in it and I'd like to see that for the food I buy from the supermarket. I think a compulsory scheme for all foods would be a really good idea. William Ko, 22, Avondale If I can't read the ingredients then I won't buy it. I'm a personal trainer so what I eat is really important to me. I eat a lot of organic stuff. Tyler Chiplin, 20, Mangere Bridge I sometimes look at things but I usually don't. I just buy the same foods every day and I know that they're fatty - energy drinks and fast foods. But it would be helpful to have something that let people see exactly how good or not good something was. I'd definitely read it then, I think. Chyenne Carroll, 27, Mt Eden I'm not fussy about labels because I tend to buy fresh foods. I think it would be a good idea to help people see what's in the food they're buying.