A health star food rating system at the centre of a scandal involving Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash has been given the green light by federal and state ministers.
Industry and consumer groups on Friday were quick to welcome the decision, in which food companies wishing to partake adopt the star rating system for their products over the next five years.
Supermarket giant Woolworths has already announced it’s on board, agreeing to implement the star rating system for its own brand ranges.
A website designed to help consumers make healthier food decisions will follow in August once an education campaign has been finalised.
The disappearance of the first health star website just 20 hours after it went online earlier this year sparked a major scandal and calls for Senator Nash to resign.
Her chief of staff Alastair Furnival was accused of intervening to have the website removed, with Labor suggesting his alleged links to the junk food industry had influenced his decision.
Senator Nash insists it was her call to take the website down, but accepted Mr Furnival’s resignation at the height of the scandal.
She was forced to defend that decision again on Friday as news broke that the star rating system would be proceeding.
“It was just sensible not to let the website (earlier this year) go forward,” she told Sky News on Friday.
“The website was going to be very confusing for people without the education campaign.”
A number of “anomalies” with the original website had been fixed and a cost benefit analysis since conducted, she added.
Labor welcomed the decision by the state and territory ministers, but said months of advocacy wouldn’t have been necessary had Senator Nash not “unilaterally” pulled down the website.
“Minister Nash is clearly not up to the task of Assistant Minister for Health,” opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said in a statement.
Consumer group CHOICE said the star system would help shoppers compare the health benefits of products at a glance, and urged food manufacturers to start rolling out the ratings.
The Australian Food and Grocery Council said it could be expensive for some cash-strapped companies to adopt major labelling changes and it would be up to them to decide whether or not to opt in.
The system will be reviewed after two years.