Mr PASIN (Barker) (19:55): I rise tonight to defend the interests of citrus producers in my electorate of Barker. The Riverland is the food bowl of South Australia and is, I’d argue, Australia’s premiere citrus district. The region will of course be important if we are to make true on Australia’s goal of $100 billion of agricultural output by 2030. In fact, our government is serious about meeting this milestone, and I will not stand by while citrus producers are punished by bureaucratic nonsense. On 27 November, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation rejected a proposal to give minimum four-star health ratings to 100 per cent Australian-made fruit juices with no added sugar. By rejecting this fair proposal, the ministerial forum is allowing fruit and, for that matter, vegetable juices to be rated as low as two health stars, based purely on their sugar content, ranking them lower than some soft drinks . Diet soft drink is rated more healthy than 100 per cent fresh Australian fruit juices. It’s madness! While I appreciate that fruit juice does contain sugars, there is a large difference between added cane sugar made of 100 per cent sucrose as is found in soft drinks and the natural sugars present in fresh juice predominantly made up of fructose, not considering the nutritional content of fruit juice. It’s reprehensible, considering that the health star rating should be focused on overall health, not just a product’s sugar content.
The low health star rating of juice contradicts the Australian Dietary Guidelines which place fresh juice in the ‘eat more’ category. These guidelines allow for fruit juice as a substitute for whole fruit, with a 125 millilitre glass of orange juice containing half the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and equating to one serve of fruit. Beyond vitamin C, orange juice is rich in folates and is a good source of thiamine, which is used to produce energy. It also contains polyphenols, which are antioxidants; beta carotene, which is a producer of antioxidants; and low-GI carbs for prolonged energy. These nutritional benefits also make it an excellent form of hydration, so it beggars belief that all natural juice can be rated so low.
I can only surmise that the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation possesses a lack of understanding of the nutritional benefits of fresh fruit. At a time when only five per cent of Australians get their daily recommended servings of fruit and vegetables, we shouldn’t be dissuading consumers from purchasing natural fruit juice by using a misleading health rating. As a result of the decrease in the health star rating from the current five-star rating of many juices to as low as two stars, I feel certain that we’ll see fruit juice removed from school canteens, family trolleys and the breakfast bar, inevitably leading to decreased demand. This is the last thing we should be doing to Australia’s citrus producers as, domestically, Australian juice has already declined 30 per cent in 18 years. Our government has been outspoken in its condemnation of this decision. I’ll continue to fight for our producers because I know that, without them, rural communities suffer. Well-known companies such as Nippy’s have become household names, and this is one of the businesses that will suffer from this decision. They are one of the many food producers in my electorate playing an essential role in value-adding to our already premium produce.
As everyone in this place knows, food manufacturing is one of the six priorities of our government’s $1.3 billion Modern Manufacturing Strategy. Our commitment to manufacturing and value-adding in our economy will not be swayed, even by this very poor decision. I urge the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation to do the right thing and rethink their decision. For the benefit of our producers and the overall health of the Australian population, the proposal for a minimum four-star rating is the very least they can expect, and we should assign that four-star rating to fresh Australian 100 per cent fruit juice. Until then, I encourage everyone to set aside the health star ratings and do their bit by grabbing a bottle—or, maybe, two—of 100 per cent Australian fruit juice next time they visit the grocery store. It’s a great product, it’s a healthy product, and, by buying it, you’re supporting Australian farmers and regional communities.