A fight over health star ratings is threatening to turn sour with states being squeezed to ensure soft drinks don’t outscore fruit juice.
Citrus growers are increasingly bitter over changes to the consumer guide, which now rates fresh apple juice two stars and diet cola-three and-a-half.
Australian orange juice scores two-and-a-half under the new algorithm that puts extra emphasis on total sugar in the drinks.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is urging Victoria, Queensland, WA and Tasmania to back his plan to lock in a four-star rating for fresh juice at a ministerial meeting next week.
He said the new calculation punished Australian farmers for producing locally grown nutritious fruit and vegetable juices.
“It is simply ludicrous for the majority of states to support the classification of fizzy drinks like diet colas healthier than a glass of pure fruit or vegetable juice,” he told AAP on Thursday.
NSW and South Australia have backed the push for a four-star rating.
Mr Littleproud is concerned classifying juices as worse than soft drinks will turn consumers off natural products and undermine confidence in the star rating system.
“Agriculture needs to be confident that governments are making sensible decisions when it comes to the regulation of food products,” he said.
“Ultimately however there also needs to be some personal responsibility of consumers about the quantities of any food group they put down their throats, but this one is just crazy.”
Citrus Australia chief executive Nathan Hancock said the changes to fruit juice labelling could cost orange growers $67 million.
“The algorithm that underpins the health star rating targets total sugars indiscriminately and disregards the health benefits provided by 100 per cent fruit juice, which contains natural sugars from the fruit as well as essential nutrients,” he said.
A 125ml glass of Australian fresh orange juice has an average of 7.1 grams of sugar.
But growers argue it also contains vitamin C and folate not found in fizzy drinks.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation will meet next Friday to decide on Mr Littleproud’s proposal.