Australia / NZ

In Australia, Advocates Call for Improved Health Rating for Olive Oil

An independent report commissioned by the Australian government recommended that olive oil's health star rating should not be improved due to its saturated fat content. Opponents said the report misses the bigger health picture.

Sep. 2, 2019
By Daniel Dawson

Recent News

The issue of whether or not olive oil should receive spe­cial treat­ment in Australia’s national Health Star Rating (HSR) system will be brought up at the next meet­ing of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on food reg­u­la­tion.

Currently, olive oil is ranked as less healthy than canola or sun­flower oil by the system due to its sat­u­rated fat con­tent and with­out taking into account health­ful con­tent, such as polyphe­nols or omega‑3 fatty acids.

There will be no per­fect system for every single food but, once you’ve taken account of all the evi­dence, it has to have some sort of log­i­cal con­sis­tency.- Anna Peeters, Deakin University

In the run-up to the reg­u­la­tory meet­ing, the Australian gov­ern­ment hired a con­sult­ing firm to audit the HSR system and to deter­mine whether olive oil’s rating should be changed based on fac­tors not cur­rently taken into con­sid­er­a­tion by the system.

“The review acknowl­edges the evi­dence sub­mit­ted by stake­hold­ers regard­ing the their report. “However, the review is mind­ful that the HSR cal­cu­la­tor can only draw on a finite set of fac­tors to deter­mine a pro­duc­t’s HSR.”

See more: Australia and New Zealand Olive Oil News

“While olive oil has cer­tain health ben­e­fits, it is also higher in sat­u­rated fats than some other oils,” the authors of the report added.


The HSR system, which gives all pack­aged foods in the two coun­tries a grade rang­ing from one star (least healthy) to five stars (most healthy), takes calo­ries, sodium con­tent, sat­u­rated fat, total sugars, pro­tein and fiber into account when deter­min­ing the rating.

Several health experts have warned that the narrow scope of the HSR system under­mines the idea of the rating system.

“There will be no per­fect system for every single food but, once you’ve taken account of all the evi­dence, it has to have some sort of log­i­cal con­sis­tency — oth­er­wise it gets under­mined and people don’t under­stand what’s right and not right and why,” Anna Peeters, the direc­tor of the Institute for Health Transformation at Deakin University, told The Sydney Morning Herald.


Peeters has asked Australian politi­cians not to dis­count olive oil’s unique health prop­er­ties and instead sug­gested that the HSR system should align more closely with “what con­sumers log­i­cally under­stand about healthy food choices.”

In its report, MPS Consulting insisted that olive oil could not be dif­fer­en­ti­ated from other cook­ing oils “on the basis of fac­tors not con­sid­ered for any other prod­uct.”


Other advo­cates for a change in olive oil’s health rank­ing argued that instead of scrap­ping the whole system, the amount of sat­u­rated fats allowed in foods with an HSR score of five (the health­i­est) should be increased.

At present, pack­aged foods are required to have a sat­u­rated fat con­tent of less than 12 per­cent to be con­sid­ered for the five-star rating. Olive oil has a sat­u­rated fat con­tent of 14 per­cent and receives an HSR of three to 3.5 (depend­ing on its grade).

“Some stake­hold­ers sug­gested that all edible oils with less than or equal to 15 per­cent sat­u­rated fat should auto­mat­i­cally score an HSR of five,” MPS Consulting wrote. “However, this result cannot be achieved through the HSR cal­cu­la­tor with­out equally increas­ing the HSRs of mar­garines and non-dairy blends with sat­u­rated fat less than or equal to 15 per­cent, sig­nif­i­cantly reduc­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion between prod­ucts in this cat­e­gory.”

Joanna McMillan, a nutri­tion sci­en­tist and dieti­cian at Latrobe University, in Melbourne, and sci­en­tific advi­sor for Boundary Bend, thinks that the HSR system is too nar­rowly focused on single ingre­di­ents and should instead focus on entire diets.

“Nutritional sci­ence has moved away from single nutri­ents like sat­u­rated fat and more into dietary pat­terns,” McMillan told The Sydney Morning Herald. “Eating a party pie is not the same as eating a piece of cheese even if they have the same sat­u­rated fat.”

Other advo­cates for chang­ing olive oil’s health rank­ing have called for edible oils to be exempt from the HRS system, sim­i­lar to single-ingre­di­ent foods such as salt and sugar.

However, MPS Consulting responded that other single-ingre­di­ent pack­aged food items, such as fruits, veg­eta­bles, meats and rice all received a rating, which helps cus­tomers make informed deci­sions.


“Removing edible oils from the system would limit the infor­ma­tion avail­able to con­sumers to make health­ier choices in this cat­e­gory,” the authors of the report wrote.

State and fed­eral min­is­ters from both coun­tries are expected to make their final deci­sion on the issue at the food reg­u­la­tion meet­ing in November.