1493199212933 - Ticks, stars and ‘no’s: What do food labels mean?

Ticks, stars and ‘no’s: What do food labels mean?

When you are racing around the supermarket, trying to fill your trolley before your children go postal, it can be hard to take the time to read product labels.

You often rely on a Health Star or Heart Foundation logo for reassurance that a product is a good choice. Or look for an SPCA or “organic” accreditation to ease your mind about what your decision means for the environment.

But what do all the food labels really mean?

SPCA Tick: 

The SPCA Tick is available to meat and egg producers who meet animal welfare standards. Producers have to ensure their animals have enough to eat and drink, are not uncomfortable, are not in pain, sick or injured, are able to express natural behaviour and do not suffer fear and distress. Farms are audited at least once a year and they pay royalties to the SPCA based on sales. The SPCA’s “Blue Tick” is available for free-range and barn-laid eggs with up to 5000 birds per barn.

READ MORE: Food labels may be designed to fool

Heart Foundation Tick:

The tick is designed as a front-of-package cue to customers to help them choose healthier products. To comply, food must have no more than 800kJ of energy in a serve, no more than 1.5g of saturated fat, no more than 25 per cent sugar and at least 3g of fibre per serve, among other criteria. The tick is being phased out as the Health Star ratings take over.

Health Star:

The Health Star rating system was introduced in 2014 on a voluntary basis. The star rating is calculated based on the energy, protein, saturated fat, sugars, fibre and sodium levels. Positive nutrients, such as fibre and protein, can offset the negative such as sugar. That means that some cereals, for example, achieve good star ratings despite being sugary, because they have high fibre content.


Farmers can have up to 2500 hens per hectare outside, and nine hens per square metre inside. They must have access to the outdoors and “best practice” dictates they have some shelter. Consumer NZ says compliance isn’t routinely monitored.


Organic usually means food that is produced without conventional pesticides, fertlisers or bioengineering. But it does not have to mean food that is not processed. Companies have to be able to back up their claims that what they are selling is “organic” but there are no specific standards in New Zealand. There are four main organic certification schemes they can choose to be certified by – AsureQuality Organic, BioGro Organic, Demeter and OrganicFarmNZ.


Wholegrain foods must contain the endosperm, germ and bran of the grain but they can still be ground, flaked, milled or cracked.


To be certified by Fairtrade Australia New Zealand, producers must meet social, economic and environmental requirements. Farmers are audited and must offer full supply chain transparency. Products can be referred to as “fair trade” without independent scrutiny.

No added sugar:

This means there is no added sucrose but the product could still contain added sugar alcohol or other sweeteners.


To claim they are low salt, products must have less than 120mg of sodium per 100g.

Reduced sugar:

Products must have 75 per cent or less of the sugar of the standard version of the product.


Low-fat products must be 3 per cent fat or less, or 1.5g per 100ml if it is a liquid. Fat-free products most contain less than 0.15g of fat per 100g or 100ml.






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