A change to the health star ratings of fresh orange juice has been labelled as disappointing by Griffith citrus growers.
Under the new guidelines, which will be considered at the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation next month, the health star ratings for fresh juice with no added sugar could fall from five stars to as low as 2.5 stars if the latest "calculator" is approved.
That means it could have the same rating as some diet soft drink varieties, meanwhile water would retain a five star rating.
Griffith and District Citrus Growers Association secretary Vito Mancini said growers were "utterly disappointed" by the proposal.
"Their intention is to make water and water-like products as the healthiest option," Mr Mancini said.
"It's almost as if the health department is trying to push people to drink water plus 10 different artificial supplements rather than drinking health juices," he said.
Around 80,000 tonnes of citrus fruit is turned into orange juice in the MIA and there are juicing plants in Griffith and Leeton.
Mr Mancini said the health star ratings included several different categories for different products, and not only could the change to the rating of orange juice put it on the same level as diet soft-drink, and potentially less healthy than some flavoured milk products.
"It's going to send a very confusing message to the consumer. Once the consumer gets confused, then the health star ratings go out the window," he said.
Mr Mancini said the association would join efforts to talk about the negative impact it would have and the industry has been joined by Griffith and Leeton councils.
Griffith mayor John Dal Broi said was critical of the fact that the change was only coming to light ahead of implementation.
Cr Dal Broi said it "didn't make sense" for orange juice with no additives to be considered as healthy as fizzy drink.
"This region is one of the biggest citrus growing regions. They didn't come to consult with industry here, whether it was the juicing plants, packers or growers," Councillor Dal Broi said.
"We asked them and they said they had meetings in Melbourne and Sydney."
Cr Dal Broi said it was a decision being made by bureaucrats in a plush office far from where the impact would be felt most.
"We've collaborated with Leeton on this issue, we've sent submissions to all sorts of ministers, and all the people that are on the panel."
Cr Dal Broi was hopeful those representations to decision makers, as well as Member for Farrer Sussan Ley and federal agricultural minister David Littleproud would make a difference.
Leeton mayor labelled the proposal as "ludicrous" and "appalling" and was disappointed the consultation process as almost finished.
"This is a total misrepresentation of the health benefits of fresh 100 per cent juice with no added sugar," Councillor Paul Maytom said.
He said the lobbying would continue to ensure those involved with the decision-making process were aware the impacts of lowering the health star rating for orange juice.
"Council fears any decline in sales will be a further blow to the Australian orange juice industry, which has already seen a 30 per cent decrease in the production base over the last 18 years," he said.
"In the MIA we have been hit hard enough by the drought, COVID-19 and water reform."
"It is just appalling to think this could happen. You get up in the morning and have a class of orange juice. You don't get up in the morning and have a glass of diet soft drink. It defies belief this could happen and lacks commonsense."
Citrus Australia is also fighting against the move, with CEO Nathan Hancock writing to Health Minister Greg Hunt, Nationals leader Michael McCormack and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, asking for their direct intervention.
The organisation will also be contacting every state health and education minister, who are members of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation.
Every state, the federal government and the NZ government has a vote each.
Growers and consumers have also been encouraged to contact their local state and federal member to ask for their assistance.
"Any decision that enables fresh orange juice to be rated the equivalent of diet cola ... will have a detrimental effect on fresh juice consumption and the future of the Australian juice industry," Mr Hancock said.
The algorithm that underpins the revised health star ratings assesses fresh juice on sugar content alone and does not consider essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, potassium, folate and magnesium or antioxidants.
The revised health star ratings is also at odds with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, which places fresh juice in the "eat more of" category.
There are allowances in these guidelines for the substitution of fruit juice for a whole piece of fruit in the diet.
"We are particularly concerned that any suggestion that fresh fruit juice is unhealthy will have a detrimental health effect on the community leading into winter," Mr Hancock said.