Chef Pete Evans has stepped up his campaign against the Heart Foundation by calling for its long-standing "tick" program to be scrapped, and urging his online supporters to complete a web survey with comments about the system.
In a message posted to his Facebook page on Wednesday, the cookbook author and star of Channel Seven's My Kitchen Rules encouraged his 323,000 fans to voice their concerns about the program in a web survey launched by the foundation.
The tick program, which was launched in 1989, was originally developed with the aim of highlighting foods that were relatively healthier in the supermarket aisle. It considers the levels of fats, salt and energy – among other factors – in items across 80 food categories. More than 2000 products now carry the logo in Australian supermarkets.
In a statement issued to the media, Evans, who is a prominent advocate for the paleo or "caveman" diet, called for a food warning system similar to those used with cigarettes to replace the tick system.
"Dietary standards are outdated and old-fashioned and it's time for a change," he said. "We need to raise awareness of the inaccuracies in the current guidelines that we're being told are best for our bodies."
The statement also quoted Sydney dietitian Joe Leech as criticising the sugar content of some tick-approved foods. "The tick is currently on all sorts of 'healthy' foods, including cereals, snack bars and condiments that are between 30 to 70 per cent sugar," Leech said.
Evans also directed his Facebook supporters to an online petition that is pushing for the foundation to scrap its tick program, and posed for a photo with the tick crossed out.
The move is the latest in a series of passionate posts from Evans, whose recipes promote meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables over ingredients such as grains, dairy and legumes. And coconut oil instead of olive oil.
The Heart Foundation and the Dietitians Association of Australia have distanced themselves from diets such as the paleo movement in the past.
Evans' Facebook post on Wednesday condemned the foundation's tick-approval process by highlighting two products bearing the logo: a brand of caged eggs he claimed were "horrendously produced" and a brand of margarine he dubbed "frankenfood spread".
The online survey Evans linked to was launched by the Heart Foundation to coincide with the 25th year of the tick program and is part of a review of the system. The review, which was officially announced on Tuesday but has been in progress for some months, looks at the role of the tick logo in relation to the government's new health star-rating system.
The foundation's chief executive, Mary Barry, said if the star system became mandatory it could eventually replace the tick program. But while the star system was still voluntary the tick would likely play a supplementary role, she said.
"[The] tick [program] was very innovative when it came out," Barry said. "It was the only food labelling program in Australia ... It's time now to have a look at it and where it goes in the future but that's not to forget the pioneering things it has done over the past 25 years.
"We accept that no food-labelling system is perfect but surely it's of benefit to the community ... to work with the food sector to try and make these products healthier by reducing salt, fat and kilojoules."
Nutritionist Catherine Saxelby said the tick program was useful for people making quick decisions about their purchases but that it was difficult to convey to the public what the logo represented, especially when appearing on processed foods. "Of all the food-labelling systems we've got, the tick still offers us the best but it's got to move with the times," she said.
The review is being conducted by a panel of external nutrition, food and business experts. It is expected to conclude by the end of 2015.