Print version - Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation Communiqué
25 November 2016
The Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) is responsible for maintaining a strong food regulation system that is based on scientific evidence and expertise and is focussed on protecting the health and safety of consumers.
Australian Ministers, the New Zealand Minister responsible for food regulation and the Australian Local Government Association met in Brisbane today to discuss the latest updates on investigations in relation to low THC hemp as a food and a number of technical evaluations on potential further labelling of added sugars and vegetable oils.
The meeting was chaired by the Australian Government Assistant Minister for Rural Health, the Hon Dr David Gillespie MP.
Ministers discussed the current food regulation system and while noting that it continues to deliver a high level of protection to public health and safety, there is a need to ensure it is responsive to changing trends in the food supply chain including foods that are new to the Australian and New Zealand diets. In this regard Ministers identified synthetic foods as an emerging area of interest and asked Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to prepare a report for the next Forum meeting on the potential safety, nutritional and labelling issues that might need to be considered to maintain Australia’s and New Zealand’s reputation as producers of safe, high quality food.
Ministers agreed that in relation to allergen labelling, further work be undertaken by FSANZ through the Allergen Collaboration to promote the uptake of voluntary labelling initiatives and that a report be provided to the Forum within 12 months. Ministers also acknowledged the work to date by industry.
Technical Evaluation on added sugars and vegetable oils
Ministers noted the substantial work that has been progressed and completed towards the 61 recommendations of the 2011 Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (2011) (Labelling Logic), and that the final remaining recommendations are more complex pieces of work.
Recommendation 12 of the Labelling Logic report proposed that, where sugars, fats or vegetable oils are added as separate ingredients in food, the terms ‘added sugars’ and ‘added fats’ and/or ‘added vegetable oils’ be used in the ingredient list as the generic term, followed by a bracketed list – e.g., added sugars (fructose, glucose syrup, honey), added fats (palm oil, milk fat) or added vegetable oils (sunflower oil, palm oil).
The Forum had asked FSANZ to undertake a technical evaluation and provide advice on the proposed changes to the ingredient listing. That technical evaluation identified that labelling of sugars and fats/vegetable oils is a very complex issue and that there have been a number of developments in food labelling and dietary advice since the initial labelling review was undertaken. The report will be made available on the FSANZ website shortly.
Forum members reiterated that the Australian and New Zealand joint food regulation system is a strong system, based on scientific evidence and expertise, that protects the health and safety of consumers. Any labelling decision would be made in line with those health and safety goals. Members also noted that voluntary schemes exist that allow producers to identify products using sustainably-sourced ingredients, including oils.
Ministers agreed that consideration of Recommendation 12 should continue as two separate pieces of work. New Zealand will lead policy work with the intention of identifying next steps in relation to naming sources of fats and oils to support consumers to make informed choices consistent with Australian and New Zealand dietary guidelines. An update on this work will be provided to the next Forum meeting.
Ministers also agreed that FSANZ, in consultation with the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC), prepare a program of work to be presented at the next Forum meeting to further investigate labelling approaches for providing information on sugars.
Update on investigation on information gaps in relation to low THC hemp as a food
In October 2016, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) received an update regarding the research project evaluating the impact of the consumption of low-THC hemp as a food in regards to random drug testing protocols in use in Australia. The update contained advice that the final research report will be completed in early 2017.
Forum members expressed concern and disappointment with the delays, but reiterated the importance of having robust scientific evidence on which to base decisions. This research is a critical part of considering whether to permit low-THC hemp as a food; the study needs to be thorough and complete to ensure low-THC foods do not interfere with police roadside drug tests.
Forum members also considered the full range of Commonwealth, New Zealand and State and Territory legislation that currently prohibit the sale of low-THC hemp as a food. These would also need to be amended before low-THC hemp could be sold as a food.
Health Star Rating (HSR) system update
The Forum was very pleased to hear that there are now at least 115 companies that have adopted the Health Star Rating (HSR) system; with more than 5,500 products displaying the HSR system graphic in Australia at the end of September 2016, and more than 2100 in New Zealand.
Evaluation of the Australian HSR social marketing campaign in September 2016 found that consumer awareness of the HSR system has increased to around 59 per cent. There is evidence that HSR is prompting positive behaviour change with 33 per cent of those aware of the system purchasing a new product because it had a higher HSR than their usual product. Of these consumers, 79 per cent have continued to buy this new product with a higher HSR. The campaign evaluation report is available on the HSR website.
The two year progress review report on the implementation in both Australia and New Zealand of the HSR system will be considered by the Forum in 2017. Work has also commenced towards the five year review (June 2019) with the establishment of a Technical Advisory Group (TAG), which will analyse and review the performance of the HSR system Calculator and respond to technical issues and related matters referred to it by the HSR Advisory Committee.
The TAG consists of a tripartite expert group with members from industry, government and public health organisations. TAG is chaired by the Australian Government Department of Health and will report to the HSR Advisory Committee. Initial stakeholder consultation workshops have already been held and there will be further opportunities to identify issues for consideration by the TAG and more broadly as part of the five year review.
Ministers considered advice from FRSC on the treatment of dairy substitute beverages. Ministers acknowledged that the current position is that a dairy substitute beverage can be categorised as Category 1D – Dairy beverages if its calcium content is at least 80 mg/100 mL. Ministers’ preferred position, which is to be considered in the five year review of the HSR system, is that a dairy substitute beverage can only be categorised in the HSR system as Category 1D – Dairy beverages if its calcium content is at least 100 mg/100 mL, acknowledging that any resultant changes to the HSR system would not come into effect until after the five year review.
The inclusion of non-dairy beverages in Category 1D – Dairy beverages will also be re-examined as part of the five year review.
At the 3 July 2015 meeting, the Forum agreed to request that FSANZ review the draft variation to Standard 1.3.2 – Vitamins and Minerals of the Code.
The Forum considered the review report prepared by FSANZ and accepted the Standard as amended. The amendment will allow the addition of Vitamin D to the majority of cereals in the supermarket.
Voluntary pregnancy warning labels on alcoholic beverages
Ministers were impressed with the analysis from the New Zealand Health Promotion Agency and will monitor Australia and New Zealand uptake of the warning labels on all alcoholic beverages.
Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
The Australian Government has established a PFAS Interdepartmental Committee to ensure a coordinated whole-of-government response to PFAS environmental contamination through a shared work program.
Ministers noted that FSANZ is currently developing advice on health based guidance values to assist jurisdictions manage food related matters associated with affected sites and to be used as a basis for any possible further control measures.
The Australian Government Department of Health will receive this advice by the end of 2016 and further work will be undertaken during 2017.
Food regulation website
Forum members were very pleased to note the launch, following extensive stakeholder engagement and feedback, of a new stand-alone website to better explain the collaborative joint food regulation system.
Visit the new food regulation website – www.foodregulation.gov.au. The communique and more information about the Forum activity is available on this website.
The next face to face meeting of the Ministerial Forum is currently scheduled for 28 April 2017 in Adelaide.
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Print version - Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation Communiqué