Food Standards Australia New Zealand Logo
Food Standards Australia New Zealand Logo

Chapter 3 - Collecting and providing relevant consumer information

Strategic imperative

To support informed consumer decisions about food by collecting and providing relevant information.

Highlights 2012–13

  • Updated the web-based calculator, which automates the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion algorithm, to match the final version of the new nutrition and health claims standard.
  • Opened a new website portal on the FSANZ website providing advice on managing food allergens.
  • Commenced a proposal to add lupin and lupin products to the list of substances subject to mandatory declaration in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code).
  • Commenced work associated with the implementation of 21 recommendations contained in the Labelling Logic report as part of a three-year work plan, mainly through technical evaluation and advice about presentation and format of food labels.
  • Undertook modelling for the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) Front-of-Pack (FoP) Labelling Technical Design Working Group to determine if a nutrient profiling model, adapted from the health claims Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion, could be used as a basis for an interpretative FoP food labelling system.
  • Continued to maintain an advisory committee system involving our regulatory partners, the food industry, consumers and public health professionals.
  • Achieved 25,000–30,000 hits per month on the FSANZ website for the Nutrition Panel Calculator—one of the most popular features of the website.

Introduction

For consumers to make informed choices about food products, they require details of the ingredients and substances in a food to be identified on food labels. This information can help people select a diet appropriate to their circumstances.

In addition, labels can carry advisory statements for people who may have an adverse reaction to a food—for example, allergy sufferers. In this way, food labels act as a useful means of passing information to consumers. They respond to the consumers' right to know what they are eating (i.e. food composition) and the right to choose (e.g. country of origin).

Food safety is another matter. Here, there are two types of risk at play: risk based on scientific evidence and risk based on consumer perceptions about the safety of the food they eat. FSANZ develops communication strategies and education campaigns according to four levels of risk, based on scientific evidence (as determined by FSANZ) and perceived risk (as seen by the community), as shown in Table 10.

Table 10: Communication strategies

Level
Risk combinations
Communication strategy
1
LOW risk + LOW perceived risk
PASSIVE
2
LOW risk + HIGH perceived risk
RESPONSIVE
3
HIGH risk + LOW perceived risk
EDUCATIVE
4
HIGH risk + HIGH perceived risk
PROACTIVE

Some consumers have a perception that the use of certain food components (e.g. food additives) and technologies (e.g. irradiation) can contribute to an increased health risk. Although consumers may hold these particular beliefs in the face of contrary scientific evidence, government food regulators acknowledge that these perceptions are genuinely held and must be addressed in communication strategies.

The communication strategies listed in Table 10 are not mutually exclusive and may be used in combination. The strategies indicate the main direction and level of communication activity required for a particular health risk. They are preferred strategies, which does not preclude the adoption of other strategies if the need arises.

FSANZ needs to have a good understanding of how a risk is perceived by the public in order to identify which communication strategy should be applied to a particular food issue. We achieve this by monitoring media and online debate, or by commissioning research designed to measure and assess public risk perceptions. Such studies may have been initiated to answer specific risk assessment or risk management questions, but can also collect data useful in constructing risk communication messages and strategies.

We employ a number of communication channels to reach consumers, including media liaison, web publishing, interactive web forums, fact sheets, reports, meetings, conferences, advice line, displays, launches, email bulletins and advertising (see chapter 4 under Communication).

Stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder engagement strategy

In 2012–13, FSANZ participated in the development of a stakeholder engagement strategy covering the entire food regulation system. This work was undertaken by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, in response to a request from the FRSC.

FSANZ has developed its own stakeholder engagement strategy, which is aligned with this broader strategy. Our strategy recognises that FSANZ is highly regarded for its stakeholder engagement (as reflected in stakeholder surveys), but that we need to better explain and define, for stakeholders, our role in the regulatory system. Many of the priorities in the strategy will need to be addressed using innovative, cost-effective methods, such as the electronic tools at our disposal.

Citizen involvement

Advisory committees and groups

FSANZ maintains a wide range of advisory committees and expert panels, which provide advice from the community, the food industry, individual citizens, public health groups and other arms of government. This advice feeds into the decision-making processes of standards development.

In 2012–13, the committees and groups listed in Appendix 4 continued to provide a valuable service to FSANZ.

Consumer and Public Health Dialogue

The FSANZ Board established the Consumer and Public Health Dialogue to enhance our high-level engagement with key public health and consumer stakeholders. This consultative forum is independently chaired by Associate Professor Heather Yeatman, University of Wollongong. Details on the dialogue's membership are included in Appendix 4.

In 2012–13, the dialogue provided advice on a number of food matters, including the new nutrition and health claims standard, our review of infant formula regulations and FSANZ's work on the Australian Government response to recommendations of Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (2011). Members also expressed interest in exploring novel approaches to our regulatory processes, such as the introduction of health impact assessments in our reports.

Retailers and Manufacturers Liaison Committee

The Retailers and Manufacturers Liaison Committee provides an opportunity for ongoing dialogue between FSANZ and industry. The committee allows members to engage in informed discussion about specific issues relating to standards development and standards-setting processes and to collaborate on food safety emergencies.

Allergen Collaboration

The Allergen Collaboration was established by FSANZ in September 2011 to strengthen engagement and collaboration among a range of stakeholders on non-regulatory approaches to food allergen management.

To date, the collaboration has finalised a communication strategy, which outlines its objectives, intended outcomes and specific issues that members agreed could be addressed through the strategy. In addition, the collaboration has developed a suite of consistent, accurate and clear key messages about food allergen management for various sectors throughout the food chain.

In May 2013, the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, the Hon. Shayne Neumann MP, launched a new website portal about managing food allergens. Developed by the Allergen Collaboration and hosted on the FSANZ website, the portal is intended to provide best practice information, including the key messages and links to key stakeholder groups. Collaboration members will also be able to promote their own allergen-related activities through the portal.

Engagement with academic institutions

Our student project program provides an opportunity for students to undertake projects of relevance to FSANZ and food regulation. In 2012–13, 10 students from the Deakin University, the University of Canberra, the University of New South Wales and the University of Wollongong completed food regulatory and food safety projects related to FSANZ interests.

Food label information

Nutrition and health claims

FSANZ has started work to support the implementation of the new nutrition and health claims standard. We anticipate finalising the revised Application Handbook and a guidance document for the self-substantiation of food-health relationships for general level health claims in mid-2013. The web-based calculator8 that automates the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion algorithm was updated to match the final version of the standard.

We have also established the High-Level Health Claims Committee, which will consider any application or proposal for pre-approval of new food-health relationships underpinning health claims. We are continuing to work with the Implementation Sub-Committee for Food Regulation nutrition and health claims working group to support their development of compliance guidance for industry.

Implementing the government's response to Labelling Logic

In 2012, the Council of Australian Governments Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation gave FSANZ responsibility for action on 21 recommendations contained in the Labelling Logic report. FSANZ has developed a four-year work plan to complete this task.

Two recommendations were implemented in 2012 with finalisation of the new standard for nutrition and health claims. A further recommendation was partially addressed by extending country of origin labelling to an expanded list of unpackaged meats. We started work on six further recommendations in 2013. These recommendations focus on various aspects of labelling, including format and presentation; nutrition information; allergen declarations and other food safety information, including date marking, and use and storage instructions; and country of origin labelling for consumer information.

Generally, the deliverables provided by FSANZ from the current activities will be in the form of technical evaluation and advice relating to label presentation and format. This will involve a focus on advisory, warning and allergen labelling; nutrition information, specifically dietary fibre and trans fatty acids; country of origin labelling; and a review of the food safety elements on food labels.

In its response to the Labelling Logic report, the Australian Government requested FRSC to implement Recommendation 50 of the labelling review: 'an interpretative front-of-pack labelling system be developed that is reflective of a comprehensive Nutrition Policy and agreed public health priorities'. The FRSC established a Front-of-Pack (FoP) Labelling Technical Design Working Group to develop recommendations for the technical design of a FoP labelling system.

In October 2012, the working group asked FSANZ for technical assistance. In response, we undertook modelling work to determine if a nutrient profiling model, adapted from the health claims Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion, could be used as a basis for an interpretative FoP labelling (multilevel) system. We submitted our final report to the working group in March 2013.

Nutrition Panel Calculator

In 2012–13, the Nutrition Panel Calculator continued to be one of the most popular features of FSANZ's website. This year, on average, there were 25,000–35,000 hits per month by 11,000–18,000 unique users. This sophisticated tool provides the food industry with readily available, extensive and reliable information on the nutrient composition of foods, together with an easy-to-use interactive tool for preparing nutrition information panels to make it easier to meet the labelling requirements of the Code.

Allergen labelling

This year, FSANZ continued to consider recommendations of the 2011 review of the management of food allergens. We collated clinical evidence on the emergence of lupin allergy in Australia and applied international criteria to determine its public health significance. This resulted in commencing a proposal to add lupin and lupin products to the list of substances subject to mandatory declaration in the Code.

We also gathered evidence for exempting certain products derived from allergens from foods that are required to have a mandatory declaration, but which are not in themselves allergenic. In collaboration with the food industry, and in consultation with a panel of food allergy experts, we are considering whether the available evidence supports a change to the Code.

Information for the community

Website and social media

FSANZ provides information to the community using a range of tools. Increasingly, this information is provided in innovative ways that allow for a dialogue to occur between the agency and our stakeholders. An account of how we use the FSANZ website and social media can be found on page 86.

Publications

FSANZ produces a range of publications, many of which are targeted at more than one stakeholder group (Appendix 7). One of our main publications is Food Standards News, which has more than 5,000 subscribers with an interest in FSANZ's wide range of activities.

We distributed more than 8,000 copies of Listeria and Food: Advice for People at Risk during the year and 8,700 copies of Thinking About Having a Baby.

Monitoring of Emerging Issues Newsletter

The FSANZ Monitoring of Emerging Issues Newsletter provides a global snapshot of emerging issues, foodborne disease outbreaks, food recalls, surveillance and monitoring activities and international food safety policy development. The newsletter is published each month on our website.

Food Surveillance News

Food Surveillance News is a web-based publication that promotes national and international surveillance and monitoring activities. Analytical survey work that is conducted in Australia and New Zealand is described, and links are provided to the published work.

Advice to stakeholders

We provide advice to stakeholders in a number of formal and informal ways.

FSANZ maintained its presence at industry conferences, including annual conferences of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology and the New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology. In addition, FSANZ staff participated in industry site visits. These visits provide an opportunity for staff to gain insight into how industry operates and an opportunity for the food industry to obtain authoritative advice on regulatory matters.

Under the Australian Government's Information Publication Scheme, we continued to promote transparency by publishing all applications to change the Code, as well as submissions on applications and proposals, on our website.

Case study: industry visits to minor meat and game businesses

As part of our assessment of food safety in the minor meat and game sector, we undertook a number of industry familiarisation visits to gain an understanding of production practices. These visits included crocodile, venison, rabbit, emu and kangaroo businesses, from the Northern Territory to Tasmania, as well as discussions with the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania.


8 www.foodstandards.gov.au/industry/claims/pages/nutrientprofilingcalculator

Print

Return to top