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Chapter 3 - Collecting and providing relevant consumer information

Strategic imperative

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

Highlights 2013–14

  • Reviewed new food-health relationships, based on health claims approved for use in Europe.
  • Completed or progressed action on 10 of the 21 recommendations of the Labelling Logic report referred to FSANZ by ministers responsible for food regulation.
  • Continued to operate the Allergen Collaboration, which has two areas of focus: targeted communication (to the food service sector and to consumers) and consistency in allergy incident enforcement practices.
  • About 9,000 unique users visited our website to use our Nutrition Panel Calculator which helps businesses prepare nutrition panels for food labels.
  • Revised and republished the Food Industry Recall Protocol, which provides food businesses with important information on how to conduct a product recall.
  • After a risk assessment on the presence of cyanogenic glycosides in foods, issued a new warning on the number of apricot kernels that were safe to eat.
  • Distributed more than 5,000 copies of our listeria brochure in 2013–14 and more than 6,000 copies of our advice to pregnant women.

Introduction

‘Information asymmetry' occurs when one party to a transaction has more or better information than the other. It can lead to market failure.

Such is the case with the sale of food. The manufacturer or producer knows the conditions under which the food was prepared, its composition and nutrient value, its risk to vulnerable people and what the consumer has to do to ensure the food can be consumed safely.

Consumers rely on manufacturers to share this information with them, in a form that can be readily understood and applied to buying decisions. FSANZ's role in this process is to place obligations on the food industry to minimise the information asymmetry while, at the same time, not create an undue regulatory burden or stifle innovation.

This is a delicate balance. It involves more than providing information on food labels.

It begins with input by consumer and public health groups, the food industry and our regulatory partners to FSANZ's assessments so that we have a clear understanding of the net benefit to the community of taking regulatory action.

Sometimes, especially when human health is at risk (e.g. allergen warnings), stakeholders readily come to a consensus. At other times, parties can fail to agree on a common course of action, despite extensive consultations. In the end, FSANZ has to break the stalemate. For example, consultations over the recently gazetted nutrition and health claims standard in the Code continued for nearly ten years. While this is an extreme case, it illustrates the need for FSANZ to couple effective stakeholder engagement with its decision making.

The safety of the food supply remains our prime responsibility. However, we are also concerned that the people of Australia and New Zealand should have access to information that leads to the purchase of food that is safe for them and to healthy diets.

Public confidence in food depends, in no small part, on our ability to address this issue of information asymmetry.

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Stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder engagement strategy

FSANZ published its Stakeholder Engagement Strategy in September 2013. The strategy defines our role and outlines how we can improve our stakeholder engagement through to 2015.

One of the key parts of the strategy is a commitment to survey our stakeholders to determine how we are performing and gauge stakeholder satisfaction and understanding of our role. To this end, in early 2014, we released a stakeholder engagement survey. We received more than 700 responses from key stakeholder groups to the survey. The results of this survey are being analysed and will be reported on in next year's annual report.

Citizen involvement

Advisory groups

We are grateful to many people for providing us with feedback and advice not only during the formal public consultation processes of the agency, but also through stakeholder committees with membership coming from the community, the food industry, individual citizens, public health groups and other arms of government.

Appendix 4 contains the names of people serving on our committees in 2013–14.

Stakeholder and regulatory partners



We meet regularly with our regulatory partners in a number of forums, including the Jurisdictional Forum made up of state and territory, commonwealth and New Zealand agencies, to discuss issues relating to standards development.

While we have ongoing dialogue with industry representatives about standards development and other matters, FSANZ also meets twice a year with industry representatives through the Retailers and Manufacturers Liaison Committee. We also have regular interactions with consumers and consumer peak bodies and public health professionals through the Consumer and Public Health Dialogue and other forums.

Allergen Collaboration

FSANZ established the Allergen Collaboration to improve, through non-regulatory means, how food allergen risks are managed and to help consumers with a food allergy make safer choices. It provides key stakeholders involved in the management of food allergens with an opportunity to share and exchange information and to work collaboratively on identified issues. Now in its third year, the Allergen Collaboration has two areas of focus: targeted communication (to the food service sector and to consumers) and consistency in allergy incident enforcement practices.

Allergen management education of the food service sector is a targeted communication activity. In a joint initiative, food service and peak allergy body representatives are developing free training videos for food service staff, to be made available through the allergen portal of the FSANZ website and other electronic media. The Allergen Collaboration has also identified a need for educating consumers about the concept of allergen thresholds and will consider non-regulatory measures to achieve this through targeted communication.

The second focus area has resulted in the New Zealand Government representative leading the development of a best practice guideline on good regulatory practice for allergen investigations. This work is being undertaken on behalf of the Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation.

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Food label information

Information on food labels is the main vehicle for manufacturers to convey important information to consumers and for consumers to make informed buying decisions. It is essential that this information is accurate and not misleading.

Health claims substantiation

Health claims are claims on food labels, or in advertising, that state, suggest or imply that a food or a property of food has, or may have, a health effect. The Code sets out the requirements for making health claims. Health claims must be supported by a food-health relationship that has been substantiated by a process of systematic scientific review.

During 2013–14, FSANZ reviewed new food-health relationships, based on claims approved for use in Europe. As part of this project, we are also reviewing the currency of existing approved food-health relationships. We have almost completed work on reviews of sodium and blood pressure (an existing relationship) and potassium and blood pressure (a new relationship). Work is also well advanced on the following relationships where the health outcome is reduced blood cholesterol: phytosterols; beta glucans; oat beta glucans; barley beta glucans; trans fats; and pectins.

These reviews have been considered by the Health Claims Scientific Advisory Group, a group of experts in the area of food and health.

Labelling Review

In 2012, the Forum provided a response to recommendations arising from Labelling Logic: Review into Food Labelling Law and Policy (2011) (the Labelling Review). In this response, FSANZ was given responsibility for action on 21 recommendations relating to a variety of labelling issues, including:

  • label presentation and format
  • food safety elements on food labels including advisory, warning and allergen labelling
  • nutrition information, specifically dietary fibre, trans fatty acids and energy
  • ingredient labelling
  • labelling of irradiated foods
  • nutrition, health and related claims
  • country of origin labelling.

FSANZ worked on ten of these recommendations during 2013–14. The remaining 11 recommendations include work that is yet to commence or work that requires a watching brief. Others relate to initiatives that are the responsibility of others and FSANZ will assist with these as required.

During the year, we completed action on recommendation 43. This recommendation relates to the Perceptible Information Principle as a tool to aid food label design. The Forum on Food Regulation considered FSANZ's technical evaluation report in December 2013 and determined that no further action was required and agreed to publishing the report on FSANZ's website.

FSANZ also provided technical advice on recommendations 14 (mandatory declaration of total and naturally occurring dietary fibre) and 40 (extending country of origin labelling) to the Forum for consideration in June 2014. The Forum determined that no further action was required on both of these recommendations.

We have a three year (2012–2015) work program for the Labelling Review, which will continue to be progressed in the coming financial year. FSANZ continues to consult with an intergovernmental advisory group, with jurisdictional and regulatory partner representation, to inform and guide the progress of this work.

Nutrition Panel Calculator

In 2013–14, the Nutrition Panel Calculator continued to be one of the most popular features of FSANZ's website. This year, on average, there were 27,000 hits per month by approximately 9,000 unique users. This tool provides the food industry and other users 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.

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Information for the community

FSANZ is a very visible part of the food regulatory system. We therefore aim to ensure that the information we provide the community is readily accessible in a number of formats, readable and pitched at levels commensurate with our target audiences. We also aim for timeliness and accuracy in all our communication.

Website

FSANZ's website is our key communication resource. In 2013–14, we further refined the website, establishing a continuous improvement process for web content. Our social media platforms continued to provide FSANZ with a way to broaden our reach and drive our followers to information on the website.

Food recalls continued to be the most popular posts on Twitter and Facebook and several recall posts this year resulted in big jumps in the number of followers, as users shared content. Social media posts and responses also continued to give us insights into what consumers are thinking and help us plan for new content. In addition, social media enabled us to better educate our followers about our role in the food regulation system.

Stakeholder publications

Our most popular consumer publications continued to be advice on listeria for vulnerable people and information for pregnant women on things to consider when having a baby. We distributed more than 5,000 copies of our listeria brochure in 2013–14 and more than 6,000 copies of our advice to pregnant women.

FSANZ continued to produce Food Standards News, Food Surveillance News and the Monitoring Emerging Issues newsletter.

Case study: Food Industry Recall Protocol

 

 

The Food Industry Recall Protocol was first published in 1994 and republished in 2014. We used our existing resources to promote the protocol, including social media and email publications. The protocol was launched by the Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash and covered by several major food publications. In addition, we promoted the protocol through trade journals and Food Australia, the official publication of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology.

Industry and consumer advice

FSANZ sought to improve and refine its information for industry in 2013–14, particularly in the food recalls area. We reviewed and edited our web information for industry and added new information, including new templates to help industry when a recall is required.

But one of the most significant events for industry this year has been the publication of the revised Food Industry Recall Protocol. The new protocol has updated information for industry about the recall process. FSANZ also produced a short YouTube video on food recalls for industry.

Consumer advice in the past year included updated warnings on apricot kernels and warnings about buying sports foods from the internet. We supported these warnings through the media and promoted them using our social media platforms and publications.

Case study: cyanogenic glycosides

FSANZ is currently working on a proposal to manage risks caused by the presence of cyanogenic glycosides in foods. Following a series of surveys of foods containing cyanogenic glycosides and a risk assessment based on the results, FSANZ determined that apricot kernels were a key concern.

This concern had been highlighted previously in consumer warnings on our website. However, the more recent risk assessment resulted in a new warning focused on the number of apricot kernels that were safe to eat and advice about the purported health benefits of apricot kernels.

Our risk communication activities included a media release, revised website information, social media posts and targeted communication to publications that have a focus on natural therapies.

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