The year in review
FSANZ continues to be a central player in the food regulatory system in Australia and New Zealand, be it through our standards development work, national coordination role or technical and scientific expertise.
Our focus in 2014–15 has been on meeting the strategic imperatives of the 2012–15 Corporate Plan—developing fit-for-purpose food standards, contributing to the management of food risks and providing information to help consumers make decisions. All these activities contribute to a safe food supply that protects and supports the health of people in Australia and New Zealand.
Two events this year illustrate how we have effectively implemented the strategic imperatives in the Corporate Plan.
The first involves the completion of our revision of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code—the first significant revision since the inception of the Code in 2002. This important body of work followed a review of legal issues associated with the Code, particularly the failure of the former version to provide adequate links to offence provisions in the Food Acts. Governments in Australia and New Zealand, along with industry, participated in the revision process.
The revised Code, taking effect in March 2016, will improve the effectiveness of food standards to address the primary objective of protecting public health and safety while at the same time providing more clarity and certainty to government regulators and industry.
The second example concerns our contribution to the whole-of-government response to a foodborne illness event associated with consumption of imported ready-to-eat berries that emerged in early 2015.
FSANZ worked closely with the Department of Agriculture in providing risk assessment advice on hepatitis A virus in ready-to-eat berries to help the department implement appropriate interventions under the Imported Food Control Act 1992. While we were assessing the potential risk, we also successfully activated our food incident response role, working with importers, food retailers and national, state and territory government agencies to implement a coordinated food recall and communication strategy. The net result saw potentially contaminated product removed quickly from the market and significant media coverage to alert consumers to check their freezers and dispose of any implicated products.
Of course, there were many other projects that FSANZ completed or progressed during the year that did not have the same high public profile as the two mentioned above. These include changes to the Code to facilitate consumer access to more raw milk cheese products in Australia, completion of the 24th Australian Total Diet Study and progression of a number projects to assist with transition to the new Nutrition and Health Claims Standard that will come into effect in January 2016. Further information on these will follow in this report.
It is also worth noting that some of our completed work did not result in changes to the Code. At first glance, it may seem strange that FSANZ should prepare a proposal to change the Code and then abandon it. This does not happen often, but it occurred twice during the year—minimum age labelling of food for infants (review of evidence showed no change to Code was necessary) and a review of food-type dietary supplements (industry formulation had changed since commencement of the review). Abandonment of these two proposals was consistent with the principle of not adding to industry’s red tape burden without good reason.
The Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) came into effect on 1 July 2014. The PGPA Act tightens up the corporate reporting obligations of former CAC Act agencies, from Portfolio Budget Statement reporting and the annual report to corporate plans.
In 2014–15, the FSANZ Board paid particular attention to shaping the future direction of our agency within the new governance framework. The Board took the opportunity, during development of a new Corporate Plan for 2015–19, to articulate the strategic imperatives for FSANZ over the coming years. The new plan describes how we will meet challenges and continue to meet the requirements of the FSANZ Act and the PGPA Act. All Australian Public Service (APS) agencies and departments are required to publish a new corporate plan, with mandatory content, on websites by 30 August 2015. FSANZ has met this target.
Our Executive has also changed its planning process from a ‘priority ladder’ approach to the release of an annual work priority list of ‘must do’, ‘should do’ and ‘could do’. We have published our priority list for 2015–16 under the governance and process section later in this report. It should be noted that applications to amend the Code also lie in the ‘must do’ category of projects, as required under the FSANZ Act. Projects identified as ‘could do’ are, in essence, on the back burner, pending the availability of resources.
I mention these planning initiatives to reinforce stakeholder confidence in the rigour of FSANZ’s processes for determining where resources will be allocated. FSANZ will continue to respond to food incidents that threaten public health and safety. We will continue to play a leading role in international forums on food matters and we will continue to discharge our responsibilities in a transparent, open and consultative manner.
We are well set to live within our resources and meet our legislative responsibilities.
Mr Dean Stockwell, General Manager Food Standards, retired from FSANZ on 30 June 2015, after 11 years of service. As a member of the Executive team, Mr Stockwell brought a wealth of experience in food technology and the food industry to the table. As the most senior employee in our Wellington office, he also played a critical role in elevating the role of New Zealand in the bi-national culture and operations of FSANZ, as well as strengthening ties with our New Zealand stakeholders.
On behalf of FSANZ staff members and the Board, past and present, who have benefited from Mr Stockwell’s considered advice, I thank him most sincerely for his contribution to the life of FSANZ. A replacement for Mr Stockwell will commence duties at FSANZ in August 2015.
Following Mr Stockwell’s departure, and on the back of the FSANZ Board’s work to set the future strategic direction for the agency, I have taken the opportunity to bolster the senior leadership team. A new SES officer was appointed in July 2015, primarily to lead the risk and regulatory assessment functions of the agency previously assigned to the Chief Scientist. This, in turn, will allow the Chief Scientist to focus on strategic science and building the evidence base that underpins FSANZ’s assessment work and information and advisory functions.
I am grateful to the Board for its unwavering support, especially to current Board chair Ms Philippa Smith AM. I am also indebted to my staff, who have shown much resilience, loyalty and commitment during the year.
In this, my final FSANZ Annual Report, I acknowledge the support and efforts of many people who, collectively, make FSANZ the effective agency it is today. Many of these people are in other government agencies, academia, non-government organisations and the community at large. Others are closer to home, within my staff and on the FSANZ Board.
Thank you to everyone who has made my tenure as CEO of FSANZ such a pleasure. I commend this Annual Report as a true record of FSANZ’s activities and outcomes for 2014–15.
Chief Executive Officer