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Chapter 3 – Collect and provide food related information and provide food related advice

  • Introduction
  • Strengthening our evidence base
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Food label information
  • Information for the community


Confidence in the food regulatory system depends on decision making being based on the best available scientific evidence. Often chemical or biological evidence will be paramount. The work of FSANZ is frequently reviewed and commented on by peers from around Australia, New Zealand and internationally. FSANZ is an active participant in, and often a leader of, domestic and international food-related policy development and the advancement of food-related scientific knowledge.

FSANZ will maintain its unique and high-level capability to provide advice about food composition and consumption. This information is fundamental for our work to ensure the nutritional safety of food and that approvals for the addition of substances to food are well within recognised safety limits.

Increasingly, FSANZ is asked to provide advice relating to food that is based on consumer behavioural science (and choice of food options) and regulatory economics requiring the evaluation of the cost benefits of different regulatory options.

In recent years, FSANZ has upgraded and expanded its online information tools. FSANZ is a trusted source of data and information. Our intent is to review our information architecture to consider options for expanding our role to be an information hub for industry, the scientific community and consumers.

Importantly, FSANZ's work and expertise contributes to the whole-of-government strategies that seek to address long-term public health challenges, such as obesity.

Strengthening our evidence base

Internal expertise

Dietary exposure assessments

FSANZ estimates dietary exposures using dietary modelling — a technique combining food consumption data with food chemical concentration data to estimate dietary exposure to chemicals such as food additives, processing aids, contaminants, novel food ingredients, pesticide and veterinary chemical residues and nutrients. Dietary modelling is supported by a custom-built FSANZ database and modelling platform, Harvest. Dietary exposure assessments (DEA) are a key part of FSANZ's risk assessments. FSANZ prepares dietary exposure assessments for applications and proposals for changes to the Food Standards Code and for other purposes, such as surveillance activities, contributing to our evidence-based decision making.

FSANZ works closely with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) to approve dietary exposure assessments conducted by APVMA in relation to its regular agricultural chemical residue evaluations. In 2015–16, FSANZ evaluated 122 dietary exposure assessments prepared by the APVMA.

2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16
Number of regular DEA notifications 29 27 29 38
Number of DEA approved 93 112 92 122
Emergency permit DEA notifications 1 5 1 0

Harvest database and dietary modelling platform

FSANZ completed enhancements to the dietary modelling platform, Harvest, including functionality to easily load data into Harvest projects and perform additional analyses. Most importantly, FSANZ incorporated food consumption data from the 2011–12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey component of the 2011–13 Australian Health Survey, which now gives FSANZ the capacity to conduct dietary exposure assessments using the most up-to-date food consumption data for Australia.

Silo food composition database development

FSANZ started work on redeveloping its food composition database platform, which will allow the decommissioning of our legacy system (the Australian Nutrient Database). The redeveloped platform, Silo, will incorporate a range of new features that will enhance the efficiency of FSANZ's work and our reporting and publishing capabilities. In the future, Silo will be linked with the Harvest dietary modelling platform to allow easy transfer of data between the two.

Development of an added sugars database

The Australian Department of Health funded a project to determine the amount of added sugars consumed by Australians. FSANZ, under contract with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), developed a dataset to allocate an amount of added sugars present in each food in the nutrient database (AUSNUT 2011–13) for the 2011–12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey component of the 2011–13 Australian Health Survey. The ABS then used this database to estimate how much added sugars Australians consume and how intakes compare with World Health Organization intake recommendations. The ABS published its report on consumption of added sugars in April 2016. To coincide with the ABS release, FSANZ published an updated version of AUSNUT 2011–13, which contains added sugar values for each food in the database along with detailed notes on the development process.

Development of an Australian Dietary Guidelines food groups database

The Australian Department of Health also funded a project to assess how Australian diets compare to the recommendations of the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG). FSANZ developed a database to assist the ABS to determine the number of serves Australians consumed per day from the five food groups in the ADG. The FSANZ database allocated the amount of each ADG food group that each food from the AUSNUT 2011–13 database contained. The ABS published its report on Australians' consumption of foods from the five ADG food groups in May 2016. To coincide with this release, FSANZ published the ADG database and associated comprehensive explanatory notes.

External expertise

FSANZ Fellows

The FSANZ Fellows Program is a network of experts in a range of disciplines who provide advice and contribute to the work of FSANZ. During 2015–16, the FSANZ Board appointed two new Fellows for a two and a half year term. The appointments of a number of Fellows will expire during 2016–17 and will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The Fellows that have engaged with FSANZ are making valuable contributions to ongoing work and will continue to contribute to the future work of the agency.

FSANZ Fellows during 2015–16 are listed in Table 8.

Table 10: FSANZ Fellows 2015–16
FSANZ Fellow Background or expertise Affiliated institution
Professor David Fraser Vitamin D University of Sydney
Associate Professor Winsome Parnell Surveys and infant nutrition University of Otago
Professor Ken Buckle Food science, processing and microbiology University of New South Wales
Professor Nigel French Molecular epidemiology and risk research Massey University
Professor Stephen Goodall Health economist University of Technology Sydney
Professor Seppo Salminen Intestinal micro biota and health, probiotics and prebiotics, health claims University of Turku
Assistant Professor Jason Riis Experimental psychology and behavioural economics Harvard Business School
Dr Laurence Eyres Food technology ECG Ltd
Dr Heather Greenfield Food composition University of New South Wales
Professor Peter Langridge Genomics University of Adelaide
Professor Brian Priestly Health risk assessment Monash University
Professor Murray Skeaff Nutrition University of Otago
Professor Mark Tamplin Microbiology and food safety University of Tasmania
Dr Vanessa Jordan Methodologist and epidemiologist University of Auckland
Professor Samir Samman Human nutrition University of Otago

Engagement with academic institutions

FSANZ continues to engage with academic institutions through the student project program. This program incorporates scientific research from academic institutions into the work priorities of FSANZ. In 2015–16, two students from the University of New South Wales completed projects, and one student from the University of Sydney has been engaged with a continuing project.

FSANZ further engages with Australian academic institutions through the facilitation of student placements, and this year FSANZ hosted one student from the University of Wollongong. Placements are held on-site for a four-to-six-week period, and the student undertakes a project or contributes to the work of FSANZ.

Regulatory Science Network

FSANZ was the chair of the Regulatory Science Network (RSN) during the year. The RSN is a network of Australian Government agencies responsible for regulating chemicals and biological agents. The RSN was set up in 2011, with the aim to forge closer links and promote common approaches to regulatory science between the agencies.

FSANZ has been an active participant, helping to plan and run RSN-sponsored training workshops, symposia and presentations on risk analysis and food regulatory issues for agency staff. FSANZ chaired the annual RSN symposium in November 2015 which had the theme of Assessing and determining risk, including that concerning new technologies, when there is uncertainty and incomplete data.

Australia New Zealand Science Forum

FSANZ's scientific relationship with the New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (NZMPI), is through the Australia New Zealand Science Forum (Science Forum) which meets twice each year to consider and collaborate on food regulatory scientific projects relevant to both agencies, particularly in relation to the development of food standards.

The Science Forum provides an opportunity for structured interactions between the agencies, and enables information on key scientific activities and emerging food safety issues to be shared. The interactions assist with prioritisation and resource allocation for current projects. During 2015–16, FSANZ submitted proposals for new research funding under the NZMPI Food Safety Food Science Program 2016–17.

International networks

Codex Alimentarius Commission

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) is the international food standards setting body established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization / World Health Organization (FAO/WHO). Codex develops international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice that both protect consumer safety and ensure fair practices in the food trade.

During the year, FSANZ led the Australian delegation to four Codex committees: Food Additives, Food Contaminants, Food Hygiene, and Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses.

In 2015–16, four FSANZ scientists also attended the Joint Expert Meeting on Food Additives (JECFA) as invited experts. JECFA is a FAO/WHO body which provides expert scientific advice to several Codex committees.

World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Food Contamination Monitoring

FSANZ is a World Health Organization Collaborating Centre (WHOCC) for food contamination monitoring, and carries out several activities to support WHO programs.

In 2015–16, FSANZ submitted updates on all actions relevant to the three specified activity areas, including updates on the 24th and 25th Australian Total Diet Studies.

International food safety liaison groups

FSANZ is actively engaged in several discipline-specific international liaison groups which include participation by our key regulatory 'sister' agencies, for example the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the USA.

These liaison groups include discussion on chemical, microbiological, consumer science, economics and health claims, and typically meet by conference call two or three times a year.

The liaison groups allow FSANZ to learn about regulatory developments in other countries and also to share information. For example, FSANZ shared information of our regulatory response to the risk to public health arising from the presence of cyanogenic glycosides in apricot kernels. Following our lead, EFSA provided advice to European consumers that eating apricot kernels poses a risk of cyanide poisoning.

In 2015–16, the International Food Chemical Safety Liaison Group held a face-to-face meeting in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in the margins of a Codex meeting. This meeting proved particularly useful in mapping future collaborative strategies. The group agreed to establish a new liaison group next year to focus on risk assessment methodologies.

International behavioural and regulatory analysis groups

FSANZ continued to draw on key domestic and international expertise in applying the economic and behavioural sciences to our regulatory practice.

The Social Sciences and Economics Advisory Group, comprising New Zealand and Australian academics acted as the primary source of review and challenge to the academic rigour of our work.

The International Social Sciences Liaison Group and the Food Safety Regulatory Economics Working Group — both chaired by FSANZ — provided input from, and exchange among, agency-based economists and social scientists from international risk agencies. Both these groups include regulators from the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia.

Relationships in the Asia-Pacific region

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Food Safety Cooperation Forum activities

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Food Safety Cooperation Forum (APEC FSCF) is a network of food safety delegates from the competent food safety authority of their representative APEC economy. The APEC FSCF continues to be co-chaired by FSANZ (on behalf of Australia) and the People's Republic of China (General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine). The APEC FSCF continues to make progress in strengthening food safety systems, capacity building, and enhancing the harmonisation of food standards with international standards across the APEC region.

During 2015–16, the APEC FSCF met for the fifth time since its inaugural meeting in 2007, on 26 August 2015, in Cebu, the Philippines in the margins of the third senior officials meeting. The FSCF and its partnership training institute network recognised the range of food safety capacity building activities, reaffirmed priorities and updated progress in capacity building in food safety regulatory systems; inspection and certification systems; technical skills; information sharing; and communication networks. The FSCF progressed work on the action plans in export certification and pesticide maximum residue limits (MRLs) to implement the APEC Regulatory Cooperation Plan.

FSANZ continued its leadership on advancing regulatory convergence on pesticide MRLs through the APEC FSCF. This work was funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Economic Diplomacy Fund (EDF) program and included the completion of a second FSANZ-led expert workshop in the Philippines. This follows a successful workshop that FSANZ held in Sydney, Australia. The culmination of this work has been the development of a draft outline for the Guideline on Import MRLs for Pesticides (the Guideline). This Guideline has subsequently been adopted as an official APEC document and aims to facilitate trade in agricultural commodities whilst protecting public health and safety.

Following FSANZ's success in developing the Guideline, FSANZ was a recipient of further EDF funding to undertake activities next year to facilitate the implementation of the Guideline by APEC economies.

FSANZ also participated in the APEC FSCF regional workshop on coordinated research initiative for the implementation of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) control strategies, led and facilitated by Chile. FSANZ presented Australia's first national AMR strategy focusing on proposals for an integrated AMR surveillance and the importance of safety.

FSANZ participation in the International Food Safety Authorities Network

Throughout 2015–16, FSANZ participated in a range of meetings in the Asia Pacific region on behalf of Australia, including a meeting on strengthening the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) in Asia and National Food Safety Systems on 23–26 November 2015, Hong Kong. Members met to review progress on the linkage between INFOSAN and national food safety systems; identified challenges and issues; and to recommend priorities and actions to strengthen INFOSAN and food safety systems.

Membership of the Food Safety Cooperation Working Group (FSCWG)

Australia, on behalf of the APEC FSCF, participated in the FSCWG at its third meeting on 27 November 2015, Hong Kong. The FSCWG includes representatives from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Expert Group on Food Safety, FAO, WHO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). At its third meeting, representatives discussed individual achievements, and future opportunities for greater cooperation and support of food safety programs in the region.

Stakeholder engagement

Advisory groups

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

Appendix 3 contains the names of people serving on FSANZ's committees in 2015–16.

Case study: Improving food safety practices of small to medium enterprises (SMEs)

FSANZ collaborated with Safe Food Production Queensland and Dairy Australia to improve crisis management and build brand confidence for SME dairy businesses in south-east Queensland. Specifically, FSANZ provided input on the food recall process, leading a detailed session on the food recall resources available from FSANZ and the information required by FSANZ when a food recall is initiated.

Workshops provided the participating dairy businesses with access to resources and industry and regulatory expertise, in a bid to build trust between food business and government agencies and to improve food safety practices.

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 food choices. The Allergen Collaboration provides key stakeholders with an opportunity to share and exchange information, and to work collaboratively on identified issues. Now in its fifth year, the Allergen Collaboration is maintaining three areas of focus:

  • targeted communication to the food service sector
  • targeted stakeholder communication about allergen thresholds relating to precautionary allergen labelling for cross contamination
  • food importer education relating to regulatory obligations for food allergen labelling.

Food label information

Manufacturers use food labels to convey important information to consumers and to enable 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 Food Standards Code sets out the requirements for making health claims. Health claims must be based on a food-health relationship that has been substantiated by a process of systematic scientific review.

In 2015–16, FSANZ reviewed food-health relationships based on health claims authorised for use in Europe. Reviews of food-health relationships about docasohexaenoic acid and normal brain and vision function, α-linolenic and linoleic acids and normal growth and development in children, β-glucan from oats or barley and blood glucose rise after a meal, and trivalent chromium and the maintenance of normal blood glucose concentrations have been completed. Where relationships have been substantiated, FSANZ are considering how they can be included in Standard 1.2.7.

FSANZ also completed currency reviews of two food-health relationships that underpin high level health claims in Standard 1.2.7 about trans fatty acids and plant sterols and their effects on blood cholesterol concentrations.

Work is well underway on assessing relationships between several properties of food and a rise in blood glucose after a meal, water and the maintenance of normal physical and cognitive functions; water and the normal regulation of the body's temperature; and fats and blood cholesterol.

Labelling Review

In 2011, the then Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation (now known as the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation) agreed on a response to the recommendations of the report Labelling Logic: Review on Food Labelling Law and Policy (2011) (Labelling Review). FSANZ was given responsibility for responding to 21 recommendations relating to a variety of labelling issues.

These included, for example, label presentation and format, the labelling of food safety elements, nutrition information, ingredient labelling and country of origin labelling.

FSANZ has completed work on 10 of the assigned recommendations. Nine other recommendations assigned to FSANZ include work that is complete and/or requires a watching brief, or relate to initiatives that are the responsibility of others. FSANZ is assisting with these recommendations as required.

Table 11: Outcomes of completed Labelling Review projects assigned to FSANZ
Labelling Review recommendation Outcome
Rec.6 The food safety elements on the food label be reviewed with the aim to maximise the effectiveness of food safety communication. FSANZ completed its technical evaluation and advice. The Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) agreed to await the outcomes of FSANZ's Consumer Label Survey to provide advice to the Forum.
Rec.13 The mandatory declaration in the nutrition information panel of all trans fatty acids (TFAs) above an agreed threshold, if manufactured TFAs have not been phased out of the food supply by January 2013. FSANZ completed its technical evaluation and advice. The Forum asked FSANZ to continue to maintain a watching brief on TFAs and provide a report, including an assessment of TFAs in imported oils, to the Forum in early 2017.
Rec.14 The mandatory declaration of total and naturally occurring fibre in the nutrition information panel. FSANZ completed its technical evaluation and advice. The Forum agreed that no further action is required.
Rec.15 Voluntary declaration of potassium content in the nutrition information panel. Completed as part of Proposal P293 — Nutrition, Health and Related Claims.
Rec.17 The declaration in the Nutrition Information Panel of amount of nutrients per serve be no longer mandatory unless a daily intake claim is made. FSANZ completed its report. The Forum agreed that no further action is required.
Rec.20 Finalise the standard for nutrition, health and related claims. Standard 1.2.7 — Nutrition, Health and Related Claims is now in effect.
Rec.26 The energy content be displayed on the label of all alcoholic beverages, consistent with the requirements for other food products. FSANZ completed a cost-benefit analysis. FRSC is considering the associated policy work to provide advice to the Forum.
Rec.40 Australia's existing mandatory country of origin labelling requirements for food be maintained and be extended to cover all primary food products for retail sale. FSANZ completed its technical evaluation and advice. The Forum agreed that FSANZ did not need to prepare a proposal.
Rec.43 The Perceptible Information Principle be used as a guide for presenting label information. FSANZ completed its technical evaluation and advice. The Forum agreed that no further action is required.
Rec.47 That warning and advisory statements be emboldened and allergens emboldened both in the ingredients list and in a separate list. FSANZ has completed its technical evaluation and advice. FRSC agreed to await the outcomes of FSANZ's Consumer Label Survey to provide advice to the Forum.

Two recommendations that remain on the FSANZ work program will be addressed in 2016–17. The first, a response to recommendations about the possible inclusion of added sugars, added fats and/or added vegetable oils in the ingredient list (recommendation 12) was completed by FSANZ in June 2016 and will be submitted to the Forum for consideration in late 2016. The second on the need for mandatory labelling of irradiated food (recommendation 34) is currently under consideration by FSANZ following the release of a public consultation paper in late 2015.

FSANZ continued 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 (NPC)

The NPC provides the food industry and other users with a readily available easy-to-use interactive tool for preparing nutrition information panels, to make it easier to meet the labelling requirements of the Food Standards Code. In 2015–16, the calculator continued to be one of the most popular features of FSANZ's website. This year, on average, there were 15,000 hits on the NPC landing page each month, by approximately 9800 unique users per month.

Information for the community

Release of personal information and freedom of information requests

FSANZ processed seven requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth). Only four of the requests resulted in information being provided as one was transferred to the Department of Health, one was withdrawn and in another case we had no documents of the type requested. Of the four requests where information was provided, three cases were granted partial access to documents and information.

Access to documents released under the Freedom of Information provisions is available on our website.

FSANZ did not receive any requests for access to personal information under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) in 2015–16.

Initial enquiries concerning access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act or access to personal information under the Privacy Act should be directed to the FOI Coordinator at or on +61 2 6271 2222.

2011–12 2012–13 2013–14 2014–15 2015–16
Requests under FOI legislation 7 10 6 2 7
Requests under privacy legislation 0 0 0 1 0

Risk advice for imported food

FSANZ provides risk assessment advice to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) on food classed as medium-to-high risk, which DAWR uses to determine appropriate risk management measures at the Australian border. The risk assessment advice for 'risk category' foods is currently being reviewed.

Significant progress has been made on the review with Stages 2, 3 and 4 completed during 2015–16. From these three stages, 29 risk statements on certain food/hazard combinations were formally advised to DAWR and published on the FSANZ website.

The fifth and final stage of the review incorporates the largest number of risk statements; therefore, we have engaged the University of Tasmania to assist with gathering data. The review is due for completion at the end of 2016, following which FSANZ will transition into a rolling review process.

FSANZ maintains close liaison with the DAWR throughout the imported food risk advice review, including regular monthly interagency meetings. Stakeholder consultations are also undertaken with relevant industry members, the Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation (ISFR), Retailers and Manufacturers Liaison Committee (RMLC) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), on an as needs basis.

Microbiological Evidence Base Plan

FSANZ published the Microbiological Evidence Base Plan 2015–19 on the FSANZ website, linked from the FSANZ Science Strategy 2015–19.

The overarching aim of the Microbiological Evidence Base Plan is to provide a trusted, robust and contemporary microbiological evidence base to support food safety risk management measures in Australia and New Zealand.

Three key objectives are described:

  • Establish a consistent and systematic approach to building and sustaining FSANZ's microbiological evidence base
  • Ensure robust and contemporary microbiological evidence is available to support effective food risk management measures
  • Be recognised as a leader in, and trusted source of, advice for microbiological food safety issues.

The Microbiological Evidence Base Plan places emphasis on establishing appropriate internal systems and processes enabling the prospective identification, collation and analysis of evidence for existing and emerging areas of microbiological food safety. A number of activities commenced during 2015–16 to support these objectives, including:

  • Establishing a framework for more systematic microbiological data generation using existing mechanisms such as the ISFR Surveillance and Monitoring Working Group (ISFR S&M WG)
  • Working collaboratively with existing mechanisms such as the ISFR S&M WG, develop guidelines and principles for microbiological data for incorporation into the FSANZ Data Management Strategy
  • Evaluating available qualitative/semi-quantitative tools to codify decision making in assessing microbiological risks in foods.
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