The 2017–18 financial year has been a year of significant change for Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). The organisation moved from its Barton premises where we had been located for some 20 years to new accommodation which better fits our needs and further reduces corporate overheads. In addition, we refined our structure into three branches (Food Safety and Corporate; Risk Management and Intelligence; and Science and Risk Assessment). These changes were made to ensure the agency can be agile and to make the best use of our resources. The new structure allows us to continue to deliver on our core responsibilities while also allowing us to be more forward looking and potentially play a bigger role in the food regulatory system. We also welcomed a number of new Board members with five of the 12 members newly appointed during the year.
In April 2017, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) agreed that the food regulatory system is producing strong food safety outcomes overall, but identified the following three priority areas for 2017–2021 to further strengthen the system:
Reduce foodborne illness, particularly related to
Salmonella, with a nationally consistent approach.
Support public health objectives to reduce chronic disease related to overweight and obesity, including evaluating the effectiveness of existing initiatives and identifying potential new initiatives, such as how the food regulation system can facilitate healthy food choices and positively influence the food environment.
Maintain a strong, robust and agile food regulation system that gives confidence to consumers that their food is safe, and that the system can manage new and innovative industry approaches.
For priority one, FSANZ helped the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) develop a national strategy to reduce foodborne illness. FSANZ also worked with Queensland and New South Wales on a draft framework and implementation plan for the strategy. Consultation on the strategy was undertaken in 2018.
FSANZ’s on-going work program includes reviews of Chapter 3 Food Safety Standards; Chapter 4 Primary Production and Processing standards and microbiological criteria. We are also planning on developing national resources to help industry and government strengthen food safety culture. The review of these standards to provide “fit for purpose” regulatory controls should complement the national strategy.
For priority two, FSANZ is contributing a FRSC policy development process by leading the sugar labelling work. We have also provided technical input on fats and oils labelling and we are supporting consideration of policy options for energy labelling.
Change has bought with it a renewed focus on our role in the broader food regulation system which has not changed significantly since 2002, when legislative changes were made to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act and FSANZ was established. As part of our work with priority three we are now looking to the future, to see where we fit in the system and whether our role can and/or should change to meet new challenges. In June this year the Forum on Food Regulation Forum asked FSANZ to consider options for modernising food regulation in light of significant technological changes and rising expectations.
In the very short term there is considerable work to be done to bring together the strands of work that have already been done to identify how food regulation might be modernised and to present those ideas within government, before any broader community consultation occurs.
Meanwhile the core work of the agency continues. In the last financial year 16 applications and proposals were finalised. Some of the more significant applications related to genetically modified foods from plants with enhanced nutrition qualities. For example, after a thorough safety assessment (one we apply to all applications to change the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code), FSANZ approved an application for a canola line that has been genetically modified to produce two omega 3 long chain fatty acids. We also approved an application from the International Rice Research Institute for food derived from rice that was genetically modified to produce a form of provitamin A. Both applications were significant and included an extensive nutrition risk assessment.
Another significant piece of work this financial year was the first stage of consultation on how the Code applies to food derived using new breeding techniques (NBTs). These techniques refer to a variety of new approaches in plant and animal breeding that were not in use when the Food Produced Using Gene Technology Standard was first developed nearly 20 years ago. The consultation period closed in April 2018. FSANZ is considering the submissions it received during the period and is expecting to publish a report in late 2018.
While lupin was added to the list of allergens that must be declared on food labels in May 2017, the change came into effect in May 2018. FSANZ communicated with industry stakeholders in the lead up to the change with regular media and social media updates.
Work also continued on two significant projects—reviews of the Infant Formula Standard and the regulation of nutritive substances and novel foods. These have been complex and difficult projects, involving considerable stakeholder consultation. FSANZ is aiming to finalise work on both in the next financial year. Stakeholder consultation, which is always at the forefront of the work we do, will continue to be a key consideration as this work progresses.
Our role in providing advice about the Food Standards Code was highlighted by the release of several new publications including the Compendium of Microbiological Criteria for Food. The updated Compendium (published in January 2018) is a compilation of process hygiene criteria established for specific food commodities and microbiological guideline criteria used for ready-to-eat foods. It supersedes the Guidelines for the Microbiological Examination of Ready-to-eat Foods and the User Guide to Standard 1.6.1 – Microbiological Limits for Food.
In 2017–18, FSANZ continued to invest in new approaches to behavioural and regulatory analysis. We commenced a scoping project to explore the feasibility of an ongoing consumer monitor—a regular survey of consumers’ responses and behaviours with respect to food, food safety and labelling. This will be completed in 2018–19 and may lead to the development of a longitudinal dataset of consumer behavioural and attitudinal data to track changes in consumer attitudes and behaviour through time.
FSANZ continued to work with industry and government stakeholders on improving food safety culture and responsiveness when recalls and incidents occur. To this end FSANZ and Dairy Australia jointly held a food incident exercise with stakeholders in early May 2018. The aim of exercise IBIS (Identifying Better Information Sharing) was to better understand the roles, responsibilities and constraints of government and industry processes; identify opportunities for using and sharing industry and government intelligence; and understand potential food supply and consumer implications of responses to food incidents. Some of the outcomes of the day included a commitment to developing an engagement protocol; a framework outlining processes and contacts for different stages of an incident and a commitment to explore opportunities for earlier engagement between government and industry. We look forward to progressing this work in 2018–19.
The changes that FSANZ has made over the last year will hold us in good stead for the coming year and we look forward to continuing to engage with all stakeholders in the food area.
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