As always it has been a very busy year for Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). While our core business developing food standards continues to be a significant focus, it has also been an important year for stakeholder engagement, with our first biennial stakeholder forum held in Sydney. 2018–19 also saw more than 100 food incidents and recalls coordinated by our food safety team. This was a record number for the agency and included the strawberry tampering incident in September 2018.
FSANZ has a considerable body of work relating to requests from the ministers responsible for food regulation (the Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation1). Following a stakeholder round table in July 2018 ministers agreed on an action plan that included a request to FSANZ to conduct a full review of Standard 2.9.4 – Formulated supplementary sports foods as a matter of priority.
We have prepared a proposal and are currently developing a situational analysis to inform the direction of future sports food regulation. This work will investigate the complex regulatory environment including the food medicine interface, compliance with current regulation, and the higher risk appetite of sports food industry players, including importers, and some sports consumers.
Meanwhile, FSANZ has begun work on a review of chapters 3 and 4 of the Food Standards Code to progress standards for high risk horticulture and food safety management in the food service sector. Consultation on our approach to this work began in May 2019.
Ministers have also asked FSANZ to consider a mandatory labelling standard for pregnancy warning labels on packaged alcoholic beverages and that the work be undertaken expeditiously. In response, FSANZ prepared Proposal P1050 – Pregnancy warning labels on alcoholic beverages which was publicly notified in early November 2018. The primary focus of the proposal is the design and implementation of a mandatory pregnancy warning label. A call for submissions on FSANZ’s proposal is expected to be released later this year.
Another significant piece of work is looking at whether food derived from new breeding techniques should be captured for pre-market safety assessment approval under Standard 1.5.2 and whether the definitions for ‘food produced using gene technology’ and ‘gene technology’ in Standard 1.1.2–2 should be changed to improve clarity about which foods require pre-market approval. Last year we released a preliminary report summarising the views of submitters to an initial consultation paper. While the submissions showed there are diverse views in the community about the safety and regulation of food derived using NBTs, a common thread was that the current definitions are outdated and not fit for purpose. In the coming year, we aim to release our final report on the review, taking into account the feedback from submissions and our recommendations on whether to prepare a proposal to amend the Code.
Food Composition Data
One of our major achievements this year was the publication of the new Australian Food Composition Database – Release 1. This was a huge piece of work for multiple teams in the organisation and the final result is one we can be proud of.
The Australian Food Composition Database (previously called NUTTAB) is a reference database that contains primarily analytical data on the nutrient content of Australian foods. It is a popular tool for many of our stakeholders, including food and beverage manufacturers, universities, students, nutritionists, health professionals and policy makers. Release 1 is the first in the new series and contains updated data for 1,534 foods and beverages commonly consumed in Australia. Our stakeholders will also notice a new look and feel and enhancements to search functionality to make finding data easier.
International engagement is vital to our work and ensures FSANZ continues to work effectively with other countries in relation to food safety and standards setting. In 2018–19 FSANZ led the Australian delegation for several Codex Committees which develop international food standards. Our experts are often invited to participate in other forums, including international scientific meetings.
We hosted several international delegations in our FSANZ offices in Canberra, including visitors
from South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
In April 2019, following 18 months of bilateral discussions, FSANZ signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) with the European Food Safety Authority. The MoC seeks to formalise the interactions between our agencies with a view to further strengthening our relationship in areas of mutual interest, including scientific collaboration and information exchange.
In May 2019 FSANZ led a suite of APEC (a forum of 21 Asia–Pacific economies) events. The meetings, held in Chile, were very successful, with FSANZ leading two technical workshops that resulted in the launch of a framework for food safety modernisation and two tools for the implementation of the APEC guidelines on import MRLs for pesticides. We also ran the Food Safety Cooperation Forum (FSCF), leading to the adoption of a formal inter-governmental APEC Statement.
In March 2019 we held our first Biennial Stakeholder Forum in Sydney.
The theme for our forum was ‘Fit for purpose – food regulation now and in the future’. Speakers explored a range of topics relating to the future of food regulation, food safety and food science. The forum was a great success, with more than 240 delegates filling our venue to capacity. The feedback from attendees was extremely positive and we are already looking forward to our 2021 forum, which we are expecting to hold in Melbourne. Given the enthusiasm of attendees we are aiming for a bigger event to meet demand from our stakeholders.
In 2018–19 our food safety team coordinated 106 food incidents and recalls. This is the highest number of recalls in a 12-month period – mainly due to undeclared allergens and microbial contamination. Of these, the strawberry tampering incident was one of the most significant events of the year. Due to the criminal nature of the incident the response was led by Queensland Police and the Queensland Department of Health. In its coordination role, FSANZ liaised with jurisdictions during the incident.
We were asked by the Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt, to investigate potential supply chain weaknesses and whether there were actions we could take to assist the police, including any systemic changes which might be required. FSANZ organised stakeholder forums with jurisdictions and industry representatives on the incident, with a focus on what improvements need to be made to the regulatory system in response to such incidents. We released our report late last year and the Government agreed to all the recommendations. Follow-up stakeholder forums (that included police representatives) were held in April 2018 to help identify issues that need to be explored further. Feedback on this debrief has been provided to Government.
Following an organisational culture survey, we undertook a whole-of-agency program of culture change work. Workshops were held to develop FSANZ shared values and behaviours which complement the Australian Public Service “I CARE” values. FSANZ’s values will guide internal behaviours for working together and serve to promote a constructive work culture in the agency. A culture change roadmap has been prepared with an associated action plan to enable embedding of the new values and behaviours, which were launched in June 2019.
I would like to thank Associate Professor Stephen Corbett, whose last Board meeting was in June, for his contribution to the FSANZ Board. Associate Professor Corbett’s expertise has proved invaluable in considering both our standards development and our scientific work on a range of matters.
Last year I reported on our modernisation work. During 2018‒19 we continued to progress this work, consulting with key stakeholders on a proposed approach to modernisation.
After discussing the findings the Board has adopted as a vision: Consumers have a high level of confidence in the safety of food. We have mapped out some strategic directions for the agency in the coming year, including embracing opportunities to be the face of food safety; building on our scientific expertise; and enhancing our international engagement. These will be reflected in the 2019‒20 Corporate Plan. In addition, we have started work on areas where we do not need legislative change, such as a review of the end-to-end standard setting process to identify where improvements to work practices can be made. This will help to ensure that the standards management process is robust and agile to support the rapidly changing food environment, including advances in technology, and that innovation efficiencies can be made.
FSANZ achieved a surplus of $2.461m in 2018–19. This surplus is a direct result of project funds received from other government agencies and is related to specific projects and cannot be used for “business as usual” work. Expenditure will be recognised in 2019–20 as the projects are completed. The surplus from normal operations before project revenue recognition and asset writedowns was $0.023m. The underlying fiscal situation of FSANZ remains unchanged. Recognition of revenue and expense in different years is required under accounting standards in this situation.
The year ahead presents both challenges and opportunities for FSANZ as we continue to balance the current priorities of the agency with new and emerging issues. We will continue to work closely with our stakeholders and collaborators to ensure that we are able to respond to future challenges and ensure our regulatory system keeps pace and continues to underpin the trust in our food supply.
Engaging our people will be critical to achieving this goal. Our recruitment, induction, reward systems and leaders’ behaviours will be examined to ensure our people are enabled to learn, grow and continue to deliver on our reputation for excellence.