Australian and New Zealand food standards ministers meeting in Sydney today [Friday] agreed on a number of important food issues.
Health and nutrient claims policy framework
Ministers agreed to overarching policy principles for health and related claims in food labelling and advertising. When deciding on the policy principles, ministers took account of the views presented by various stakeholders, which were canvassed through a consultation paper.
Ministers have asked the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) for further advice implementing of a risk management approach that will protect public health and safety through scientific substantiation of high risk claims, generic health claims for ease of use where evidence is clear and minimal regulation where there are no risks to public health. Included in this will be investigation into the creation of a “watchdog” to monitor the use of health and related claims. Ministers have asked that this advice be presented as a draft policy guideline at their meeting in November 2002.
Extended timeframe for folate health claim
Ministers agreed to extend the temporary provision allowing the folate/neural tube defect health claim under certain conditions from 13 August 2002 to 13 February 2004 or until a new health claims standard commences, whichever occurs sooner.
Extending the time frame for permission to make folate/neural tube defect claims, while the issue of health claims is being resolved, will ensure industry will not have to revise labels and marketing arrangements, public education on the outcome of the review of health and related claims can be delivered in one step and increased burden on enforcement agencies to monitor compliance with regard to making folate/neural tube defect claims can be avoided. Folate fortification is used to address a preventable condition as it decreases the number of pregnancies affected by neural-tube defects (NTDs).
Added caffeine in foods
Ministers agreed to a policy being developed on added caffeine in foods. There has been community concern about products such as caffeinated beverages and guarana bars particularly with children. The health, safety and behavioural aspects of added caffeine and the views of industry will be examined in addition to toxicological research.
Implementation of the Joint Food Standards Code (FSC)
Ministers discussed transition issues concerning the implementation of the Joint FSC. Pending a formal recommendation from the ANZFA Board, expected in June 2002, Ministers indicated in-principle support for a 12 months stock-in-trade for all general food products; a 24 month stock-in-trade provision for long shelf-life products; and a 12 months extension to the transition period for labelling requirements for food packaged at the point of sale. Ministers said that the transition period will end on 20 December 2002.
Infant formula standard
Ministers agreed to a new infant formula standard signifying the end of an extensive public consultation and development process by ANZFA. ANZFA’s recommendation recognises that breast feeding provides the best nutritional outcomes for babies but that it is not always possible for babies to be breastfed. Therefore ANZFA has sought to optimise the
health benefit to formula fed infants whilst recognising that there are limits to how closely infant formula can replicate the unique and complex properties of breast milk. The new standard represents a harmonised Australian and New Zealand standard for infant formula products. It reflects contemporary scientific and technological advances in safety and nutritional quality of infant formula products and explicitly recognises all types of infant formula currently available including infant formula for special dietary uses.
Ministers asked ANZFA to do further work around the labelling of soy-based infant formula products.
Labelling of duty free spirits
Currently, the Australian FSC imposes labelling requirements on spirits and liqueurs regardless of where these are sold and whether they are manufactured domestically or imported. However, this requirement has not been enforced for duty free spirits. There is currently no equivalent requirement in the New Zealand Food Regulations but such a requirement is included in the new Joint FSC.
Ministers rejected an application to exempt alcoholic beverages from the labelling requirements of the FSC, when sold through duty free shops for export, or in the case of in-bound duty free, for personal import (‘domestic duty free sale’).
Industrial hemp as a novel food
There has been an application for approval of the inclusion of industrial hemp seeds and oil in food and these are a good source of unsaturated fats. These are a by-product of industrial hemp which is now being grown experimentally as an alternative source of fibre for paper, fabrics and other purposes.
Ministers decided to retain the total prohibition on the use of industrial hemp as a novel food. Ministers believe that the use of hemp in food may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of Cannabis. There are also concerns about law enforcement issues, particularly from a policing perspective there are difficulties
in distinguishing between high THC Cannabis and low THC hemp products.
Maximum residue levels for cephalosporins (Australia Only)
Ministers deliberated on this issue at the last meeting in July 2001 and requested further information from the Expert Advisory Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (EAGAR). After considering EAGAR’s advice, ministers today approved a set of maximum residue limits for ceftiofur (for cattle meat and milk only) and for cephalosporin antibiotics cephuroxine, cephalonium. However, Ministers asked ANZFA and the National Registration Authority (NRA) for further advice on the proposed maximum residue limit for ceftiofur for cattle edible offal and fat.
Tall oil phytosterols
Ministers agreed to approve the use of tall oil phytosterols as novel food ingredients in edible oil spreads. Phytosterols are found naturally in plants at low levels. Studies suggest that total cholesterol and low-density lipoproteins were reduced when tall oil phytosterols were included in a range of foods. The inclusion of tall oil phytosterols as an ingredient in edible oil spreads will carry with it a mandatory advisory statement to help ensure the product is used safely and not used by those members of the population for whom it is not recommended other than under medical supervision.
Glyphosate-tolerant corn line NK603
Ministers agreed to a recommendation from ANZFA to approve food derived from glyphosate-tolerant corn line NK603 for sale and use in Australia and New Zealand. The glyphosate-tolerant corn line has undergone a robust scientific safety assessment by ANZFA and no evidence of any public health and safety risk associated with the consumption of the food has been found.
Mandatory fortification of foods
Ministers asked ANZFA to investigate the issues of fortifying bread with thiamin, margarine with Vitamin D and bread or flour with folate.
Ministers expressed concern about the availability of certain tablet-shaped mints which look like the illegal drug ecstasy. Ministers asked ANZFA and the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing to provide advice at their next meeting on measures to address the marketing of products that may encourage drug or alcohol abuse by children and teenagers.
Primary product standards (Australia Only)
Ministers agreed to a model for the development of primary production and processing standards. This is another step in the transfer of primary products standard setting to the food regulatory system. The model proposes that a Standards Development Committee of Food Standards Australia New Zealand will develop primary product and processing standards according to a set protocol. The Committee will comprise senior representatives of peak industry organisations, members with relevant scientific and technical knowledge and affected stakeholders, as well as representatives from the new Authority, Food Standards Australia New Zealand. The model is the cornerstone to the new arrangements and will ensure that necessary expertise on primary production and processing matters is injected into the process.
The Ministers also asked ANZFA to proceed urgently with the development of a wine standard for Australia to maintain the requirement of the old Food Standards Code and, thus, ensure continuation of the current access of Australian wine to the European Community market.