Food Standards Australia New Zealand today (Wednesday) published details of changes that it is considering to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code; regulations that govern the composition, labelling and safe handling of food.

Among the proposed changes are regulations dealing with nutrition, health and related claims, the labelling of ice cream products, two new genetically modified corn varieties, use of an intense sweetener in food, and a national safety standard for poultry meat.

Once changes have been made to food standards in the code, food businesses must comply immediately with the new regulations, unless a phase-in period has been allowed.

Enforcement agencies in the States and Territories and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) continually monitor the food supply to ensure compliance with the code.  They can take action in the courts if the regulations have been breached.

Imported foods must also comply with the provisions of the code.  In Australia, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service checks food at the border, while  NZFSA carries out this task in New Zealand.

The Food Regulation Ministerial Council has asked FSANZ to develop a mandatory nutrition and health claims system for Australia and New Zealand.  FSANZ is proposing a new standard for nutrition, health and related claims that will permit a wider range of health claims to be made than is currently allowed.  At present, food manufacturers cannot make a claim on a food label linking a nutrient or substance in the food with a disease, with the exception of folate and neural tube defects in babies.  The agency invited comment from individuals and organisations on a draft food standard that sets the conditions under which nutrition and health claims can be made.

FSANZ is in the process of developing national food safety regulations for Australia’s primary industries.  It is proposing a new standard for poultry meat to ensure that strict food safety controls cover the entire poultry meat industry, from farm to fork.  Poultry farmers will be required to control food safety hazards on-farm.  Poultry processors will only be able to accept poultry from farms that comply with the regulations and must control food safety hazards during the slaughtering process. The draft standard for poultry meat also refers poultry processors to their existing legal obligations for limiting the uptake of water during the slaughtering process, which involves using water at the lowest level necessary to perform the processing function. The agency said it welcomed the views of people with an interest in the poultry meat industry.

Biocatalysts Ltd has applied for approval to use an enzyme from a new microbial fungal source as a processing aid.  The applicant claims that the enzyme, lipase, triacylglycerol, obtained from Penicillium roquefortii, produces blue-cheese odours during the production of certain types of cheeses and cheese-flavoured products.  The agency said it did not believe this processing aid raises any public health and safety concerns and that use of the enzyme is technologically justified.  It said it intended to recommend approval and invited public comment.

Novozymes A/S want the code amended to allow the use of a new enzyme, phospholipase A1, as a processing aid.  The enzyme, obtained by recombinant DNA techniques, would be used in the manufacture of cheese to improve process efficiencies and cheese yields.  The agency said that its pre-market assessment had raised no safety concerns and it confirmed that use of the enzyme is technologically justified.  It invited interested parties to study the assessment report.

Unipektin AG (Switzerland) has requested a change to the Code to allow the use of tara gum as a new food additive, to act as a thickener and stabiliser for a wide variety of foods.  Food additives must undergo a pre-market assessment by FSANZ before they can be approved.  After examining chemical, biochemical and toxicological information and the intended level of use in a range of food products, the agency has concluded that tara gum does not pose a public health or safety risk.  It is therefore recommending its approval.  Comment is invited.

Monsanto Australia Ltd has produced a genetically modified corn variety that protects against corn rootworm and is tolerant to glyphosate herbicide.  Monsanto has applied to FSANZ for approval for food derived from this GM corn to enter the food supply.   GM foods must undergo a pre-market safety assessment before they can be sold as food in Australia and New Zealand.  It has conducted this assessment and has concluded that this GM corn is as safe as corn produced by conventional means.  It is inviting comment on its intention to approve food from this insect-protected and herbicide-tolerant corn.

Syngenta Seeds Pty Ltd is seeking approval for food derived from a corn variety that has been genetically modified to protect against a number of insect pests, including three species of corn rootworm.  The agency has examined the toxicity, allergenicity and other characteristics of this GM corn and has concluded that it is as safe to consumers as non-GM varieties of corn.  It intends to approve its use in the food supply.  If the novel DNA and/or novel protein is present in the food, its GM status will be identified on the food label, as required by existing regulations.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has applied to FSANZ seeking to amend maximum residue limits (MRLs) for a number of chemicals in the code.  FSANZ has reviewed the estimated dietary exposure assessments for these applications.  These assessments indicate that the residues associated with the proposed MRLs do not represent an unacceptable risk to public health and safety.

The Plant Sciences Group of Central Queensland University and Australian Stevia Mills Pty Ltd are seeking approval for the use of steviol glycosides as an intense sweetener for a wide variety of foods.  Steviol glycosides, extracted from the herb Stevia rebaundiana, are 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose.  Food additives must undergo a pre-market assessment before approval is granted.  At this stage, the agency would like comments on the technological justification, safety, costs and benefits of approving this intense sweetener.