The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) today released for public comment a number of proposals to amend the Food Standards Code, including standards on medical foods, residue levels for antibiotics and the use of tall oil plant sterols.

ANZFA' s Managing Director Ian Lindenmayer said public comment is generally invited at two stages when a proposal or application is received to amend the Code.

Submissions are called to comment on initial assessments and draft assessments, which state the nature of the proposal and options that ANZFA is considering to put before the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council.   Careful consideration is given to each submission, based on the relevance of evidence and analysis put forward.

'After each consultation stage, an adjustment is made to the assessment if new evidence comes to light or new interpretations of existing evidence is forthcoming,' Mr Lindenmayer said.   ' It is not enough just to disagree with a proposal - it is not a popularity contest.'

Food for special medical purposes (P242) - Initial Assessment [ pdf ]
The proposed standard would apply to formulated food products for use under the supervision of medical, dietetic or other health professionals.   They include specialised ' complete nutrition' and supplementary formulas used for the dietary management of people unable to eat a normal diet, and very low energy diet formulas used for weight loss.

At present, foods for special medical purposes are not specifically regulated and, because of their formulated nature, most fail to comply with the general provisions of the Food Standards Code.   The proposal seeks to establish a standard for Australia and New Zealand and comment is invited, especially from health professionals, the medical food industry and groups representing particular types of patients as well as from the public in general.

The standard is intended to ensure the quality and safety of such foods for a vulnerable population group, without impeding the capacity of health professionals to adjust food intakes to meet the special needs of individual patients.

Plant sterols derived from tall oils (A417) - Draft Assessment [ pdf ]
Tall oil plant sterols are chemicals obtained from coniferous trees.   They are structurally related to cholesterol and occur naturally at low levels   (up to 0.9%) in common vegetable oils.   Tall oil plant sterols are reported to reduce plasma cholesterol levels.  

A food manufacturer has sought approval for the use of tall oil plant sterols in edible table spreads (margarines) at a level of 8%, by weight, of the product.   ANZFA has performed an extensive scientific risk assessment (including expected dietary exposures to plant sterols) and concluded that consumption of tall oil plant sterols is safe up to the level that would be likely to occur from the fortification level proposed.   M andatory advisory statements would be required indicating, for example, that the product is not recommended for infants, children, and pregnant or nursing women.

In June 2001, the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council approved the use in margarines of plant sterols derived from vegetable oils.

Maximum residue limits for antibiotics (A422) - Draft Assessment [ pdf ]
A number of amendments to the Food Standards Code have been proposed by the National Registration Authority for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals, including the addition of new maximum residue limits (MRLs) for the antibiotics avilamycin in poultry meat and poultry offal and oxytetracycline in honey; and the deletion of . MRLs for benzyl G penicillin, procaine penicillin and erthromycin in a number of products.

A scientific risk assessment by ANZFA has concluded that the proposed changes to MRLs do not represent an unacceptable risk to public health and safety.   

In relation to the development of antibiotic resistance, ANZFA has routinely sought the advice of the National Health and Medical Research Council Expert Advisory Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (EAGAR) or its predecessor, the Working Party on Antibiotics (WPA).   These experts believe that the proposed MRLs for avilamycin and oxytetracycline do not appear to pose a risk of increasing the development of resistance to antibiotics.

A new GM source of lipase (A435) - Draft Assessment [ pdf ]
Currently, food manufacturers are permitted to use the enzyme lipase as a processing aid when derived from several sources, including a genetically modified strain of the source organism Aspergillus oryzae. An application has been made for approval to use a different strain of genetically modified A. oryzae. Lipase produced in this way has technological advantages in the production process.

Because the use of lipase from the new GM source is technologically justified and poses no additional risks to public health and safety, ANZFA is proposing to recommend that the Food Standards Code should be amended to permit its use.

Further information

Submissions should be received by ANZFA by 21 November 2001. Copies of the Applications and Proposals can be obtained from the ANZFA website at www.anzfa.gov.au or www.anzfa.govt.nz.   Alternatively, hard-copy versions are available from ANZFA in Australia on phone 02 6271 2222 or in New Zealand on 04 473 9942.