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Proposed Changes to Food Standards Code could potentially affect international cassava industries

Published: 17 Mar 2008

by Joe Lederman, John Gao and Charles Fisher © Lawmedia Pty Ltd, March 2008
FoodLegal
Australian Food Lawyers and Consultants

A new proposal from Food Standards Australia New Zealand could have significant trade ramifications with our South East Asian and Pacific neighbours.

On Thursday 6 March 2008, the proposal to amend the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Food Standards Code) was released on Thursday 6 March 2008 by the government agency Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in Proposal P1002: Hydrocyanic Acid in Ready-to-Eat Cassava Chips Assessment Report, which can viewed in full at the following website: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/_srcfiles/P1002_Cassava_in_Vege_chips_AR.pdf

The proposal by FSANZ would introduce into the Food Standards Code a limit on the level of natural hydrocyanic acid (HCN) in Ready-to-Eat Cassava chip products. HCN is a toxic substance found naturally in many plant varieties (including cassava) and is usually substantially reduced to safe levels through processing. HCN is available in cassava in the form of linamarin, which is broken down in the human intestines to produce HCN. Currently, regulations exist in Australia and New Zealand for HCN levels in confectionery (25 mg/kg) and marzipan (50 mg/kg). However the proposal for cassava-based products recommends the much lower level of only 10 mg/kg.

Although this 10 mg/kg level is based on international standards for cassava flour, many affected cassava products contain processed whole cassava and are therefore likely to contain much higher levels of HCN than cassava flour due to different processing methods.

The proposed changes to the Zealand Food Standards Code may make it difficult for suppliers of cassava to Australia or New Zealand to sell their cassava-based products in our markets. While the main suppliers of cassava to Australia are tropical Asia Pacific countries, such as Tonga, Fiji and Indonesia, almost every nation with a tropical climate has a cassava industry. These industries are often actively encouraged by the United Nations. The cassava industry is being championed in developing nations by the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations through their Global Cassava Development Strategy. Cassava consumption in Australia has been growing in recent years with the increasing popularity of cassava chips or crackers as an alternative to potato chips.

A risk assessment by FSANZ had previously found that a level of 80 mg/kg in cassava-based chips would be safe even if a 20kg child consumed 200g of chips within 2 hours. This demonstrates that the proposal for HCN levels of 10 mg/kg in cassava-based products is a very conservative approach.
The deadline for any submission to be made by any interested party to FSANZ is 6pm (Canberra time) on 3 April 2008.

The firm, FoodLegal, is a specialist law firm and consultancy for food companies and governments requiring advice on Australian food standards and food regulatory compliance. We believe that any party with interests in the cassava industry whether domestically or overseas ought to consider making a submission.