Previous Issues

Ministers Identify Australian Food Labelling Priorities

Published: 13 Dec 2011

Ministers Identify Australian Food Labelling Priorities

By Joe Lederman

FoodLegal Lawyers and Consultants

© Lawmedia Pty Ltd, December 2011- January 2012

The Australian and New Zealand ministers responsible for food regulatory policies (including the State and Territory Ministers and the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health)  met in Melbourne on Friday 9 December 2012 The purpose of the meeting was to issue a formal response to the recommendations in the Food Labelling Review Report, "Labelling Logic" (also known as the Blewett Report) tabled by Dr. Neal Blewett AC and his colleagues in January 2011.

New Governance Forum

The meeting of Ministers was actually described by the government’s media release as “the first meeting of the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation”(Forum). This Forum was said to replace the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council.

Comments:

The new changes raise a few questions:

  • Are all ministerial councils being renamed as “Forums” in Canberra news-speak?
  • Does the term “Forum” connote a less formal process of discussion than a decision-making council of ministers?
  • Are non-Ministers invited to make decisions impacting the food industry?
  • Are any of the public servants who are involved in the technicalities of food regulatory policy being given a front- seat role in the “Forum”, not leaving everything to be decided just by our elected politicians at such meetings?
  • Is there any other government body or Minister to have responsibility to make final decisions on food policy?
  • If actual decision-making is to take place elsewhere, will it involve a more centralised policy-making system model either under the  Federal Ministry of Health or the Australian Health Ministers' Conference (AHMC)?

Perhaps, further clarity will be provided  in the outcome of the proposed National  Food Plan. Incidentally, the current “National Food Policy- Working Group” is also described as a “Forum” and has representatives from a broad range of interests from outside government circles.  

National Nutrition Policy

The Forum agreed to the development of a ‘National Nutrition Policy’. Through this, government guidelines “will outline the role of food standards in supporting public health objectives.”

Comment:

Nutrition guidance forms part of the current Federal government’s emphasis on preventative health. Whereas, once upon a time, food laws meant laws about food safety and mandatory consumer information on the label, there is a major shift detectable in Australian government policy. For example, part of the food regulatory policy agenda aims to protect taxpayers from dietary self-harm. Query whether encouraging improved food safety or a more efficient food supply chain ought to be “old hat”.  Australian preventative health advocacy groups in Australia are pushing for Australia to become the world leader in setting new benchmarks in food regulation directives and ensuring preventative health becomes the primary objective.

Front-of-pack labeling

The Ministers agreed to the need for an easily understood, interpretative front-of-pack labelling model for packaged foods. The Federal Government’s Forum on Food Regulation will consult industry, public health and consumer stakeholders with the aim to develop a system within a year. 

Comment:

Up until now, food regulators around the world have been content to have mandatory nutrition and ingredient information appear on the back of the label. The Australian government seems intent on also regulating front-of pack labelling further. Apart from reinforcing the pre-existing consumer protection compliance obligations to avoid misleading statements or misrepresentations, the Australian law-makers seem to be moving the preventative health agenda onto front-of-pack. Preventative health professionals are pushing for government in Australia to be given a greater say on restricting some of the front-of-pack marketing claims or restricting some forms of food marketing altogether by insisting on a new standardized front-of-pack labeling system. Both sides are warming up now for the forthcoming battles ahead.  

Pregnancy warning labels on alcohol

Ministers agreed that manufacturers of alcoholic beverages will be able to introduce appropriate pregnancy warning labels on a voluntary basis for a period of two years before regulating for change that will be made mandatory

Health claims on packaged foods and drinks

The Ministers considered a presentation by Food Standards Australia New Zealand on its work to develop a new standard for Nutrition, Health and Related Claims. FSANZ have now been asked to undertake broad consultation on another version of the standard P293 before a final fifth version of the proposed standard is presented to Ministers. FoodLegal lawyers are now able to assist any company or industry groups wishing to make submissions to government, such as in relation to health claims or nutritional profiling issues, or other aspects.

Changed food safety arrangement for the retail and food service sectors
The Forum on Food Regulation has agreed to put in place a new food safety management Policy Guideline for the retail/food service sectors. The new Guideline will provide a framework for development of a nationally consistent food safety management arrangement.

Review of the mandatory fortification

The Ministers noted that mandatory fortification in Australia has been implemented by industry for iodine and folic acid. They agreed to have an assessment made about the effectiveness of the mandatory fortification of bread with iodine, with an ongoing Review. The findings of the data from the nutrition and biomedical components of the Australian Health Survey (the National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey and the National Health Measures Survey) have been identified as necessary to inform the Review. However, the full results from this Survey are not expected to be available until May 2013 and onwards into 2014.