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3rd Intl. Food Information Organisation Summit

Hon Annette King
9 February 2005 Speech Notes

Third International Food Information Organisation Summit

Thank you for inviting me to be part of the third International Food Information Organisation Summit, and congratulations to the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation for the enthusiasm and professionalism with which you have organised the event.

I particularly want to welcome all the international visitors, from the International Food Information Organisation as well as international food company representatives.

As I am sure you have already discovered, you have come to a special place in New Zealand, and I hope that while you are visiting Queenstown you're able to enjoy the local hospitality and to take part in some of the wonderful recreational opportunities on offer in this region.

I'm not saying what sort of person I am, but I'm told there are two kinds of adventurers: those who go truly hoping to find adventure and those who go secretly hoping they won't.

If you're in this second category, and bungy jumping or jet boating are not your thing, there are plenty of other, less physical activities on offer. Just relaxing and absorbing the magnificent mountain scenery has its own rewards, and should put you in the mood for enjoying the excellent food and wines the region has on offer.

One reason I am very happy to be here is that this is one of those events that allows me to wear both my ministerial hats, as Minister for Food Safety as well as Minister of Health. I know today’s discussions focus on health, but before I talk about the pressing issues associated with obesity, I want to foreshadow some of the topics you may discuss in tomorrow’s food safety sessions.

The distinguished turnout here of so many people from food industries and organisations around the world reflects the key role the food industry plays in all our economies, and in the health of our nations.

In New Zealand it has long been understood that safe food is vital to both our domestic consumers, and to our export economy. Our soils and our climate, together with our leading-edge technologies, have combined to create some of the cleanest, most efficient food production systems in the world.

Yet while we are blessed with these very safe food chains, we also live in an age when all aspects of nutrition, diet and health are increasingly and quite rightly under the spotlight.

There is a rapid change and expansion in the range of things we eat, and how we eat them. We're demanding more convenient and easy to prepare foods, yet we're insisting they must be high in nutritional value and free of all forms of contamination.

In New Zealand we manufacture and export thousands of individual food products that are purchased and consumed daily. We offer these products to consumers on the basis of quality and trust, and I am proud of New Zealand’s reputation.
This quality and trust has been built up over decades, and, in fact, it dates right back to 1882, when the Dunedin sailed from this very province with our first cargo of refrigerated meat to Britain.

As I am sure everyone here knows, however, trust can be lost overnight over an issue of safety, and that is the main reason we established the New Zealand Food Safety Authority three years ago, and I became New Zealand’s first Minister for Food Safety. The aim was to ensure that New Zealand has a robust food regulatory programme that has the confidence of all our stakeholders, both domestic and overseas.

As part of that process, the Authority has begun a wide-ranging review of all existing food legislation and programmes. The Domestic Food Review will establish a programme that protects consumers, minimises compliance costs and ensures New Zealand's food industry is positioned for the growth we all expect to see in the future.

It will establish a food regulatory programmme that will apply across the board – meeting the needs of both the biggest dairy factory to the smallest vendor in New Zealand. A key objective will be to provide a cost-effective, coherent and seamless programme that will reduce incidences of food-borne illness and protect our reputation as a producer of safe food.

The review also aims to remove unnecessary red tape and to streamline the requirements that must be met by industry.

I know some businesses have taken the initiative and put in place systems and standards that reflect modern developments in food production, and for them, any changes resulting from the review will be minor.

Since the review was first announced in March 2003, the level of interest has been huge. As part of the first phase of public consultation, workshops have been held around the country to provide an opportunity to groups and individuals to ask questions, clarify concepts and approaches and provide a forum for open discussion of issues.

I look forward to a continuation of this consultation process. Submissions are open until the end of this month, and it is most important that people involved in any kind of food production take this opportunity to have their say.

But to get back to today’s theme of addressing obesity and lifestyle challenges … as Health Minister I am extremely pleased that you have chosen this theme for your summit. It is a theme that I imagine is rarely far from the thoughts of any health minister around the world. So serious is the problem worldwide that the World Health Organisation has called the global tidal wave of obesity “globesity”.

New Zealand statistics show this country has every reason to be concerned.

Results from the 2003 New Zealand Health Survey indicate that 35 per cent of adult New Zealanders are overweight and a further 21 percent of adult New Zealanders are obese. This means that more than half of our population are either overweight or obese. The Children’s Nutrition Survey 2002 data results are equally alarming with 21 per cent of children from 5-14 years overweight and a further 10 per cent obese.

Because of such statistics, reducing obesity, along with improving nutrition and increasing physical activity, are priority population health objectives for New Zealand. In 2003 I launched an integrated strategy called Healthy Eating - Healthy Action or HEHA, which is the Government's policy response to the issues of improving nutrition, increasing physical activity and reducing obesity.
The health sector realises that it alone cannot stem the tide of the obesity epidemic affecting this country at the moment. There is a need for involvement of the whole of society in combined action to influence the environment in which we live.

For this reason, the Ministry of Health engaged many different sectors, such as transport, education, sport and recreation, local government and both the food and physical activity industries in the developing an implementation plan for the Strategy, a plan I launched in June last year.

During the development of the plan, a food and physical activity industry group met several times to look at specific actions that could be undertaken by industry to assist with the issues. I won’t detail all those actions, but some of the most important have included:

- Establishing an industry implementation group.
- Investigating options to increase the profile of healthy food choices and physical activity in the media, advertising and promotion.
- Encouraging the food industry to reduce fat, salt, and sugar content of manufactured foods.
- Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats in foods.
- Promoting industry innovation to provide healthy nutritious choices to consumers at competitive prices.
- Promoting consumption of vegetables and fruits in a variety of settings --- homes, schools, workplaces, rest homes, and marae.
- Developing guidelines for use by the media.

I believe the food information organisations here today can be a catalyst for action to help make a difference to the obesity statistics. I know that the food industry in New Zealand wants to meet the challenge of rising obesity, but I also know we can all learn from each other about the best ways to proceed.

For that reason I look forward to hearing what your discussions produce in Queenstown this week.

Two examples of areas where specific initiatives could be useful and where work is being done overseas include:

- Standardising of portion sizing for food, particularly those foods high in salt, fat and or sugar. There is evidence that supersizing has an effect on consumption. I know that there has been work in the United Kingdom around downsizing some types of confectionary.

- Using the voluntary advertising code as it relates to the promotion of food to children to reduce the promotion of high fat, salt and sugar foods to children.

Last year, following the launch of the HEHA implementation plan, the food industry in New Zealand developed its own food industry accord whose vision is “businesses working collaboratively to meet the challenge of obesity in New Zealand”.

While there was understandably some cynical reaction to the development of this accord, I have welcomed the initiative, and believe it can influence the obesogenic environment in which we live. There is clearly huge scope for the food industry to influence the foods that are available and affordable, and the impact of the accord will be monitored closely. Real changes will need to happen or we will be in danger of reinforcing the cynicism that already exists.

Dr Ruth Richards from the Ministry will be discussing this area in greater detail during the lunchtime presentation today. I understand she will also be discussing New Zealand's initiatives in relation to the WHO Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health.

New Zealand's progress in developing its integrated HEHA strategy and implementation plan puts us in the forefront of world initiatives, and I believe we have the potential to be a world leader as well in terms of collaboration between the health sector and the food industry to achieve the outcomes identified in the HEHA implementation plan.

The alternatives to voluntary collaboration, such as using legislative options, a path taken by some governments overseas to influence the obesogenic environment, will be available to future governments in New Zealand too, but I hope that the collaborative path we are going down makes a real difference to globesity in the New Zealand setting.

Even small changes in nutrition and physical activity can make a significant difference in population health over time. The food industry in New Zealand has a chance to make a real contribution, and I look forward to evidence of it occurring. Thank you again for inviting me to join you today.

ENDS

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