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Food Ministers Agree to Policy Initiatives

Food Ministers Agree to a Range of Policy Initiatives

JOINT COMMUNIQUE

The Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council met in Auckland today.

The ANZFRMC comprises Health and Agriculture Ministers, from Australia and New Zealand.

Today the Ministerial Council agreed to policy guidelines for four important areas of food management. These policy guidelines will now be referred to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to commence the food standards development process.

Food Safety Management in Australia Ministers agreed that food safety programs, in highest risk sectors, be made mandatory in Australia and adopted policy guidelines developed by the Ministerial Council to improve food safety management in Australia. These principles include overarching recommendations on which food business sectors should develop and implement mandatory food safety programs.

Those food business sectors included in mandatory food safety programs will be:

* food service in which potentially hazardous food is served to vulnerable populations (eg hospitals, nursing homes);

* producing, harvesting, processing and distributing raw oysters and other bivalves;

* catering operations serving food to the general public; and

* producing manufactured and fermented meat.

Implementation of mandatory food safety programs for these sectors will be required within two years after the amendments to the Food Standards Code are gazetted. This allows for a flexible approach to implementation.

New Zealand is currently reviewing both mandatory and voluntary risk-based management plans in the context of a broad ranging Domestic Food Review.

Nutrition, Health and Related Claims The Ministerial Council endorsed a nutrition, health and related claims policy guideline. The policy aims to ensure that the health and safety of the public is protected, whilst still allowing for food industry innovation and trade. It does this by incorporating a number of elements designed to ensure that claims made on foods or in advertising are true, scientifically substantiated and not misleading.

As part of the discussion, Ministers specifically considered the regulation of biomarker claims. A biomarker is one indicator of a person's risk of developing a serious disease (eg cholesterol is a biomarker for heart disease). This is a very complex issue.

Ministerial Council agreed to the following:

1. Biomarker claims on foods be permitted under the following conditions:

i. Maintenance claims will be subject to pre-market assessment and verification by FSANZ. Council requests FSANZ to report back at the May 2004 meeting on options to streamline processes for pre-market assessment and verification; ii. Enhancement claims will be subject to pre-market assessment and approval by FSANZ; and iii. Reference to serious disease will be subject to pre-market assessment and approval by FSANZ.

2. The Council requests that FSANZ initiate the development of requirements for biomarker claims on food, as part of a new standard for nutrition, health and related claims in the Food Standards Code, in accordance with the process outlined in the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991; and

3. The Council requests FSANZ to report back on progress to the Ministerial Council meeting of May 2004 on the substantiation framework to support maintenance and enhancement claims for biomarkers, to ensure clarity for consumers and industry.

Novel Foods Novel foods are those foods that are non-traditional to Australia and New Zealand and for which there has been no safety evaluation. Regulations concerning novel foods have been incorporated into the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code since June 1991. However, industry has a number of concerns about the existing standard.

Accordingly, Ministers have asked FSANZ to review the standard and associated user guide and to consider issues raised by stakeholders. The revised standard will provide greater clarity about the process FSANZ undertakes in determining if a food is novel. The Ministerial Council has asked the review of the standard has industry, government and consumer input.

Country of Origin Labelling of Food The Ministerial Council has agreed to policy guidelines for mandatory Country of Origin labelling of food.

Fortification of Food The Ministerial Council discussed fortification, such as the addition of folate and iodine to foods.

A discussion paper on fortification of food with vitamins and minerals was released for public consultation on 1 December 2003. Comments are due by 5 February 2004. The results of the consultation process will be used to develop a draft policy guideline, with Ministers scheduled to consider the guideline in May 2004.

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