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Draft Australia NZ Food Standards Code Released

Draft Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code Released

The launch of a draft food standards code for public comment signals a milestone in New Zealand's relationship with Australia, Health Minister Annette King and Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mrs King said the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code would benefit the consumer by ensuring food product labelling was more thorough and accurate.

"The requirements of the code will mean consumers have more information about food, including more extensive ingredient listing, nutritional information, use and storage instructions, food additives, date marking, legibility requirements, and the batch number, manufacturer's and importer's address.

"A key difference is that manufactured foods will be required to show the percentage of their key ingredients. For example, how much meat there is in a meat pie, how much milk fat in ice cream and fruit in jam."

Mr Sutton said the code would have beneficial spin-offs for New Zealand trade. "It will make it easier for New Zealand to sell our products on the Australian market. Given Australia's population of 19 million, this has to be good for our economy.

"Having an up to date code, which is strengthened by Australia's involvement, will also have benefits in terms of the wider international market," he said.

Mrs King said the code, when adopted, would be the first piece of joint legislation under the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER).

The Australian New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) today released the draft code for public comment. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council will consider the final draft of the code later this year. Food manufacturers will be given an 18-month phase in period once the final code is endorsed.

"Intensive work began in 1996 when Australia and New Zealand signed a treaty to develop a joint code," Mrs King said. "There has already been extensive consultation with industry groups both here and in Australia, including consumer representatives."

The draft code was also released in Canberra today by Senator Grant Tambling, Parliament Secretary for Health and Aged Care.

For more information ring John Harvey on 04 471 9305

The draft code is available on the ANZFA website;

Background Information

New Zealand and Australia have had a long and close historical association that extends far beyond trade in food. This relationship was formally recognised in 1983 by the signing of the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER) which removed all tariffs on goods traded across the Tasman. In 1988 CER was expanded to include free trade in both goods and services.

More recently, the main area of development under CER has been the drive to reduce compliance costs for business through initiatives such as the Agreement on Joint Food Standards. On 5 December 1995 Australia and New Zealand signed the Joint Food Standards Treaty. This provided for a new joint food standards-setting system including the establishment of the Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA), which came into operation in July 1996.

Under the Treaty, the Code is administered by the ANZFA Board, which comprises eight members, including two New Zealanders. New Zealand has also had an additional special member who has been assisting development of the Joint Food Standards Code. The overseeing body is the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council (ANZFSC) which comprises 10 Ministers - one from New Zealand (Health Minister Annette King) and each of the States, Territories and Commonwealth of Australia.

The Commonwealth of Australia and New Zealand provide funding for ANZFA. This is based on a population pro-rata basis.

Questions and Answers on Joint Food Standards

Why has New Zealand moved towards joint food standards in both countries?
New Zealand's main reason for moving to a joint food standards system with Australia was the positive effect joint standards were expected to have on improving trans-Tasman trade. It is far easier to conduct business on the basis of one set of regulations instead of having to comply with two separate sets of rules.

Essentially, New Zealand wanted to set food standards jointly with Australia because:
 a joint system with Australia represented a cost effective way of meeting our public health, food safety and trading objectives;
 it provided an opportunity to review all food standards as well as the system for food standards development;
 it provided access to a larger pool of expertise than New Zealand could fund alone.

The code will also mean the New Zealand food industry will have access to the Australian market of about 19 million people. Similarly Australia will have access to the New Zealand market of approximately 4 million people.

What are the benefits of the new joint food standards?
 protecting public health and enhancing safety while providing consumers with more information and greater choice;
 promoting trade between the two countries by removing the barriers of having separate food laws in each country;
 providing New Zealand and Australian industry with a common set of regulations covering the manufacture of foods;
 preventing fraud and deception by ensuring products are accurately labelled thereby aiding consumer choice;
 strengthening ties between Australia and New Zealand. The code will also ultimately help facilitate trade on a wider basis;
 providing a benchmark for imported foods;
 ensuring a more consistent approach for regulations and taking into account the variety of foods available in today's world.

How are the joint standards different from what already exists in New Zealand?
They are more flexible than previous food regulations. For example, they no longer specify exactly what substances should be contained in a particular product. Instead they state what substances should not be included. This allows manufacturers to be more innovative in terms of developing food products, therefore providing the customer with more choice.

The joint standards also rely heavily on the Fair Trading Act, so there is an onus on manufacturers to provide accurate information on labels thereby aiding consumer choice.

What changes will be visible to the consumer?
The consumer will have access to more information about the contents of food. Changes to labelling requirements mean more information will be recorded on food products including:

Ingredients list. The proposed standard has ingredients listed in order of largest to smallest as before, but also requires the manufacturer to list the percentage of the main ingredient ie what percentage of strawberries is contained in a pot of yoghurt.

Nutrition information. The proposed standard requires that basic nutrition information about fat, protein, energy, carbohydrates and sodium is provided. The existing standard makes no requirement for nutrition labelling unless a nutrition claim, for example low fat yoghurt, is made. For example, the labelling for a 450 gram tub of strawberry yoghurt would look like this;

Nutritional information
One serving = 150g
Number of servings per pack – 3 Per 100 g
Energy 628kj 405kj
Protein 4.2g 2.8g
Fat 7.5g 4.9g
Carbohydrate 18.6g 12.4g
Sodium 90mg 60mg

Date marking. The proposed standard requires packaged food like yoghurt with a shelf life of less than two years to have a best before date, although it may still be alright to consume the food after the best before date. Where the food must be consumed before a certain date, for health and safety reasons, it must have a use by date. The majority of foods will have a best before date under the new standard, bringing us in line with international standards.

Legibility requirements. The proposed standard brings Australia and New Zealand into line with international standards which require the label to be legible, prominent and in English. There is also a requirement that the print in warning statements -- for example ‘This product may contain peanuts’ -- be at least 3mm.

Will the new labelling requirements result in extra costs for consumers?
All efforts have been made to minimise the cost to the manufacturer by making all the changes at the same time and allowing an 18-month phase in period. This means manufacturers have 18-months to use up old stock and will only have to have one reprint of product labels.

What impact does trade relations with Australia have on the New Zealand economy? Australia is both NZ’s largest bilateral export destination and its largest bilateral source of imports, and has been so throughout the 1990s.

Since the inception of CER 17 years ago, New Zealand's export volumes have increased 380% while imports from Australia have increased by over 300%. Bilateral trade between NZ and Australia has increased by over 334% since the start of CER and now stands at $11.31 billion for the year to December 1999. NZ’s bilateral trade with Australia is more than 50 percent greater than with the US, NZ’s next largest bilateral trading partner.

How important is New Zealand's trade in food with Australia?
As the graph below shows, throughout the 1990s bilateral trade in food products between Australia and New Zealand has been steadily growing, and New Zealand, in fact, exports more food to Australia than Australia exports to New Zealand.

Trans-Tasman Trade in Food (A$'000)

CY 1989 CY 1990 CY 1991 CY 1992 CY 1993 CY 1994
NZ exports to Australia $ 237,306 $ 259,709 $306,248 $362,182 $383,733 $ 433,791
NZ imports from Australia $ 204,464 $ 199,634 $206,129 $227,247 $265,546 $ 299,737

CY 1995 CY 1996 CY 1997 CY 1998 CY 1999
NZ exports to Australia $ 481,465 $ 494,506 $490,725 $553,759 $623,922
NZ imports from Australia $ 351,002 $ 456,959 $461,292 $444,414 $487,472

Are there any food regulations which are not covered by the joint code?
Foods will still be subject to Fair Trading Laws, Environmental legislation, Agricultural Legislation and Food and Health Laws. However, there are some food regulations which are not covered by the joint code. These are:
 Maximum Residue Limited for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals in Foods
 Food hygiene provisions and food safety programmes
 Export regulations relating to third country trade
 Dietary Supplements Regulations 1985
 Enforcement

How has the Joint Code been developed?
In the past both New Zealand and Australia have had their own food regulations - the New Zealand Food Regulations 1984 and the Australian

Food Standards Code. Manufacturers have had the choice of complying with either of the regulations.

ANZFA has spent the past five years, the last four with New Zealand involved, reviewing 70 individual proposals for food standards. Each standard has already been individually consulted on.

Is there any link between ANZFA’s Review of the Food Standards Code and options currently being considered by an Intergovernmental Taskforce for labelling Genetically Modified foods? No, the Food Standards Code Review and the work of the Intergovernmental Taskforce are two quite different processes. However, when a new standard for labelling genetically modified food is finalised, it will be included in the joint Food Standards Code.

What happens now the draft document has been released?
The Code is open for submissions for until 17 May. Roadshows will be held in Wellington on March 20, Auckland March 21, Christchurch March 23, Dunedin March 24 and Rotorua March 29. A final draft of the Joint Food Standards Code will be presented to Australian and New Zealand Health Ministers (the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council) ANZFSC later this year. Providing the Code is approved, it is expected to be gazetted in October or November, at which time the Joint Code comes into force. The Joint Code will be phased in over 18 months, during which time manufacturers can comply with either the existing code or the new joint code. From about May 2002, the Joint Code becomes the Joint Food Standards Code in both countries.

What is the purpose of consultation?
The consultation seeks comments on the draft as a whole, rather than to address the content of the 70 individual standards. The scope of this consultation covers:
 the overall effectiveness and workability of the draft Code as a single document;
 areas of duplication and ambiguity in the draft Code;
 inconsistencies in the terminology and drafting style used in the draft Code.

The consultation seeks comment on the consistency, coverage, omissions and anomalies within the Code as a whole.

Does ANZFSC have to endorse the new Code unanimously in October in order for the Code to be accepted?
No. The preferred objective is to gain approval for the Code from all stakeholders in all jurisdictions. However, a majority ANZFSC vote in favour of the Code will suffice to secure the agreement to implement it.

How to provide comment

The draft Code is available on the ANZFA website at or or on CD Rom from ANZFA’s Information Officer. Comments should be provided by Wednesday 17 May 2000.

© Scoop Media

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