Government seeks submissions on possible changes to Australia’s caffeine policy guidelines
Australia’s Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) has invited public submissions on a Food Regulation Policy Options Paper for formulating policy guidelines on the regulation of caffeine in food in Australia and New Zealand.
The FRSC is responsible for providing food regulation policy advice to Australian Federal and State Government as well as the New Zealand government. The purpose of the Food Regulation Policy Options Paper is to establish if the earlier 2003 “Ministerial Council Policy Guideline on the Addition of Caffeine to Foods” needs to be updated, maintained or rescinded.
While the Options Paper does not specifically propose possible changes to the regulation of caffeine (any regulatory changes would need to proceed through the food standards development process set out in the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991), a revision to the Policy Guideline may lead to a review of existing regulatory standards applying to caffeine.
Possible changes in Australia’s government policy agenda for caffeine regulation come at the same time as caffeine intake is under the spotlight globally. In February 2013, Australian Food News reported that the European Commission (EC) had asked the European Food Safety Authority to assess the safety of caffeine in the EU.
History of caffeine regulation in Australia
In Australia, the use of added caffeine in food and beverages is regulated by the Food Code. Foods that naturally contain caffeine, such as coffee, tea, chocolate and guarana, are generally permitted and, with few restrictions, can be mixed with other foods under the general provisions of the Food Code.
Before 2001, the only permission in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code to add caffeine to food was as a flavouring food additive for cola-style beverages. In 1999, an energy drink manufacturer applied to use added caffeine in formulated caffeinated beverages (FCBs, commonly called ‘energy drinks’). In 2001, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) amended the Food Standards Code to allow the production and sale of FCBs.
The current caffeine regulation Policy Guideline states that until further evidence becomes available, caffeine regulation should “maintain the status quo” by:
- Maintaining the current additive permissions for caffeine
- Restricting the use of new products containing non-traditional caffeine-rich ingredients (including guarana) to boost the caffeine content in other food, beyond the current provisions for caffeine
Any food or beverage that contains guarana or its extract must have a statement on its label that the product contains caffeine, but the precise source and amount of caffeine is not required to be specified. Cola-style beverages that contain added caffeine, and foods in which cola-style beverages are used as ingredients, must also state that the product contains caffeine. Where caffeine is added to a food it must be declared in the ingredient list as ‘caffeine’.
Where caffeine is naturally present in a food or ingredient, such as coffee and cocoa, it is not a requirement that food labels indicate the presence or amount of caffeine. The exception to this regulation is guarana, which does require a statement to the effect that the product contains caffeine.
Peak beverage industry bodies in Australia have also developed self-regulatory initiatives to assist their members in complying with regulatory requirements for caffeine content.
Key industry self-regulatory initiatives include marketing codes for energy drinks and energy shots. For example, the Australian Beverages Council have adopted an ‘Industry Commitment’, which supports a “responsible approach” to the marketing, promotion and consumption of energy drinks in order to ensure these products are not available in primary and secondary schools, are not promoted for mixing with any other beverage, are not marketed or advertised directly to children, and do no promote activities that encourage excessive consumption of energy drinks. This commitment also addresses further issues relating to energy drinks and alcohol.
Changes in volume and types of products containing caffeine
The FRSC said that since the caffeine regulation Policy Guideline was issued in 2003, the market for products containing caffeine “has changed considerably”.
According to 2011 data from market research organisation Canadean, sales of energy drinks in Australia and New Zealand increased from 34.5 million litres in 2001 to 155.6 million litres in 2010, in line with a global trend.
Coffee consumption has also increased, with 2011 data from Australian market research organisation Roy Morgan Research finding that fresh coffee purchases in Australia increased from 24 per cent to 26 per cent between 2003 and 2011. The research also found that a total of 55 per cent of Australians aged 14 or over had been to a café for coffee or tea in the previous three month period, up from 48.4 per cent in March 2003.
Data from global market research organisation IBISWorld in 2012 showed that the number of cafes and coffee shops in Australia had increased from 4,364 in 2002-03 to 6,261 in 2011-12.
According to FRSC, the sales of other caffeine containing products such as teas and chocolates have not followed the same pattern of strong growth.
FRSC said a number of novel products containing caffeine had been introduced to international markets since 2003, and that the removal of caffeine from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances in 2004 had led to a trend to add caffeine to sports foods.
FoodLegal monitors regulatory implications
FoodLegal, which provides consulting advice to food companies, is monitoring the possible implications of the Options Paper and any new Policy Guidelines.
Public stakeholder meetings
The FRSC consultation has opened and will continue until 6pm AEST, Friday 18 October 2013. FRSC will be holding two public stakeholder meetings as part of the consultation. The meetings are expected to run for up to two hours.
Monday 23 September 2013, 10am (AEST)
Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) rooms
Level 8, 260 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, Australia
New Zealand meeting:
Wednesday 25 September 2013, 10am (NZ time)
Food Bowl (New Zealand Food Innovation Network)
28 Verissimo Drive, Auckland Airport, New Zealand