Food Regulation Ministerial Council focusses on labelling and energy drinks

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 26th October 2009

The latest meeting of the Food Regulation Ministerial Council has seen the confirmation of a food labelling review, concerns raised about the impact of energy drinks, and the update of fortification guidelines.

Food Labelling Review

Ministers responsible for food issues in Australia and New Zealand met in Brisbane on Friday with the Chair of the Council and Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Mark Butler, announcing that former Australian Health Minister, Dr Neal Blewett AC, will head up the Panel which will undertake a comprehensive examination of food labelling law and policy.

“Dr Blewett was a pioneer of Australia’s universal Medicare health system and is a strong advocate for the rights of consumers. I am delighted that he has agreed to chair the Review Panel,” Mr Butler said. “The expert panel of prominent people that is currently being set up will bring together a wealth of expertise in public policy, public health, economics, law, consumer behaviour and business.”

The Terms of Reference of the review have been publicly released today and Mr Butler said Ministers are encouraging individuals and organisations to make initial submissions to the review by 20 November 2009.

“This extensive Review will play an important role both for consumers who are looking for clarity in labelling and industry who are looking for certainty about their roles and responsibilities,” Mr Butler said about the review, which will look at GM and organic food labelling – among other issues.

Trans Fatty Acids and Saturated Fats in the Australia and New Zealand Food Supply

The Ministerial Council received the review report, Intakes of Trans Fatty Acids in Australia and New Zealand 2009 Assessment, which shows that intakes of trans fatty acids are decreasing in both nations. The Ministerial Council endorsed the recommendation to retain current non-regulatory approaches to reducing the levels of trans fatty acids in the food supply, and agreed to the publication of the report on the website of FSANZ. The Ministerial Council welcomed the work of industry to reduce trans fatty acids in food by 25-40%. However, Ministers expressed concern that intakes of saturated fat remained higher than the National Health and Medical Research Council recommendations and agreed to provide the report to the Australian Health Ministers’ Conference for their information and consideration.

Caffeinated Energy Drinks

The Ministerial Council noted community concerns at the number of caffeinated energy drinks on the market and reports of recent incidents involving their consumption by young people. The Ministerial Council agreed that it would be timely to review the scientific evidence on caffeine and its use and noted the actions already taken by the TGA and NSW Government in this area.

A national compliance strategy for caffeinated energy drinks will be developed, not long after the NSW Government banned a number of energy drinks for exceeding the caffeine limit.

Front of Pack Labelling

Front of pack labelling will be one of the issues to be considered by the Food Labelling Review Panel, with Ministers reserving their judgments until after the completion of the Review.

Policy Guideline for the Fortification of Foods with Vitamins and Minerals

The Ministerial Council endorsed a revised Policy Guideline for the Fortification of Foods with Vitamins and Minerals, they advised. The updated guideline now specifies that permission to fortify should not promote increased consumption of foods with little or no nutritional value and that have no other demonstrated health benefits.

Policy Guideline on the Intent of Part 2.9 of the Code – Special Purpose Foods

The Ministerial Council endorsed the draft Policy Guideline on the Intent of Part 2.9 of the Food Standards Code – Special Purpose Foods. Part 2.9 of the Code is intended to contain food standards that prescribe specific requirements for foods processed or manufactured for use by physiologically vulnerable individuals and population sub-groups.

Food Standards contained within Part 2.9 of the Code should maintain a clear distinction between special purpose foods and foods that are regulated elsewhere in the Code, the Council concluded.