Food ministers debate labelling, nutrition, BPA and caffeine

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 8th December 2010

Woman grocery shoppingThe health implications of caffeinated energy drinks, improvement of public awareness of the nutrition content of take away food and recent international developments and efforts made by Australian and New Zealand industry in phasing out the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) chemicals in baby bottles and food containers were among a range of food and beverage topics discussed at a meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council (Ministerial Council) held in Adelaide on Friday.

The trans-Tasman meeting of Ministers responsible for food was chaired by the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King who said a highlight of the meeting was a detailed briefing by Dr Neal Blewett who is chairing the independent Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (the Review). ‘This historic review has generated enormous public and industry interest with the Panel members tackling the widest range of food and beverage labelling issues ever undertaken’ Ms King said.

‘Dr Blewett outlined the diverse range of demands in the community for labelling and he emphasised that the panel’s final report will include crucial recommendations on what the role of government should be in the regulation of food labelling along with approaches to achieve compliance and consistent enforcement. ‘The Ministerial Council noted the overwhelming response to the Review and expressed appreciation for the time and effort that individuals and organisations have taken in preparing submissions and attending public consultation meetings. ‘The Panel members are finalising their report and recommendations which will be provided to the Ministerial Council in late January and will then be publicly released,’ Ms King said.

Point of Sale Nutrition Information in Standard Food Outlets

The Ministerial Council today agreed that Australians should have the opportunity when purchasing food from chain fast food outlets to know more about the nutritional content of foods prepared and served away from home.  Ministers agreed that the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) should work with the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council to develop advice on a national approach by mid 2011 that could guide the display of nutrition information in standard fast food chain restaurants. This decision follows actions in different States to improve public awareness of the nutrition content of take away food by providing this information at the point of sale.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

The Ministerial Council considered a report by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) on Bisphenol A (BPA) – a chemical used in the plastics industry in baby bottles and food containers. The report included an update on recent international developments, including information on further safety assessment work being undertaken by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and actions taken by the Australian and New Zealand industry.

Members of the Ministerial Council noted that FSANZ has determined that the exposure of BPA from food sources in Australia and New Zealand is well below the internationally established safe levels and poses no significant human health risk. Ministers noted that the low levels of exposure are likely to decrease even further as a result of the industry initiatives to phase out the use of BPA in various food containers. The Ministerial Council sought assurances from FSANZ to continue to liaise with industry in relation to alternative packaging materials such as stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free plastics to ensure their safety.

Regulation of Caffeinated Energy Drinks

The Ministerial Council noted that concerns continue to be raised about caffeine and caffeinated energy drinks in particular for young people. More recently the practice of mixing caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol is emerging. The Ministerial Council agreed the issue of RTDs and combining alcohol with caffeinated beverages would be referred to the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy for consideration.

In relation to non-alcoholic caffeinated energy drinks the Ministerial Council has asked the Food Regulation Standing Committee to undertake scoping work and provide advice on possible areas for action and report back at the next Ministerial Council meeting.