Food ministers review caffeine, formula, labelling

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 9th May 2011

Board meetingAustralian and New Zealand ministers responsible for the regulation of food and beverages met in Canberra last week, and announced a full review of the Policy Guideline for formulated caffeinated energy drinks.

The meeting of the Australia and New ZeaZealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council also discussed closer scrutiny of infant formula, scores on doors for restaurants, a review of the mandatory folate fortification of bread flour, and its response to the Blewett labelling review, which it expects to consider in December 2011.

At the meeting, chaired by Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing Catherine King, ministers ordered a comprehensive review of the original 2003 Policy Guideline on the Addition of Caffeine to Foods, following the increased number of energy drinks on the market containing caffeine and other exotic ingredients.

“Since 2003, the presence of caffeine in the food supply has changed substantially and the number of products containing caffeine has increased as has, in some cases, the level of caffeine in products,” said King.

“In response to concerns by health professionals and the community, the Ministerial Council has agreed today to a full review of the Policy Guideline, taking into consideration global developments in caffeinated products and regulatory approaches being taken in comparable markets.”

“Following the review and any necessary amendments, the Ministerial Council will decide if there is also a need to refer this issue to FSANZ for further regulatory action.”

The Ministerial Council said it is awaiting advice from the Intergovernmental Committee on Drugs on how it plans to respond to the issue of mixing alcohol with caffeinated energy drinks.

Ministers also considered a Policy Guideline developed by its Food Regulation Standing Committee for the regulation of infant formula products, involving extensive public consultation.

The guideline noted that since infants are one of the most vulnerable population groups and infant formula is a complete food, the Policy Guideline requires a pre-market assessment by FSANZ of all substances proposed for use in infant formula that do not have a history of safe use in these products.

This pre-market assessment includes the requirement to substantiate the role of the substance in normal infant growth and development.

It is not clear whether the Guideline will have a direct impact on the current furore over small quantities of unmarked genetically modified substances present in many infant formulas, as a result of supply line contamination.

The meeting also included the beginning of a health review of the new food standard for mandatory folic acid fortification, which came into effect in September 2009, in an attempt to reduce the number of neural tube birth defects (including conditions such as spina bifida) in Australian babies. A working group of members nominated by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council and the Food Regulation Standing Committee will oversee the review process.

The Ministerial Council also welcomed moves for national consistency for publicly available food safety information for restaurants – generally known as ‘scores on doors’ – by local councils, businesses and government.

The ministers also discussed their response to the Blewett labelling review, released in January, saying that while the Review has provided opportunities to significantly improve food labeling, it has also posed policy challenges for governments, and that the development of a Ministerial Council response will be complex.

The council said that each recommendation would need to be individually and systematically assessed, which it is due to consider in December 2011.