Australian and New Zealand Ministerial Forum highlights food regulation issue updates

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 6th July 2015

Health Star Rating The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation (the Forum) met in Hobart today and considered a range of food regulation matters. The Forum comprises all Australian and New Zealand Ministers responsible for food regulation, and is chaired by the Australian Government Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash.

Health Star Rating update

The Forum was provided with an update on progress of the Health Star Rating (HSR) system. The Forum was pleased to note the large number of products on supermarket shelves in Australia and New Zealand displaying the rating. Over 1000 products in Australia now carry the HSR.

In New Zealand, the HSR system is considered across government to be a major initiative to help address obesity and uptake by the food industry is extremely positive.

The Forum welcomed news that an April survey found a third of Australians are aware of the HSR. Two thirds of respondents said they’d like to see HSR on more products and nearly half said they’d be highly likely to use HSR if it was displayed on most products.

With more products displaying the rating available on supermarket shelves, a second phase of consumer and industry education commenced in June 2015.

The Forum tasked the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) to provide advice in relation to the clarity that is required on the HSR Terms of Reference to strengthen the governance. This will include advice regarding the process for consultation with and oversight by jurisdictions.

Nut and seed-based beverages in the Health Star Rating system

The Forum considered a request to classify nut and seed-based beverages as Category 1D dairy beverages for the purpose of the HSR system.

A majority of Forum members agreed that under the HSR system, nut and seed-based beverages may be classified as Category 1D products, if they meet the calcium requirements for that category.

The Forum also agreed to seek further consideration by the FRSC, with advice from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) on how dairy alternative beverages should be categorised within the HSR system, and how they should be treated under the relevant food standard. The Forum is also seeking further advice about reconciling recommendations received from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). This will also include the outcome of the current application that is under consideration by FSANZ.

Vitamin D in breakfast cereal

The Forum considered a draft standard approved by the FSANZ Board that seeks to permit the voluntary addition of vitamin D to breakfast cereals.

The Forum has asked FSANZ to review the draft standard to ensure consistency with the ‘Ministerial Policy Guideline for the Fortification of Food with Vitamins and Minerals’. Permitting the addition of vitamin D to breakfast cereals of poorer nutritional quality (e.g., cereals high in fat, sugar or salt) is not consistent with this Policy Guideline. The Forum also agreed that the Policy Guideline will be clarified in conjunction with the FSANZ review.

Update on investigation on information gaps in relation to low THC hemp as a food

The Forum noted the progress on work to investigate information gaps identified in relation to the adoption of low-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) hemp as a food. The FRSC Working Group is addressing the knowledge gaps identified regarding roadside drug testing, cannabidiol levels, legal and treaty issues and concerns that the marketing of hemp in food may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of cannabis.

The Forum has asked officials to progress this work as quickly as possible and has agreed to consider the report on the project outcomes in the first quarter of 2016.

Update on unpasteurised milk not for human consumption

Australian members of the Forum noted progress on work regarding the consumption of raw cow’s milk that is sold as a cosmetic product labelled ‘not for human consumption’. A national working group has been established to consider options for a nationally-consistent approach to preventing the consumption of unpasteurised (raw) milk sold as ‘bath milk’.

Australian Members of the Forum remain concerned about consumption of unpasteurised (raw) cow’s milk that is sold as ‘bath milk’, a cosmetic product labelled ‘not for human consumption’. People who consume raw milk are at an increased risk of infection causing severe illness and potentially death.

Country of Origin Labelling

The Forum noted that there was broad community interest in improving the Country of Origin Labelling framework in light of consumer concerns about the current Australian labelling framework for food.

The Forum committed in principle to improving the Country of Origin Labelling framework in Australia. New Zealand abstained from discussions noting that it would continue with its current voluntary Country of Origin Labelling scheme.

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Forum will be held in November 2015 in Canberra.