“Long-term poisoning”: Should Australian food safety standards take into account health issues such as obesity? | Health



Demand for infant foods made in Australia is booming overseas, thanks to the country’s reputation for producing high quality and safe foods.

Australian products have gained such a reputation because they are officially known to be free of harmful chemicals and bacteria that can lead to food poisoning, but the high quality label does not take into account the nutritional content of the foods.

When it comes to product safety, a study by consumer advocacy group Choice, released in August, found that more than half of the 78 packaged meals and snacks marketed for toddlers contained harmful sugars. The worst offenders contained more than 60% sugar.

This raised questions that a review of Australian and New Zealand food standards [FSANZ] The law is currently grappling with: under food safety and labeling standards, should “safety” relate only to whether the product is safe for consumption and free of bacteria? and foodborne illness? Or should the labeling also state if the ingredients are associated with long-term damage, such as obesity, heart disease, and cancer?

FSANZ is a statutory authority that is part of the Federal Ministry of Health, but its governance is overseen by “ministers of foodâ€, who can be ministers of health or agriculture of the federal government and each. State and territory.

Public Health Association of Australia CEO Terry Slevin said public health groups feared health ministers being concerned about Covid-19, food and alcohol industry representatives had lobbied to transfer FSANZ to the agriculture portfolio.

“The ethic of agriculture is to promote a food industry, both in Australia and with export goals,†he says. “And that will mean that there won’t be too many regulations in place that hamper this industry. A food regulatory system that remains integrated with the health system will take more account of the health aspects of the food supply.

“So it all comes down to what’s important in the food?” Is it about making the industry strong and profitable, or is a healthy food supply also factoring in long-term diet-related health issues like obesity? “

Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) argues that FSANZ’s mandate should remain firmly in the former. In his submission for review, ABA Policy Officer Jonathan Chew wrote that he would be concerned about any extension of FSANZ’s original mandate beyond prevention of acute foodborne illness. He said FSANZ should not play a role in responding to broader health policy such as pursuing consumer behavior change to address multi-faceted public health issues such as obesity, non-communicable diseases and alcohol consumption.

“We believe this is, and should remain, outside the scope of work managed by FSANZ,” wrote Chew.

The goals and objectives of the food regulatory system, described by the Ministry of Health, says that “the top priority will always be to protect public health and safety”.

A senior researcher in food policy and law at the George Institute for Global Health, Dr Alexandra Jones, says issues such as obesity and chronic disease are well within the remit of FSANZ.

“The majority of Australians die from what I would call long-term food poisoning, which is excessive and sustained consumption of foods high in salt, sugar and fat, and we die of cancer and heart disease as a result. of that, â€Jones says.

“The FSANZ system has adapted to work on these long-term chronic disease risks. This has started to worry the food industry, because when it begins to see measures implemented to warn consumers about unhealthy aspects of their diets, such as alcohol pregnancy warnings, it potentially has tension with it. profits. “

Jones and Slevin are concerned that there has also been a lack of transparency around the review. The government has yet to make the 76 stakeholder submissions public, so it is difficult to answer the questions raised. The meeting of food ministers scheduled for November 4 has been postponed, but no new date has been communicated to them.

The review is expected to be completed by the end of the year, but updates on its progress are not available. Jones and Slevin say it also remains unclear what final proposals for reforms or amendments to the system have been submitted to food ministers.

“Our concern is that there is a lot of lobbying in the background, especially in the Covid conditions where you have health ministers very concerned about something else,†Jones said.

Federal Minister responsible for FSANZ Richard Colbeck said the next meeting of food ministers was set for December 16, but the agenda would not be released until the meeting.

He says the government “recognizes the vital role of FSANZ as a regulatory authority under the auspices of the Ministry of Health.”

Jane Martin, executive director of the Obesity Policy Coalition, says she received a letter from Colbeck in October saying that an “option” on how the FSANZ law could be reformed had already been submitted to food ministers for approval. But two months later, no one in the public health sector was made aware of what that option entailed, she said, including whether it involved transferring FSANZ to the agriculture ministry.

Colbeck did not provide details to Guardian Australia when asked, saying a full statement would be released after the next meeting.

“We have no transparency,†says Martin. “It’s really disappointing when you try to be part of a process to support Australia’s health at a time when the latest Burden of Disease report shows obesity and poor nutrition to be a serious problem, and yet we do not get any information. of the Minister on the reform proposals to which our efforts and our involvement lead.

ABA says FSANZ’s 2020 decision to require a pregnancy warning label on packaged alcoholic beverages sold in Australia and New Zealand is proof that “some stakeholders are looking to use the regulatory system food as a platform to pursue longer term behavior change beyond simply ensuring the safety and reliability of food â€.

“There is clearly no case or justification for FSANZ to extend its remit to preventive health or agricultural and food sustainability,” he added. most recent ABA submission to examination states.

Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education CEO Caterina Giorgi says the alcohol industry has fought hard against pregnancy warning labels and lost, so had changed orientation.

“What concerns me is that they are now trying to dismantle the structures that exist to make these decisions,†she said. “So once the health warnings related to alcohol during pregnancy were introduced, almost immediately they changed their perspective on this review and tried to tone down FSANZ’s attributions. “

Nutritionist and Visiting Researcher at the School of Medical Sciences at the University of NSW, Dr Rosemary Stanton has worked in the field of food labeling reform for over 50 years. She knows the lobbying tactics used by the food, alcohol and tobacco industries and is committed to carrying out FSANZ reforms.

“I always said that I would retire when we have a label saying ‘added sugar’ on the products,†she says. “We had to fight for years to even get the ingredients on food labels, and then we had to fight for more years to get the nutrition information panel on there.

“You have to fight for everything. “



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