Bureaucratic response from FSANZ Minister Gillespie

The letter below was sent in February 2017 to the Federal Minister for Health, responsible for the food regulation body FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand). 

Further down you will see his response and I think you will agree that no issue raised with him was actually addressed in the response.

The responses seemed to go right past the issues raised without showing any awareness of consumer concerns at all.

Please tell us whether you think the issues the Network raised are real. And tell us what you think of the Minister’s response to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Your comments will be added here to this blog……

 

LETTER TO FSANZ MINISTER                                                                                                                                                  FINletterhead 

 

 

 

 
21 February 2017

The Hon Dr David Gillespie, MP
Assistant Minister for Health
Parliament House, Canberra  ACT 2600

By email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dear Minister


I am writing to you as Minister responsible for Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to alert you to emerging problems which are not being dealt with by your bureaucracy and perhaps cannot be fixed under the current Act.


The central issue is that the food industry is running rings around the current Food Standards Code because the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 for which you are responsible is now seriously out of date and has for some time not met community expectations.


The community, of which I represent the largest organisation focussed on food with more than 12,500 families at present, takes seriously two Objects in particular of this Act:



(a)  a high degree of consumer confidence in the quality and safety of food produced, processed, sold or exported from Australia and New Zealand;

(c)  the provision of adequate information relating to food to enable consumers to make informed choices


I present evidence below showing how badly these two Objects are being eroded under the current Act and suggest a way to address this concern. Links are given below as references for statements made.


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PO Box 718, Woolgoolga NSW 2456 AUSTRALIA +61 2 6654 7500 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   www.fedup.com.au The Food Intolerance Network provides independent information about the effects of food on behaviour, health and learning in both children and adults, and support for families using a low-chemical elimination diet free of additives, low in salicylates, amines and flavour enhancers (FAILSAFE) for health, behaviour and learning problems. ABN 72 705 112 854


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Consumer confidence


There are several  surveys on consumer confidence in food regulation, ranging from a selected audience of 648 people in 2008 where 96% agreed that “food additives should be better tested for their effects before they are approved” (1) through a huge and sound survey of 100,000 people in 2008 where 73% agreed that “I am concerned that food authorities are not doing enough to regulate what food manufacturers can and can’t put in the foods” (2).


Food ranked as highest concern for consumers in Consumers Federation of Australia (CFA) survey of 591 people in 2013 where 75% of respondents identified misleading information about food production as a 'very important' issue (3).


But the clearest picture of consumer lack of confidence comes from two surveys run by FSANZ itself which show that the situation has remained unacceptable over the past eight years:


·        
FSANZ Consumer Attitudes Survey in 2008 of 2,000 people showed that  61% of consumers lacked confidence in organisations providing regulation and monitoring of the food supply (4).

         ·         FSANZ Food Labelling Use and Understanding in 2016 of 2,400 people showed that 33% of consumers disagreed when asked “Generally speaking I trust the information on food labels” (5).


Overall, consumers clearly say that they do not have a high degree of confidence in the regulator or in the information being provided under regulation.


Informed choice


The ability of consumers to make an informed choice about foods is being seriously attacked by the food industry under weak regulation. Three key issues:


1.      
Additives of concern being hidden as ingredients


It is now possible to include free glutamates (MSG) in 123 identified ways as ingredients (6), thus avoiding showing them as additives. To add insult to injury, many of these products then claim “no added MSG” or even “no MSG”, deliberately misleading consumers. Neither FSANZ nor ACCC are willing to act on this deception. It makes no logical sense and erodes confidence when six “white powder” versions of glutamates (620-625) are being regulated as additives while 123 other forms are not being regulated in any way despite being chemically identical.


Similarly, it is now possible to include the anti-mould bread preservative propionate as an ingredient in at least nine unregulated ways that have been identified while only four “white powder” forms (280-283) are being regulated as additives. Again, not logical and intended to mislead consumers who seek to avoid this additive.


It is becoming clear that this trend will continue, that there will be many more ingenious ways used to manufacture currently regulated food preservatives inside food as ingredients so that they are hidden in a misleading manner on the label. In future consumers will have no idea that there are, for instance, currently regulated benzoate preservatives hidden in a food. The whole notion of government regulation will fall further into disrepute.


This approach to misleading consumers is an international food industry strategy called the Clean Label which aims to remove numbers and chemical-sounding names, and replace them with the same chemicals listed as innocent-sounding ingredients.


2.      
Additives being hidden as ‘processing aids’


There is a similar international effort underway through food regulatory agencies and CODEX to remove currently regulated materials and have them declared as processing aids, meaning that they do not have to appear on any ingredients label.


As consumers, we want to know what changes have been made in our food.  To hide the cause of the change as a ‘processing aid’ is to deliberately mislead because they may alter the composition of the food in ways that affect certain people.


A practical example of the problem is that some existing permitted proteases (1101) increase the levels of free glutamates to levels that affect sensitive individuals. At present the use of these proteases must be declared because they are permitted additives, so consumers can make an educated guess about free glutamates and avoid foods containing them if necessary.


But if they are deleted as permitted additives or reclassified as processing aids but are still used in foods, consumers are denied this information and choice, defeating the second Object of your Act.


3.      
Seminars on ‘gaming’ the Food Standards Code


As an example of how the food industry is running rings around the current Food Standards Code, lawyers are running multiple sold-out intensive workshops to help the food industry simplify their long ingredients list, leave ingredients off the label, refine whether an additive is “natural” or “not artificial”, redefine ‘nasties’ as an (undeclared) processing aid, use the 5% rule to advantage, find ways to not declare Genetically Modified ingredients and how to achieve a clean label without breaching the Australian Consumer Law. FSANZ staff members present at these seminars. The Food Intolerance Network paid for a member to attend one of these workshops and it is clear that consumers are being intentionally misled and denied realistic choice (8).


It helps the food industry that there is a bureaucratic standoff between FSANZ and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). If a consumer lodges a complaint with ACCC they can say that “it’s a label issue, talk to FSANZ”, who say in turn “that’s a consumer issue, talk to ACCC”...(9)


Overall, consumers are clearly being actively misled by food industry action under the current Act. Informed choice is disappearing on a daily basis and is nearly buried.



What needs to be done?


Because we are in daily touch with consumers, we know that there is palpable anger at the present situation. For example, the comments on a current petition (10) show a great deal of frustration. More than 700 comments in responses focussed strongly on the belief that that consumers have a right to know what is in our food and that this is not happening – here are some consumer voices:

Adding it without our knowledge is just criminal – John

We have a right to know what is in the food we eat – Monique

If they need to "hide it" we have a problem!!! - Renette


Consumer expectation is that there is a central agency responsible for food safety while the reality is divided responsibility between Commonwealth approval and State/Territory enforcement. Management of this surveillance, monitoring and enforcement is laughable, being under-resourced both technically and financially, particularly when multinational food companies are putting high technology foods into circulation.


We have recently joined with other organisations seeking labelling to be administered by ACCC (9).


The expensive and thorough Blewitt review in 2011 suggested a funded central agency with broader responsibility than the present narrow remit of FSANZ (11) but action has not been forthcoming.


We believe that there needs to be a major rewite of the current Act so that it meets community expectations about food safety, transparency and choice. Only with a strengthened Act will confidence be restored. This needs to be a key agenda item to the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, at your initiative.


A new Act would need to recognise a wider definition of food safety than the present deliberately narrow definition that excludes behavioural and learning effects, and indeed many other chronic conditions familiar to our Network. If side-effects from drugs are accepted and reported, we believe that side-effects of food should be similarly treated (12).


As a person who used to work to Ministers, I know that my current letter will be attached to a response provided to you by FSANZ , probably before you even see my letter. One might expect that there will be a reluctance from FSANZ to admit that their present very real and earnest efforts are not meeting consumer expectations.  The problem is that if you ask the same people the same questions you will always get the same answer. New information is hard to be heard in your system.


One way in which new information might be heard is if you beef up genuine consumer representation on the FSANZ Board. Only once in the last 14 years has a so-called consumer representive from the Board initiated contact with the Network, which as I have said is the largest consumer organisation focussed on food. The Network has contacted the last two consumer representatives on many occasions in that time without any useful response or action.


I do not intend to provide a copy of this letter to your colleagues in the Ministerial Forum nor to the media until I have had a response from you.

HD Signature3

Howard Dengate BSc (Food Tech) PhD 


(1)   
Survey of 648 people at talks on food intolerance  http://www.fedup.com.au/fedup-newsletters/2008/failsafe57-july-september-2008#research


(2)   
The Real Food Trend by Meat & Livestock Australia 2008 http://www.fedup.com.au/images/stories/TheRealFoodtrend.pdf

 
(3)    CFA survey 2013 http://consumersfederation.org.au/consumers-rate-food-energy-and-security-online-as-biggest-concerns-in-cfa-survey/

 
(4)    FSANZ Consumer Attitudes 2008 https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/publications/documents/Consumer%20Attitudes%20Survey.pdf

 

(5)    FSANZ Food Labelling Use and Understanding 2016 http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/publications/Pages/consumerlabelsurvey2015.aspx and  http://www.fedup.com.au/news/blog/one-third-mistrust-food-labels-in-australia

 
(6)    129 ways to add MSG and mislead consumers http://www.fedup.com.au/news/blog/129-ways-to-add-msg-and-fool-consumers

 
(7)    “Cultured” additives http://www.fedup.com.au/news/blog/caution-cultured-dextrose

 
(8)    Food industry ‘gaming’ of the Act http://www.fedup.com.au/news/blog/how-the-food-industry-games-food-regulation

 
(9)    ACCC and labelling http://www.fedup.com.au/news/blog/poor-labelling-of-food-products-submission-made-to-the-review-on-australian-consumer-law and http://www.fedup.com.au/images/stories/FSANZ2011a.pdf

 
(10) FSANZ Application A1136 -Reject a new way of hiding MSG in foods https://www.change.org/p/fsanz-food-standards-australia-new-zealand-reject-a-new-way-of-hiding-msg-in-foods?recruiter=26227191&utm_source=share_for_starters&utm_medium=copyLink

 
(11) Blewitt labelling review http://www.foodlabellingreview.gov.au/internet/foodlabelling/publishing.nsf/content/48C0548D80E715BCCA257825001E5DC0/$File/Labelling%20Logic_2011.pdf and http://www.fedup.com.au/images/stories/FINlabelissues.pdf

 
(12) Scope of additive safety assessments http://www.fedup.com.au/news/blog/how-useful-is-our-food-regulator-fsanz

 

RESPONSE FROM FSANZ MINISTER

FSANZ17a

FSANZ17b

 

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