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Analysis of Food-Related Health Risks

(2008)

Introduction

There is a community expectation in Australia and New Zealand that food will be safe, and, in general, for most of the people most of the time, this expectation is met. The safety of food, however, is dependent on many factors, not all of which can be controlled through government legislation and regulations. Much of the shared responsibility for food safety lies with the agricultural sector and the processed food industry to ensure that reliable procedures are in place to produce consistently safe primary produce and processed foods. Part of this shared responsibility also lies with food outlets and consumers to ensure food is handled and prepared in ways that do not introduce new risks.

Maintaining the safety of food requires constant vigilance by government, industry and consumers as the food supply changes as a result of new technologies, expanding trade opportunities, ethnic diversity in the population, and changing individual diets. The range and diversity of food available to consumers has greatly expanded in recent decades, as has the interest by consumers in food matters, including the safety of food. As a result, the amount of advice on healthy food choices has also expanded. Although generally well-intentioned, such advice can confuse and, in some cases, mislead consumers. Assessments of the safety of food need to be based on sound scientific evidence, so that consumers can remain confident about the safety of the food supply.

The challenge for food regulators is to maintain a food regulatory system that delivers safe food for the population, enables consumers to make informed choices and also maintains public confidence in the food regulations. Public confidence in the food regulations will depend, firstly, on evidence that there is a low level of risk and, secondly, on assurance that adequate systems are in place to monitor and analyse food, and to respond when situations of potential harm occur. Providing evidence that there is a low level of risk requires a method of analysing food risks that is evidence-based and transparent, and results in effective management strategies which can be communicated clearly to consumers.

FSANZ, using a widely accepted method calledrisk analysis, identifies, assesses and manages food-related health risks within a structured framework. Risk analysis can be used across a broad range of circumstances and can lead to effective management strategies even when the available data are limited. Its use encourages communication between all interested parties including consumers. It can also identify areas where more data are required in order to refine the risk analysis. Risk analysis is used by FSANZ in an open and transparent manner in order to increase community understanding of the decision-making and to encourage an informed debate about the potential health risks associated with food.

The intention of this document is to focus on risk analysis in relation to potentially adverse health effects related to food. In some circumstances, FSANZ must also consider the benefit of certain foods or food ingredients alongside its assessment of risk. This is an emerging area of work and is therefore not considered in the scope of this document. However, it is intended to be included in future reviews of this document.

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