As the relatively new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Food Standards Australia New Zealand I have already come to greatly appreciate the work, expertise and dedication of the talented staff of the agency and the contribution they make to the food regulation system.
FSANZ has an enviable reputation as a developer of evidence-based standards. Our contribution as a coordinator during food incidents and recalls and to surveillance activities also contributes to this reputation as does our active participation in international work.
This past year has seen some significant changes for the agency and new priorities established by ministers responsible for food regulation, as outlined below. We also have a new Board chair, Ms Robyn Kruk AM, and over the coming months three new Board members will be appointed. These changes, together with new priorities identified by ministers, offer the agency an opportunity to look at the way we work and our role in the system including how we can better contribute to that system.
Regulatory and non-regulatory highlights
In April 2017, ministers responsible for food regulation chose not to seek a review of FSANZ’s approval of food derived from low-THC hemp in March. The standard has now been made law, with a six month transition period. FSANZ received the very first application to permit food from hemp back in 2001 and a further application was made in 2010. Due to a number of concerns relating to subjects outside of FSANZ’s remit, FSANZ’s approvals of both applications were rejected by ministers. At the third application ministers sought a review of FSANZ’s decision and asked for a range of work to be undertaken to address concerns, some of which was undertaken by other agencies. FSANZ was then asked to develop a new proposal to change the Code. FSANZ staff dedicated an enormous amount of time and effort to the review and associated proposal work.
This year FSANZ completed its work associated with recommendations arising from an independent review of food labelling that finished in 2009. After considering the labelling review recommendations, ministers responsible for food regulation asked FSANZ to action 21 of these. in April this year the final report to ministers was presented, bringing to a close work that has involved the production of 30 reports including scientific reviews of evidence (including social science) relating to subjects as diverse as trans fatty acids and the labelling of irradiated food.
In August 2016, FSANZ marked 25 years of setting national food standards and held a scientific symposium bringing together more than 260 attendees—from consumer, industry, public health and government sectors—to discuss food safety and public health issues. The event was a great success and gave all participants, including FSANZ staff, an opportunity to reflect on the organisation’s achievements.
At the same time, FSANZ also celebrated 20 years of collaboration between Australia and New Zealand in food standards setting. A scientific symposium was held in Wellington, New Zealand, marking 20 years of the Australia New Zealand Food Treaty. The symposium was attended by more than 100 guests.
Food safety and coordination
FSANZ coordinates the Bi-National Food Safety Network (the Network), a mechanism for national coordination and early information sharing and communication on food incidents. The Network includes all Australian state and territory food enforcement agencies, the Australian Goverment Department of Health, the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and the New Zealand Ministry for Primary industries. During 2016–17 twelve issues were referred to the Network, including the multi-jurisdictional outbreak investigation of Salmonella Hvittingfoss associated with rockmelons.
In April this year ministers responsible for food regulation set three priorities for the food regulation system. This system is made up of FSANZ as the standard setting body, policy makers at the ministerial level and enforcement agencies (state and territory bodies, the New Zealand Ministry for Primary industries and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources for imported food).
The priorities for 2017–2021 are:
- reduce foodborne illness, particularly related to Campylobacter and Salmonella
- support public health objectives to reduce chronic disease related to overweight and obesity
- maintain a strong, robust and agile food regulation system.
These three objectives will be a key consideration in determining FSANZ’s strategic direction over the next four years and are recognised in our corporate planning and performance documents for 2018 onwards. They provide an incentive to more regularly and diligently review the effectiveness of food standards and ensure that standards remain fit for purpose in a changing environment.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr Steve McCutcheon, who left the agency after nine years at the helm. Mr McCutcheon was highly respected by FSANZ’s stakeholders and staff. His sound and steady leadership helped to ensure FSANZ maintained the trust and respect of stakeholders. I am committed to ensuring that this trust and respect is maintained along with our reputation for delivering evidence-based standards.
Chief Executive Officer