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Chief Executive Officer's review

Image of FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon

CEO Steve McCutcheon.

In July 2012, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) published its latest triennial Corporate Plan. The plan contains revised strategic imperatives for the agency, which are flowing through to our planning and reporting processes. A consequence of the change is the way this annual report is structured.

We still report against our strategic imperatives but, because they have been redrafted, individual accounts may appear under different headings to those in previous reports. To aid navigability, we have strengthened the compliance index and introduced a short index on the title pages for each chapter.

We have also taken the opportunity to explain how we implement the risk analysis process in our decision-making by discussing risk assessment, risk management and risk communication in the introductions to chapters 1, 2, and 3. The content of these discussions has been adapted from relevant sections of our revised publication, Risk Analysis in Food Regulation.

In addition, we have added the Statement of Expectation from the Parliamentary Secretary (Appendix 13).

Regulatory and non-regulatory highlights

This year, we met our performance targets and statutory obligations, with few exceptions that are documented in this report.

Without doubt, the highlight of the year was the gazettal of a standard in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code) to regulate nutrition, health and related claims about food—after nearly a decade of development.

In December 2003, the then Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council asked FSANZ to develop a standard to regulate such claims and issued policy guidelines.

Since then, we received 589 submissions at various stages of the standard development process, held more than 150 internal task force meetings, prepared six public consultation reports and engaged in a host of targeted consultations.

In December 2012, the Council of Australian Governments Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation (Food Regulation Forum) agreed to the draft standard approved by the Board, and the standard was duly gazetted. It was a considerable undertaking, consuming significant resources, and is a tribute to the tenacity of staff from FSANZ and our regulatory partners for seeing the project through to completion.

The ultimate beneficiaries of this work—the community—will now be able to make buying decisions in the knowledge that nutrition and health claims on food products are well supported by science.

It is worth noting that while the development of food standards is FSANZ's core business, we also make our knowledge and expertise available to other parts of the food regulatory system and to support broader government goals.

For example, in 2012–13, we developed options for the technical design of front-of-pack labelling for a working group set up by a steering committee of the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC). This work drew heavily on our experiences with nutrition and health claims.

Another example of non-regulatory activity was our collaboration with the Australian Bureau of Statistics to prepare a nutrient database for the Australian Health Survey 2011–13. This work relied significantly on the skills developed by FSANZ over many years in establishing and maintaining our databases NUTTAB (Nutrient tables for use in Australia) and DIAMOND (Dietary Modelling of Nutritional Data).

And, as an example of FSANZ's contribution to the government's goals—including those concerned with the 'Asian Century'1—we maintained our collaboration with countries in the Asia-Pacific and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) economies during the year, despite financial constraints. FSANZ, representing Australia, continued to co-chair the APEC Food Safety Cooperation Forum with China and to forge bilateral information-sharing arrangements with our counterparts in the region.

Other regulatory and non-regulatory activities are well documented in this report. They represent a considerable body of work and are testimony to what can be achieved by a small, specialist agency that is committed to safeguarding the health and well-being of the community.

Looking ahead, FSANZ has some significant projects on its books. These include the code revision project (the most significant rewrite of the Code since it commenced in 2000); reviews of the standards for infant formula, microbiological limits, maximum residue limits, and nutritive substances and novel foods; several projects emerging from Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (2011); and a number of complex applications.

We are also heavily involved in health claims standard transition work and are looking to finish substantive projects for primary production and processing standards by the end of 2013–14.

Administrative appeals

At the start of 2012, FSANZ was in the unusual position of having two (soon to become three) administrative review procedures in progress. In a very pleasing outcome, the two Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) matters and the Federal Court proceeding were all resolved in our favour.

All three cases were important tests of our approach to standard setting. The outcomes of the AAT case regarding conjugated linoleic acid delivered a strong endorsement of our scientific capability. That said, there were a number of matters that emerged from these cases (particularly the Federal Court case) from which we will learn. We will then use what we have learnt to strengthen our processes and procedures.

Organisational challenges and opportunities

Resilience has been embraced by the public sector. Although its meaning is ill-defined, resilience is universally accepted as an admirable quality in organisations, embodying the elements of 'coping' and 'bouncing back'.

Organisational resilience enables departments and agencies in the Australian Public Service (APS) to meet their statutory obligations in the face of changing external circumstances, such as reduced budget allocations. Individual resilience gives employees the capabilities necessary to manage the stresses of change and to focus on the opportunities presented by new ways of working.

FSANZ has had to make some difficult decisions during the year, including a strict enforcement of a work program that prioritises projects. Discretionary projects have been deferred or rejected because of lack of resources. Highly skilled and productive non-ongoing staff have not had their contracts extended. Informal advice to applicants who wish to amend the Code has been curtailed.

I have made it clear to staff that expectations of FSANZ will continue to be high, despite our financial constraints. This does not mean that people are expected to carry ever-increasing workloads. Instead, it challenges my executive team to constantly review priorities, reallocate responsibilities when and where necessary and introduce new efficiencies into our business processes. To manage these changes successfully, FSANZ has implemented more of the recommendations in Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration.2

In 2012–13, we adopted the capability approach to workforce planning advocated by the Australian Public Service Commission. This exercise, involving staff in focus group sessions, has provided us with agency-specific capabilities that, overlaid with the Integrated Leadership System capabilities, are now acting as the foundation for a re-energised learning and development regime. We have set ourselves the target of becoming an employer of choice as a specialist agency within the APS. We have also taken steps to upgrade our obligations as an APS employer by strengthening the ability of managers to provide career advice.

Through these and other initiatives, FSANZ is placing an emphasis on the future—both of the agency and the individual—rather than dwelling on the difficulties of the present. I take pride in the results of staff surveys that show our people have one of the highest levels of job satisfaction in the APS, and a staff retention rate of 94 per cent. The former we wish to maintain. In the case of the latter, we will work with individuals to explore how or whether their aspirations can be met at FSANZ.

By increasing the capabilities of individuals in our workforce through a mix of on-the-job learning and formal training, we expect to increase resilience. The more skills in the toolbox, the better equipped a person is to be mobile within FSANZ and the APS.

Concluding remarks

Dr Marion Healy returned to the FSANZ Executive as Executive Manager Risk Assessment. A former Chief Scientist at FSANZ, Dr Healy spent five years as Director of the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme. I join staff in welcoming Dr Healy back to the agency and by being impressed by the speed with which she has assumed responsibility for an important aspect of our work.

Board members, as usual, added immeasurably to the authority of the agency and to the quality of its decisions during the year. At the forefront of this due diligence have been Dr Michele Allan (eight years), Mr Peter Boyden (eight years) and Dr Gardner Murray AO (four years), who retired from the Board at the expiry of their appointments on 30 June 2013. Dr Allan and Mr Boyden were also members of the Board's Finance and Risk Management Committee—Dr Allan as Chair. These three talented Australians gave their time and shared their experiences freely, in the finest traditions of public service.

It is with sadness that I must record the passing of Professor Katrine Baghurst, an eminent nutritionist and a member of the FSANZ Board for nearly eight years. Professor Baghurst made a significant contribution to Board deliberations during her two terms, and her quiet but authoritative counsel will be missed.

Finally, my thanks go to Ms Philippa Smith AM, Chair of the Board, for another year of leadership and dedication to FSANZ's role of maintaining public confidence in food. Under Ms Smith's stewardship, our standing in the community has never been higher.

I commend this annual report as a record of activity and considerable achievement in 2012–13.

Image of FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon’s signature

Chief Executive Officer

1 As outlined in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper

2 Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra (2010).


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