The joint regulatory regime for Australia and New Zealand for has come under scrutiny, with food industry advocates from the smaller neighbour questioning its domestic usefulness.
The crux of this call relates to at least 18 food additives approved for use by the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) but banned in other countries, such as the US and Canada. Kiwi food advocates believe that these additives would have never made it to markets in New Zealand if the country had acted alone on food standards.
Have our own authority
Sue Kedgley, a long-time food advocate based in New Zealand, told the New Zealand Herald that the current regime was ineffective in combating the use of such additives, and that one had to question why such lax standards were being allowed.
Moreover, she remarked that it was time for New Zealand to consider forming its own food authority that would be stricter on which food additives should be allowed in New Zealand’s food markets.
The current joint food safety regime is a result of a 1996 agreement that looked to harmonise food standards between the two countries. New Zealand is one of 10 jurisdictions, including Australia’s states and territories, which vote on what is approved for use in both countries.
FSANZ, however, denies that unsafe food additives are being allowed into New Zealand or Australia. A spokesperson for the authority said that all permitted additives were safe, although she declined to comment on the question of separate standards.
It just works
Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC), told FoodNavigator-Asia that the industry absolutely supports the current joint system overseen by FSANZ.
“It works well and has an evidence-based approach, as opposed to other examples around the world where decisions can be less based on the facts and more to do with political whim or scaremongering from activist groups,” she said.
She also came out in defense of FSANZ, stating that the organisation looks carefully at the body of peer-reviewed science before making decisions. “Its approach is disciplined and consultative. That’s preferable to a highly politicised system whereby politicians ban things without due process.”
There are some differences
Rich did admit that there are some differences between markets, and examples where standards are developed solely for New Zealand or Australia do exist.
“The system is flexible and consultative. New Zealand has ample opportunity to contribute to consultations and our minister represents our country on the ministerial council,” she added.
As it stands, the regulations leave a window for New Zealand to opt out of a joint standard for exceptional reasons relating to health, safety, environmental concerns or cultural issues. The country has exercised this right twice: the first relating to mandatory country-of-origin labelling, and the other to mandatory folate fortification of bread.
Have your say: Do you think that Australia and New Zealand should both be governed by joint standards? And does New Zealand not have enough say within the quorum? Let us know you thoughts in the comments box below.