The watchdog said the purpose of the proposal was to make clear that carbon monoxide is not permitted as a processing aid because it has an ongoing technological function in fish (colouring and/or colour fixing).
The current code prohibits the use of carbon monoxide as a food additive but provides general permission for its use on any food as a processing aid.
Unlike other gases commonly used in fish and meat packaging (for instance nitrogen), carbon monoxide is neither inert nor are its effects reversible, said FSANZ.
Carbon monoxide treatment of fish is used where the red colour is an important quality attribute.
FSANZ said it is unaware of the domestic food industry using carbon monoxide treatment of fish but estimated that the volume of imported tuna into Australia using carbon monoxide is estimated at around 100 tons per month, with a value of around AUS$12m per annum.
“FSANZ has been advised that the current wording in the code in regard to treating fish with carbon monoxide is not specific enough and that, as there is an established risk of its nonpermitted use in the treatment of fish in domestic and international trade, clarification is required to reinforce that this treatment is not permitted.”
The current standard states that a processing aid isa “substance used in the processing of raw materials, foods or ingredients, to fulfil a technological purpose relating to treatment or processing, but does not perform a technological function in the final food”.
It also outlines that carbon monoxide is a generally permitted processing aid and “may be used in the course of manufacture of any food at a level necessary to achieve a function in the processing of that food”.
The proposal was prepared because regulators and industry requested certainty that, as an effect of the carbon monoxide treatment being colour preservation in the final food, its use in fish does not meet the definition of a processing aid.
The treatment of fish with carbon monoxide gas is not permitted in the USA, Singapore, Canada, the EU and Japan.
Internationally it has been of concern because of its ability to hide the age of fish and potential food safety issues associated with poorly handled tuna.
FSANZ is calling for submissions to the draft food regulatory measure proposing to remove the permission for carbon monoxide as a processing aid for fish by 6pm 11 February 2013.