Part 2: FOOD LABELLING - OVERVIEW
Q1. To what extent should the food regulatory system be used to meet broader
public health objectives?
2.1 – 2.8 A regulatory system for content and labelling, designed to meet public health
objectives, will result in market pressure by discerning consumers by gradually forcing a
reduction in consumption of foods with “unhealthy” content and resulting in manufacturers
having a strong incentive to produce more “healthy” foods and less of the “unhealthy”
varieties. Eventually this could result in an improvement in the quality of processed foods.
I believe a regulatory system for content and labelling has to go hand in hand with
regulation on advertising of scientifically proven less healthy food alternatives because
otherwise the manufacturers will step up their advertising towards that sector of the public
who consume the less healthy alternatives to try to maintain that market because it is so
highly profitable. In the light of the rise of chronic diseases and allergies, and the scientific
evidence that dietary choices are playing a significant part in this, a food content and
labelling regulatory system that supports public health objectives is not just a good thing, it
is an imperative.
There is already concern about how our over-stretched public health system is going to
cope with these diseases particularly as the population ages. It is time to bring food
regulation policy and public health policy together to work towards the same objective. The
difficulty is that so much reliance is placed on formal scientific evidence as the be all and
end all of the debate, which results in a slow pace of change. For example, nearly twenty
years ago, natural health practitioners were questioning the effects of processed margarine
on health and suggesting that “butter is better”, while the public was being urged by
scientists to avoid cholesterol build-up by curbing their intake of saturated fats and to eat
margarine instead of butter. Now, belatedly, scientists have done a 180 degree turn and
admit that it isn’t the cholesterol we eat that’s the problem and that margarine contains
harmful trans-fats. Unfortunately that information has come too late for many people.
More inclusive discussion between “non-scientists” and the sceptical scientific community is
to be encouraged instead of being adversarial. “Proof of the pudding” anecdotal evidence
should be taken into account alongside peer-reviewed science when the food regulatory
system is devised. This public consultation is a good first step and thank you.
Q2. What is adequate information and to what extent does such information
need to be physically present on the label or be provided through other means
(eg education or website)?
2.9 After the ingredients listing and nutrient information panel (NIP), the third priority should
be a clear statement of any processes that any ingredient has undergone or that have been
used in its derivation, not just in the final product. This means hydrogenation of oils (trans-
fats), gamma irradiation, nano-technology, genetic modification of any ingredient used in
the manufacture, regardless of how much it has been processed and irrespective of
whether GM DNA/protein remains or not. The euphemisms “natural flavours” and
“hydrolysed vegetable protein” need to be dispensed with and the exact content named with
an appropriate icon to indicate excitotoxins such as glutamates, aspartame and acidic
amino acids which are neurotoxins. There is sufficient evidence that all of these processing
procedures can form harmful by-products and in the case of excitotoxins some scientists
have shown concern for some years that long-term ingestion of even small quantities can
worsen the pathology of neurological diseases such as Parkinsons, Alzheimers etc. Refer:
Blaylock,R., Medical Sentinel vol. 4, no.6, Nov-Dec 1999.
I believe this is of equal importance to the NIP and of more importance than the AFGC’s
voluntary Daily Intake Guide Labelling Scheme. I wonder how many people, other than
those on strictly controlled diets for medical reasons, add up all the proportions and nutrient
values from various foods each day to see if they have the required total? I am not
advocating the exclusion of a Daily Intake Guide, I am saying there is little point in including
all the positives if space isn’t allowed on labels for all the questionables. If a key aspect of
the consumer protection regime under the TPA is the prohibition on misleading and
deceptive conduct, let’s begin with the sins of omission rather than the sins of commission.
Start including the real names of the processes and content instead of leaving them out or
disguising them. Let us have an open scientific debate between scientists with differing
viewpoints on the long term impacts on health of some of these currently euphemistically
The food industry should be prevented from hiding behind misleading terminology and be
required to state ingredients truthfully and accurately. Consumers reading chemical names
instead of a neutral, even healthy-sounding “hydrolysed vegetable protein” or “natural
flavouring” will perforce begin to educate themselves. Manufacturers can provide
explanations via the toll-free helplines and websites that the Australian Food and Grocery
Council so keenly advocated in their Nov 2009 initial submission to the review. In fact I
would like to take this opportunity early in my submission to indicate my observation that
the AFGC initial submission so closely appears to form the framework of this issues
consultation paper that I have concerns that the agenda is biased towards the food
producers rather than the consumers. The preamble to point 3.16 does little to allay these
fears, urging caution lest full disclosure of innovative technological processes used inhibits
their further development and application. Surely if there is a genuine fear of this occurring,
does this not indicate that consumers just might have grounds for concern?
The AFGC initial submission states: QUOTE: 4.5. Function of food labels – commercial
“Food labels first and foremost have to represent accurately to the consumer the nature of
the food product which may not be apparent due to packaging.” They go on to say that this
is critical to spark interest in the product. However it could be argued equally, and more
importantly, to serve the purpose of informing the consumer of what exactly has been done
to the product including how it has been made (nanotech engineered?) and what from (GM
content?) and any other processes it might have undergone (irradiation?). Consumers have
a right to know what has been done to the food they are expected to part with their hard
earned dollar to buy. The AFGC’s use of inverted commas around the term “right to know”
in Point 13, Page 6 and again in their recommendation to the Review Panel under Point
5.7, 18 of their initial submission suggests to me a degree of sneering invalidation and
disacknowledgement of consumers’ rights.
Q3. How can accurate and consistent labelling be ensured?
2.10 The only way to ensure accuracy and consistency is by establishing an agreed
standard then regulating and enforcing it. Enforcement needs constant policing and for
consumers to be alert to possible misleading and deceptive labelling. In this regards
consumers need a single reporting body, somewhere to go to take their concerns or
complaints if they feel a label is misleading and deceptive and breaches the agreed
regulated standard. This suggests the requirement of an ombudsman in much the same
way that the communications industry has an ombudsman to deal with consumer
complaints. This solution is both fair for the consumer and fair for industry in allowing a
level playing field between manufacturers.
Q4.What principles should guide decisions about government intervention on
2.11 The issues consultation paper stated that the current COAG regulatory agenda
requires that the benefits of any intervention in the three objectives of FSANZ be weighed
against the costs. Those three objectives are: protection of public health and safety,
provision of adequate information for consumers to make informed choices and the
prevention of misleading or deceptive conduct. I believe that in ensuring healthful
outcomes which benefit every consumer’s long-term health as well as the cost of dealing
with diet-related diseases longer term, costs expended now in regulating and policing
labelling as a form of prevention wins out over costs expended later in health services.
Food is paramount to health, the saying “Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your
food”, attributed to, Hippocrates, popularly called “the father of medicine”, would support the
view that as more complete and truthful labelling is introduced and euphemistic, marketing-
based labelling is abandoned, we will see a natural progression to more healthful food
production by the manufacturers in an increasingly educated market, and a consequential
reduction in dietary-related diseases.
This will take time, perhaps even another generation, however good foundation legislation
laid down now will reap health and cost benefits over the long term. So in considering costs
of intervention in achieving the three objectives, we must consider consequential long-term
costs of a lack of proper intervention against the immediate costs of intervention. To this
end there should be a standard established that addresses all issues under consideration,
and becomes a labelling standard across the entire food industry with which manufacturers
are legally bound to comply. If processed food manufacturers can afford to make changes
to their front of label marketing messages ad hoc, as they seem to do to suit the prevailing
fads and fashions of the moment, let them also afford, and give priority to, making changes
to their labelling to suit a new, comprehensive regulatory regime. It is an overhead the
manufacturers must bear – they make enough profits – they should re-invest some of them.
If labelling is being provided for the consumer, let the consumer decide what it shall include,
not the food manufacturers. The cost of food is spiralling with no real explanation. Perhaps
if consumers could see some demonstrated changes in their favour they would more readily
accept some of these price increases.
Q5. What criteria should determine the appropriate tools for intervention?
2.12 The issues consultation paper stated the spectrum ranges from mandatory
intervention to voluntary codes of practice. The mandatory intervention approach is
preferable because this will hopefully be consumer driven and health policy driven with a
required degree of accountability and reportability of breaches and hopefully policing and
penalties where requirements are not met, whereas the voluntary code would be marketing
and profit driven, designed and regulated by the manufacturers to suit their own
requirements, with no accountability. The problem with an industry driven self-regulatory
approach is that industry forms an association of powerful, cashed-up vested interests that
protects their own position and profits and meets privately without the need for detailed
content of meetings to be on the public record nor any challengeable accountability.
An introductory comment on the AFGC first submission was this: QUOTE:
“It is also important that the Review’s ultimate findings are aligned with the greater reform
agenda, which has reducing business costs and productivity as a key objective” UNQUOTE
Another point made by the AFGC further on was: QUOTE:
“all potential policy instruments must be considered, with the most cost effective being given
Clearly there is pressure from the food producers to influence the review panel to prioritise
manufacturers’ costs above what is right and fair for the consumer.
Programmes of community education by the food industry as suggested by the consultation
paper are open to spin under pressure from vested interests. This is akin to the
pharmaceutical industry being left to educate doctors in relation to the function and
performance of the drugs they produce.
The health and safety requirements of the consumer and consumer desire for knowledge of
the true content and processes of the food presented for their consumption should be the
key drivers in determining the tools of government intervention. Care should be taken in
accurately determining consumer desire for knowledge. From my ten years’ experience in
the market research industry, surveys and focus groups can be notoriously inaccurate and
create biased outcomes both in sampling and in the structure of questionnaires and the
syntax of the individual questions. For example when selecting respondents for focus
groups, certain age groups may be excluded or emphasised, and only middle-of-the-road
opinion-holders sought, extreme viewpoints and outside-the-box thinkers are deliberately
Similarly in relation to safety and healthfulness, food safety research, as with drug safety
research, when conducted by the manufacturers, is open to selective interpretation or
indeed, cutting short the research just at the point that sufficient indicators for safety have
been observed but insufficient time has elapsed for longer term adverse indicators to come
to light. In short, research into criteria should be conducted independently of the food
industry and government but funded by both equally.
Part 3: KEY ROLES OF FOOD LABELLING
Q6. Is this a satisfactory spectrum for labelling requirements?
3.1 The Issues Consultation Paper states that the most obvious driver of food labelling is
the necessity to provide health safety. I agree that this is a very important driver, but the
issue should not be restricted to the criterion of health and safety. Another important driver
is the desire of many consumers to know more about the way the food has been processed
and which processes might have been used that would remove it further from its natural
state than mere mixing and cooking. There are processes now in use that have not stood
the same test of time as has cooking, in terms of their long-term safety effects. A sufficient
number of scientists as well as consumers have expressed concern about this. Consumers
have the right to choose, while the jury is still out on this issue, to avoid these products if
they wish and providing information as to the processes used allows them informed choice.
The current spectrum for labelling requirements as described under 3.1 of the Issues
Consultation Paper falls short of what many consumers would like to see. In relation to food
made and packaged on the premises where it is sold or unpackaged foods for example,
bakeries/patisseries and perhaps smallgoods providores, some signage in the retail area or
at point of sale in relation to the grains and oils used in production (are they GM derived? –
are there trans fats?) and where any spices or herbs are used (are they irradiated?) is
In supermarkets and fruit/vegetable retail stores there has yet to be any signage that I have
seen in relation to irradiated fruits. Indeed it is questionable whether most retailers would
even know if fruits had been irradiated or have sufficient awareness to ask. Whilst GM gets
plenty of robust media coverage, it seems to me the issue of irradiation has been buried
and the policing of signage in relation to fruits is non-existent. If growers can spend the
money and take the time to produce tiny individual labels for each piece of fruit identifying
the grower then they should be prepared, if they irradiate their fruit, to identify each piece
individually as irradiated. Perhaps there could be rolls or sheets of a small standard label
produced by the Department of Agriculture for all growers to purchase for a nominal fee and
its use should be mandatory. Gamma irradiation is a very costly process and if growers and
manufacturers are prepared to pay for it then a few extra cents for labels could be easily
accommodated within their budget.
Q7. In what ways could these misunderstandings and disagreements be
Health Safety 3.2 – 3.4 This question refers to the misunderstandings/disagreement over
the adequacy, presentation and interpretation of the requirements for use by dates,
identification of allergens, directions for use and storage and possibly preparation as
described in section 3.4 of the Issues Consultation Paper.
I think that the current “use by” and “best by” date system is satisfactory and
preparation and storage instructions etc sufficient. To me “Use by”
suggests a possible adverse consequence if the food is used after that date,
probably in relation to microbial spoilage or nutrient loss. It employs a verb
and reads like a command. “Best by” seems to me to be a helpful suggestion
that after the stated date the food is literally past its best, not to say it is
unsafe but there may be some deterioration in mouth feel, moisture content affecting
taste etc. Employing an adjective, it is descriptive rather than prescriptive.
I am not really qualified to comment on the adequacy of current labelling in
relation to identification of allergens as I do not suffer with allergies. Whilst it
seems quite comprehensive to me, an allergy sufferer would have experiential
knowledge of its adequacy and may be better placed to comment. There may be room
for improvement, I would be guided by the experiences of those who need to have such
labelling on their foods. It does seem to me that the precautionary phrase “may
contain…” is not always helpful and might possibly even lead allergy sufferers to take a
risk because it equally may not contain … whatever allergen might be present.
Q8. In what ways can food labelling be used to support health promotion
Health Promotion 3.5 In order for this to be effective and avoid consumer confusion there
has to be consistency both in the labelling and in the message the labelling is intended to
convey and voluntary labelling would not achieve this consistency. Further, voluntary health
initiatives could lead to misleading and deceptive claims on labels as a marketing tool if
supporting evidence is lacking. Note this quote from the AFGC’s first submission:QUOTE
“AFGC considers there is a role for food labelling in protecting and promoting good health
by encouraging the consumption of specific foods in the context of a balanced diet and
healthy lifestyles. Food labels can provide highly targeted advice matching foods, consumer
groups and health issues thereby positively influencing consumer behaviour in lifestyle
Surely the manufacturers’ role is to focus on manufacturing their food products, leaving
health advice and the influencing of consumer behaviour to nutritionists, dieticians and the
medical fraternity. A selection of evidence-based standard statements from which the
manufacturer can select those which are relevant to the product would provide for
consistency and truthfulness, however the validity of the claim(s) for the food in question
must stand up to scientific scrutiny.
It is surely time to introduce contra warnings such as are mandated on tobacco products,
for food items that contain known neurotoxins e.g. aspartame, or other unhealthy content
such as high sugar levels and transfats, in the same way that common potential allergens
and phenylalanine are declared. In time perhaps graphic images of morbidly obese people
and suppurating leg ulcers to indicate Type II diabetes might appear, coupled with an
aggressive television advertising campaign. It took a long time and it was in the face of
intense pressure from tobacco companies before this took place. We are already seeing
resistance from some food companies to open and truthful labelling.
3.6 It would be interesting to capture some accurate statistics on how closely the nutrition
information panels and percentage daily intake guides are read, how well they are
interpreted, and indeed how well the information is integrated into the overall shopping and
meal planning of consumers. Certainly it would seem, anecdotally, that people are reading
ingredients listings more mindfully.
As for the amount and complexity of information being daunting, I suspect consumers take
what they need and leave the rest. Speaking for myself, ingredients are the main interest
for me and the basis for the choices I make. As a low level consumer of processed food, I
look for ingredients that are acceptable to me and do not suggest the possibility of hidden
GM derived content (canola oil), hydrogenated fats (margarine) or high fructose corn syrup,
for example. Because of the amount of sometimes cramped text to read, I am selective
about that which I read in the shop. If I get the product home and on closer inspection of the
label it does not meet my criteria for acceptability, I return it for a refund. Any labelling that
is ambiguous or euphemistic leads me to boycott the product and perhaps even the
Country of origin is a major indicator for healthfulness for me, a “Product of China” label
being a turn-off. I won’t buy such products because of the recent history of contaminated
product from that country and because China is a huge irradiator of ingredients and
irradiation of individual ingredients does not have to be declared.
For me, what is NOT on the label is probably more of a concern overall in the health sense,
than what is. I tend to ignore the NIP and RDI information and look for country of origin and
ingredients. I consult my food irradiation and GM free safe lists as I shop and stick to
trusted brands and ingredient types. In fact any “health message” would tend to make me
suspicious of a disguised marketing initiative that might conceal something else in the
product that is less healthy or undesirable in content.
Q9. In what ways can disclosure of ingredients be improved?
3.7 I would fully support the introduction of full ingredients listings such as are used on jars
of cosmetics etc. I would like to see the correct chemical names and the outlawing of all
euphemisms such as “natural flavour”, “natural colouring”, “hydrolysed vegetable protein”.
Information leaflets available at supermarket checkouts and/or laminated and placed at the
end of supermarket aisles could list the true meaning of these terms together with the food
additive numbering codes for consumers to refer to as they shop.
Taking the example of Coles Organic Traditional Pasta Sauce as a case in point: The front
label states that the product is organic. It has the “bud” logo of organic certification on the
back label. Coles marketing slogan for its organic range on its website is “the natural
choice”, which I find an ambiguous term. Does this mean it is “natural” (as found in
nature/as nature intended) or does it mean the more colloquial “naturally I would choose
this” - as in – why ever not?” A closer look at the ingredients label lists Firming agent 509
and Acidity regulator 330. As a consumer of organic products, I know that one of the
standout differences is that the ingredients lists of all the processed organic products I buy
do not, as a rule, contain food additive numbers. In fact, one of the distinguishing features
of organic products is their lack of processing and artificial additives. If an organic product
has been thickened it will say with what it has been firmed or thickened – agar, cornflour,
wheat flour, kudzu – etc. I investigated Firming agent 509 and found it to be calcium
chloride, a preservative and firming agent derived from brine, with a long safe history of use
in jelly and cheese. Acidity regulator 330 is citric acid, as found in lemons but more often
commercially synthesised from molasses or corn. In the case of corn, one additives list
cautioned that most manufacturers do not remove the protein which can be hydrolysed and
form monosodium glutamate which can form reactions those sensitive to MSG. MSG is a
known excitotoxin (neurotoxic) - more about this below. The derivation of 330 was not
stated on the label. To some organic consumers, the listing of additive numbers rather than
their corresponding names is offputting and the lack of information about the derivation of
some of them – are they synthetic or are they food derived – is unsatisfactory. Coles
organic products are good quality and they are to be applauded for entering the organic
market and producing products at an affordable price however they would serve
themselves well by emulating the traditional organic producers in providing fuller
descriptions of the ingredients and their derivation rather than resorting to additive numbers
which is what has driven many consumers towards organic in the first place.
Another common food ingredient is hydrolysed vegetable protein, which sounds harmless
enough, two out of three words at least suggest wholesome food, however this euphemism
hides a chemical concoction that most people would not dream of conjuring up in their
kitchen, no matter how creative their cookery. To create this unnatural additive, cereal
grains and legumes are boiled in hydrochloric acid to break down their proteins into the
constituent amino acids, then the resulting acidic liquid is neutralised by the addition of
caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). One of the constituents of the resulting solution is
monosodium glutamate, as the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid. Monosodium
glutamate (MSG) has been so controversial as a flavour-enhancing food additive of
Chinese food that many Chinese restaurants and food manufacturers actually proclaim on
window signs, menus and packaging: “No MSG”. Some people are highly sensitive to MSG
and it has been implicated in migraines, dizziness, sleep disorders, anxiety, chest pain,
bowel dysfunction and can even alter the normal appetite regulatory function of the brain so
that the consumer desires more and more food leading to obesity. Scientific studies linking
glutamic and aspartic acid (as found in aspartame) to neurotoxicity were being published as
long ago as 1990, as referenced by Dr Russell Blaylock, retired neurosurgeon, who also
states that cancer cells exposed to these chemicals become more mobile. (Excitotoxins:
The Taste That Kills by Russell Blaylock, M.D Health Press (NM) 1996.) The benefits of
MSG for the food manufacturer is that it makes bland, low quality or past-best food tastier
and “more-ish”. Far fewer food products now list MSG as a constituent than was formerly
the case, instead hiding behind the food additive number 621 or the more wholesome
sounding “hydrolysed vegetable protein”.
These are just two examples of the ways in which disclosure of ingredients can be
improved. In summary, ALL ingredients and their mode of derivation should be clearly
stated on food labels to enable consumers to make informed choices about the
healthfulness and safety of the foods they purchase.
Q10. To what extent should health claims that can be objectively supported by
evidence be permitted?
3.8 Given the foregoing comments in relation to content of questionable safety in processed
foods, it seems a redundant exercise to place health claims on most processed food
products. Whatever little health-enhancing feature there might be could have been nullified
by the unnatural additives with scientifically proven neurotoxic, carcinogenic and other
effects. The current restrictions in place in relation to health claims should be maintained.
The danger in permitting broader public health messages such as “High in calcium for
healthy bones”, even when based on objective evidence, is that food producers and some
consumers tend to hone in on the latest hot dietary issue with blinkers on, without
consideration of the wider picture. To take the example of calcium, it is important to
remember that when taking in calcium, its balance against magnesium in the body must be
taken into account. The popular emphasis on calcium intake without due regard for the
correct counter-balance of magnesium is already a cause for some concern among
professional nutritionists and those medical practitioners who take a more wholistic
approach by promoting health rather than dealing with sickness, much of which,
incidentally, is dietary related.
“Letting medicine be your food” only works if it is actually food and is itself well-balanced
and not chemically processed almost beyond recognition. For the same reason, vague
terms such as “99% fat-free” or “Lite” when the food is laden with sugar is confusing and
deceptive and serves the manufacturer’s marketing plan rather than any government health
Q11. What are the practical implications and consequences of aligning the
regulations relating to health claims on foods and complementary medicine
3.9 Food manufacturers should be subject to the same restrictions as complementary
medicine products in relation to health claims. “May assist formation of healthy bones but
consult your medical practitioner to determine your exact nutritional requirements especially
in relation to correct Ca/Mg ratio” should be the format that food companies use when
making the health claim referred to in the penultimate paragraph of the answer to Q10.
Such a cautionary and long-winded statement is similar to what complementary medicine
manufacturers are required to use. Certainly, it does not roll as easily off the tongue in an
advertisement jingle, and perhaps might render redundant the use of such meaningless
marketing hype as “High in Calcium for Healthy Bones”.
Complementary medicines are, we hope, at least actually attempting to bring some
preventative health tools to the consumer yet they are subject to very restrictive descriptive
labelling in spite of their long history of safe use. If anything the legislation around their
labelling should be eased and that of the food manufacturers tightened, in particular where
novel technologies are being covertly employed.
Q12. Should specific health warnings (e.g., high level of sodium or saturated fat
per serve) and related health consequences be required?
3.10 Definitely, yes. Any high levels of minerals or compounds thought to exacerbate or
precipitate adverse health conditions, whether scientifically proven or still undergoing
research and debate, should be indicated. This enables the consumer to make a fully
informed decision and could actually assist the manufacturer to avoid being maligned via
innuendo through adverse press or even avoid litigation if it is later proven that the cause of
a consumer’s worsening condition or demise was assisted by their addiction to a particular
snack food or drink. A statement such as “Exceeds the recommended daily level of ABC for
persons with XYZ condition” or “Excessive intake of ABC can lead to XYZ condition” or
similar could work. Earlier health warnings on tobacco products could have saved both the
tobacco companies and the health service a lot of money.
Q13. To what extent should the labelling requirements of the Food Standards
Code address additional consumer-related concerns, with no immediate public
health and safety impact?
3.11 To the fullest extent applicable as indicated by consultation with consumers. It is the
consumers for whom the foods are produced, it is the consumers’ money that pays for it,
therefore it is the consumers for whom the labelling should be designed with their
satisfaction and easing of concerns as the number one priority. Food is fundamental to our
existence. According to the ABS report “Australian Social Trends 2006”, in the years 2003-
2004, food comprised 49% of the household budget. Consumers have a right to be fully
informed as to what that food contains, from where those contents have been derived, and
how those contents have been processed in order to produce the food item on offer for
Especially, this should include full disclosure in relation to any process that has been
controversial in its uptake and/or faced initial government ban or consumer resistance and
particularly where there is still substantial controversy around safety or ethics and attendant
contradictory scientific debate. GM, nanotech and gamma irradiation are three such
processes and all food containing ingredients derived from genetically modified organisms,
whether containing the DNA/protein or not, should be appropriately labelled. All food
ingredients that have undergone any form of ionising radiation or X-ray treatment for
sterilisation purposes or nanotech engineering should state the same immediately following
that ingredient in the list regardless of whether the final product has undergone that
treatment or not.
Whether there has been proof of immediate public health or safety concerns should not be
the deciding factor. There is sufficient evidence that this is what consumers want – surveys
have shown both in Australia and the USA that 90% of consumers want clear unequivocal
labelling in the case of any GM derived ingredient. That is a large proportion of the Western
world. Europe has already adopted more stringent labelling laws in this regard which are far
fairer to the consumer and we should use European labelling legislation as the benchmark
and seek to match, if not exceed it.
Q14. What criteria should be used to determine the inclusion of specific types of
3.11 cont‟d The criterion by which this is decided should be: “Does the process used mimic
nature or is it a process based on scientific human intervention resulting in a product or
ingredient that would never be found naturally occurring thus removing the final product or
any of its constituents far away from its naturally occurring form?”
In the case of GM the parameters should be self-evident – if a gene from one organism has
been transferred to another organism. In the case of gamma irradiation there are marker
chemicals, radiolytic by-products which do not have their counterparts in nature e.g. 2-alkyl-
cyclobutanones. These are controversial chemical compounds that have been proven to be
carcinogenic. In relation to nanotech, a report by Friends of the Earth Australia dated April
2008 states, QUOTE:
“Early studies of public opinion show that given the ongoing scientific uncertainty about the
safety of manufactured nanomaterials in food additives, ingredients and packaging, people
do not want to eat nanofoods. But because there are no laws to require labelling of
manufactured nano ingredients and additives in food and packaging, there is no way for
anyone to choose to eat nano-free.”UNQUOTE
It is easy to call sceptical consumers cynical, scaremongers or conspiracy theorists, anti-
industry and anti-profit. Labelling people this way discredits their intelligence and integrity
and lends an aura of superior correctness to the name-callers. But let us consider this: as of
the date of the Friends of the Earth report, April 2008, 104 nano-engineered food,
packaging and agricultural products were on sale internationally without any form of
labelling, including: diet shakes, fortified fruit juice, cooking oil and tea. An estimate quoted
just six months later puts the figure at 300 food products worldwide (Helmut Kaiser
Further, the report goes on to state that there is no Australian legislation requiring safety
testing on any nano-engineered products if the constituents have already been included in
foods in non-engineered form. In 2004, the United Kingdom’s peak scientific body, The
Royal Society, wrote a report in which they stated that because of serious early warning
signs of nanotoxicity, nano-ingrediedients should not be allowed in products until safety
testing had been carried out. Since then scientists have shown that nano-silver, nano-
titanium dioxide and nano-zinc, now in use by the food industry, can be toxic both to
humans and the environment. However as usual, FSANZ seeks to hose down any
concerns by telling us we’ve been eating, breathing and drinking the stuff for decades.
So it was with asbestos.
Associate Professor Thomas Faunce, from Australian National University's Medical School,
is on record as stating "All the research at the moment tends to indicate nanoparticles have
unusual toxicities related to size and shape," (ABC Radio AM report 28 March 2009). This
was in rebuttal of the Australian Government commissioned report by Monash University
which found that the Australian regulatory regime was “sufficient to cover most things” By
contrast Professor Faunce’s preferred approach is: “In this sort of climate it's much better if
regulatory authorities apply the precautionary principle and start developing nano-specific
regulatory structures.If we don't we're going to have a catastrophe-driven approach to
regulation, where we wait for a major public health crisis to arise because of nanoparticles
causing toxicity in people."
Once again Europe is way ahead of the field in this area. This 6 Mar 2009 report by
Ausfood News states QUOTE:
“The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Scientific Committee has concluded that
current international approaches to risk assessment can also be applied to engineered
nano materials (ENM) in food, with a case-by-case approach necessary. Given current data
limitations and a lack of validated test methodologies, risk assessment of specific nano
products remains very difficult and subject to a high degree of uncertainty, they added.”
ON 30 March 2009 Ausfood News reported that QUOTE:
“The European Parliament has since passed amendments to proposed reforms of the EU’s
novel food regulation, which will force food manufacturers to state if their products contain
nanoparticles. The legislation is likely to be in effect before the end of the year.” UNQUOTE
Whereas previously Nestle and Kraft were only to happy to boast of their nano-research to
design 'smart' foods able to interact with consumers to 'personalise' food, by changing the
colour or flavour or even nutrients and block allergens on demand, now the world’s largest
food companies, Kraft, Nestle, Unilever and Pepsi Co. now refuse to disclose whether or
not their foods contain nano-ingredients, although it is known that these companies have
large-budget nano-research programmes, Clearly consumer backlash against these
“Frankenfoods” has rendered them speechless.
On January 10 2010, a report was published following a year long enquiry by a small group
members of the UK House of Lords into nanotechnology in the food industry. Professor
Andrew Maynard of University of Michigan Risk Science Center, on his website 2020
Science, describes this as “probably the most authoritative and comprehensive report on
the subject to date”.
Whilst the report stated that “received no evidence, however, of instances where ingested
nanomaterials have harmed human health,” the report goes on to say that “novel properties
of engineered nanomaterials may affect how such materials interact with the body and the
risks they present to human health.” and goes on to flag six areas of concern where
nanoparticles might cause unexpected harm.
Andrew Maynard goes on to state: QUOTE:
“Transparency within the industry was seen as critical to addressing potential public fears
and concerns. Yet after talking with stakeholders, the subcommittee came to the
conclusion that the food industry are being far from transparent at the moment, and that this
may potentially damage the responsible use of nanotechnologies in foods in the long run.
They “found it regrettable that evidence indicated that, far from being transparent about its
activities, the food industry was refusing to talk about work in this area.”
A number of witnesses stressed the reticence of food companies to talk about
nanotechnology openly, for fear of a loss of consumer confidence. Franz Kampers from
Wageningen University told the subcommittee
“the industry is very, very reluctant to communicate that they are using nanotechnology in
food … because they are very much afraid oof the reaction of consumers to the product.”
Yet after hearing evidence from a number of quarters, the subcommittee concluded that
“this is exactly the type of behaviour which may bring about the public reaction which it is
trying to avert.”
As a result the subcommittee recommended that the UK Government work with the industry
to ensure greater openness and transparency about what they are developing, and what
their plans are for using nanotechnology in food products”.UNQUOTE
The consumer is tired of being duped, this one particularly. Let us hope the UK Government
is successful and that the greater openness and transparency spreads worldwide. One
interesting suggestion in the report of the enquiry was that rather than label individual foods
as nanotech engineered, a public register be set up of all foods where this technology had
been used in production. This is something Australia might consider. Andrew Maynard
provides a link to the full report on the 2020Science website referenced above.
Another criterion that should be used to determine the inclusion of specific types of
information is whether a food ingredient, though deemed natural, is able to cross the blood-
brain barrier and build up sufficient levels in the brain that it can pose a risk of neurotoxicity,
as in the cases of aspartame and mono-sodium glutamate, which has been scientifically
Q15. What criteria should determine which, if any, foods are required to have
country of origin labelling?
3.12 It would be helpful and sensible to harmonise the requirement for country of origin
labelling across Australia and New Zealand. We have a joint body overseeing the food
standards for both countries and it follows that, for ease of regulatory management and the
interchange of products and information between the two countries, the legislation is the
same for both. In relation to the reasons for the country of origin labelling only applying to
certain products but not others, I am not apprised of the reasoning behind this and therefore
not qualified to comment. I would suggest that certainly it would be desirable for all fresh
produce to carry country of origin labelling. I would like to see all foods bear the country of
origin and as a consumer I am particularly frustrated when I see “Made in Australia from
local and imported products”. Given that I have concerns in relation to the standards of
produce of some countries I would like to know exactly which countries have provided the
imported ingredients for a product. This is another example of vague labelling which
confounds and confuses rather than clarifies. The criteria should be: If the product or any of
its ingredients are not from Australia, the country of origin for the product or each ingredient
should be stated. Standard country abbreviations could be developed where none already
exist (as in UK, USA etc) in the same way that we have numbers for additives. Australian
ingredients could be printed in black and imported ingredients in another colour or italics or
bold with the country code following in brackets e.g. Milk,(AUS) Honey,(AUS) Nutmeg (IN),
High fructose corn syrup (US)-GM derived. (where IN stands for India, as an example).
Q16. How can confusion over this terminology in relation to food be resolved?
3.13 This question relates to the terms Made in Australia and Product of Australia. The
preamble to the question states that “there is consumer desire for clarification…” – that is
sufficient grounds – just do it! The consumer desire should be paramount, they are the ones
eating it and parting with their hard-earned cash to do so. My own understanding is that the
terms are not interchangeable although it could be easy to be misled into believing they are.
“Made in Australia” means assembled here i.e. Made. Whether it is made from imported or
Australian ingredients or both is irrelevant so the term Made in Australia, if all the content is
imported, is somewhat misleading and just a clever use of wording. Senator Nick Xenophon
has been reported to be concerned about this.(Sydney Morning Herald 6 March 2010)
“Product of Australia” means from Australian soil or Australian animal, grown and
processed and packaged here. This is clear and fair.
It is the label “Made in Australia” that requires some explanatory note after it, perhaps in
parenthesis, to explain that it is not grown and produced here, stating in percentage terms
the relative proportion of the constituents eg. Made in Australia from 90% imported and
10% Australian content.
Introducing the term “Packaged in Australia” Ingredients 100% imported and assembled”
would be a good move in further clarification.
Q17. Is there a need to establish agreed definitions of terms such as „natural‟,
„lite‟, „organic‟, „free range‟, „virgin‟ (as regards olive oil), „kosher‟ or „halal‟? If so,
should these definitions be included or referenced in the Food Standards Code?
3.14 Yes there is a need and yes they should be referenced. Regulation gives unequivocal
clarity and avoids vague, misleading or deceptive marketing ploys which may be attempts
to co-opt the latest piece of fashionable science or food fad onto the marketing bandwagon
and breed consumer resentment or cynicism.
In relation to religious food preparation requirements, (kosher, halal) which has been a
good voluntary innovation by the food industry, guidance should be sought from the
appropriate religious body in writing the definition if this is not already the case. Invitation
could also be extended to that religious body to assist in policing. Manufacturers should
have to make formal application to use these terms, supplying evidence of the processing
used, and be granted formal right to use them.
“Grandfathering” in relation to existing products/labels is to be avoided; a complete audit
and overhaul over a defined time period is desirable.
Q18. What criteria should be used to determine the legitimacy of such
information claims for the food label?
3.15 This point relates to animal welfare and environmental concerns driving demands for
labelling in relation to production methods. As with the previous question, there needs to be
formal application by manufacturers and registration of those granted the right to use these
terms with ongoing monitoring of the production and processes used to maintain defined
standards which are enshrined in legislation. In relation to eggs, for example, there are now
so many unofficial and misleading labels (barn raised, barn laid, free-range, grain-fed hens
- suitable for vegetarians (but is it imported GM grain I ask myself?) and so on. The term
“barn laid” is very suggestive and evocative of a country farm with a big wooden barn and
hens pecking around in the dust, well cared for and sheltered from the elements. Of course
this is far from the case as “barn laid” merely refers to a more humane type of cage with just
a little more space than cage hens and access to a dust bath. In a good, innovative move,
the RSPCA is promoting the idea of defined labelling in relation to egg production and the
adoption by businesses of a gold, silver or bronze status with regard to the production
process of the eggs used in manufacture. On this subject, the use of pictorial decoration
should be discouraged in favour of actual photographs of the farm. In researching for this
question I found this comment on a vegetarian/vegan chat forum on the subject of egg
“You really have to read the small print. (Not that I buy eggs)
I noticed the Jacobs Well brand eggs with a colour print on top showing children surrounded by free
range chickens in the hay and on a tractor on a happy sunny day. On the side of the box is has
printed caged eggs.” UNQUOTE
This is an interesting forum and shows just how well-informed and research-orientated our
more discerning consumers are and how derisive of and annoyed by deceptive labelling
they are. For example one poster asked about Ecoeggs, were they trustworthy, and
received the answer from another poster that they were part of Pace Farm who sell caged
eggs and therefore not to be trusted as all the money from the sale of these eggs would go
to the same corporation therefore promoting the production of cage eggs. This is their
perception that I am quoting from the above website link. Ecoeggs and Pace Farm may see
this differently and have the right of reply.
Consumers are not stupid and are fed up with being treated as if they are. Moreover the
Gen-Y generation, rapidly becoming today’s and tomorrow’s food shoppers, are very savvy,
know how to research, network and communicate information and definitely do not tolerate
deceptive or misleading conduct, they have the ability to see straight through things for
what they are. It is important that baby-boomer panel members and submission-writers
such as myself contributing to this review do think outside their own sphere of experience
and take this highly astute demographic into account because the legislation being framed
now will be largely for them and their future.
Q19 In what ways can information disclosure about the use of these
technological developments in food production be improved given the available
state of scientific knowledge, manufacturing processes involved and detection
3.16 The preamble to this question states: …Caution needs to be exercised in order that
the development and application of these and other innovative technologies are not unduly
In what is supposed to be a neutral review about labelling that is designed for consumer
information and benefit, this is a shocking statement to make. This indicates some bias
towards food manufacturers by the panel.
Could it be that the submission from the Australian Food and Grocery Council has caused
this? Let us re-examine their point about mandatory labelling under their item 4.5 page of
their submission QUOTE:
“When considering mandatory food labelling requirements the impact on the label and its
effectiveness must be considered. If products do not sell, the purpose of mandatory
labelling requirement becomes redundant – i.e. there is no issue to be addressed, if the
food is not being consumed.
The corollary therefore is that application of labelling regulations must take into account the
commercial imperative of food companies to sell food products. Any labelling which
substantially diminishes the commercial viability of products should not be imposed.
In other words labelling should not be used as a de facto tool to force products off the
market, or prevent the entry of products onto the market. Other regulations exist which
prohibit sale of unsafe and unhealthy food
That the Review consider the need for labels to attract consumer purchase and the
corollary that mandatory labelling requirements should not unnecessarily undermine
the commercial viability of the product, or be a de facto tool to prohibit the
manufacture and marketing of foods.
Bearing in mind my earlier observation that the framework of the issues consultation paper
closely resembles the AFGC submission, this seeming degree of influence over what is
supposed to be a democratic process is extremely alarming.
Clearly they are apprised of the fact that 90% of the population want all GM-derived foods
to be labelled and they know that if they are, they will face a drop of up to 90% of sales of
these items. They are seeking to manipulate their customer base by keeping them in the
dark. If a manufacturer knows a product carries an issue with the consumer that affects its
commercial viability, then they should consider it as not 100% acceptable to send to market
and they should abandon it, delete it from their product line, not try to foist it on the
unsuspecting consumer. This is deception and misleading conduct in the service of a
commercial imperative. Consumers don’t care about the commercial imperatives of food
manufacturers, they care about their own health and wellbeing, which is as it should be.
Consumers are the manufacturers’ customers, their life blood. It is time the manufacturers
served them instead of being self-serving.
From my answer to Q14 above it will be seen that the caution is already being exercised by
the major food companies. A deathly silence has fallen over the area of nanotechnology.
Development and application is taking place yet the consumer is being kept in the dark.
Some scientists are concerned enough to warn that unless a precautionary and regulatory
approach is taken now, we may face a public health disaster down the track.
This is the danger of no regulation or self-regulation. With the scientific community jury still
out on the safety of GM and nanotech foods, food manufacturers could, literally, be getting
away with murder. The cashed-up and highly influential tobacco companies were doing that
Q20. Should alcohol products be regulated as a food? If so, should alcohol
products have the same labelling requirements as other foods (i.e., nutrition
panels and list of ingredients)? If not, how should alcohol products be regulated?
3.17 I have read the various consultation meeting comments on this topic and indeed it
is a difficult one to consider. One comment was that alcohol is treated in the same way
as food by the body therefore it should be labelled in the same way. Anything ingested
by the body into the alimentary canal will undergo the same processes via the same
pathways in the body. However that doesn’t make it a food any more than is soluble
aspirin or the garden soil the toddler eats.
Another comment was that it should be treated as a drug – however many drugs are
restricted to prescription only and there are different classifications of prescribed drugs
also and all drugs have different effects. Conversely, all alcoholic beverages are readily
available to all adults and regardless of beverage type, being alcohol-based have
largely the same effect on the user.
Another idea put forward was that it should be treated similarly to cigarettes, perhaps
on the basis that nicotine is a drug. However smoke does not enter the alimentary canal
but the respiratory system, it is are not ingested.
It would seem that alcohol is in a category of its own, and should be treated as such
and not come under the jurisdiction of this review, but then as another comment states
– if this review doesn’t cover it, who will?
In relation to current alcohol labelling, my opinion is that the statement about drinking in
moderation is suitable and sufficient, although it won’t influence anyone who has no
intention of doing so, in the same way that the tobacco health warnings do not reach
the hearts and minds of every smoker. I say, leave people to make their own decisions,
not become a nanny state by overstating the obvious. Much of the alcohol-related
chronic illness and domestic violence and drink-driving accidents derive from alcohol
consumed to excess in clubs and pubs where the drinking vessels are not labelled and
the drinker often does not see or handle the retail bottle or can. In these instances
further labelling would serve little purpose. While laws governing responsible service of
alcohol are in place and this is not the place to discuss their success rate, since there
are clearly issues related to excess drinking socially outside the home, spending further
resources and funds to try to address the issue through further labelling seems to me to
be a redundant cause.
It might be useful to have calorie content included per serve/standard drink as well as
the alcohol content but to me it seems irrelevant to include the NIP label as some
commentators have suggested. The statements regarding the animal products (egg,
dairy) that might be used in processing wines are appropriate as being of possible
concern to some vegetarians/vegans and should remain.
In conclusion I might suggest that alcohol be treated as an entirely separate category
and ask the question – is there really any need for change here?
PART 4: FOOD LABELLING PRESENTATION
Q21. Should minimum font sizes be specified for all wording?
4.1 (and 4.2) The preamble to this question states that the relevant Standard does not
state whether the concept of legibility is referring to a wide range of consumers or the
“average” consumer. It is impossible to cover all bases in such an ethnically diverse
population as Australia. Couple this with the variations in visual acuity, literacy and
intellectual ability that exists in any population, and the framework becomes impossible in
size to manage. We have to go with the “average”.
Health warnings, currently subject to minimum font sizes, should be extended to cover
unnatural technological manufacturing processes which are of cause for concern to a large
number of consumers in relation to health. I refer here to irradiation, genetic modification of
the parent ingredients and nanotechnology. All such health warnings should be
distinguishable in some way from the rest of the text, which can tend to overwhelm,
perhaps by the use of bold red font, with the font size continuing to be specified according
to pack size. Upper case lettering would be useful in arresting the attention and providing
clarity for the visually impaired. Red is traditionally accepted as being a warning colour.
If the internationally accepted Radura symbol is used to indicate irradiated food this should
also be in red and placed beside the word “IRRADIATED”. This would assist in educating
people as to the true meaning of this symbol because in its current colour green it tends to
resemble a friendly, natural “organic” type of symbol like a flower and as it stands is
misleading and deceptive. There is nothing natural about food that has been blasted with
electrons emanating from a radioactively decaying material.
Permitted, evidence-based health benefits could be provided in blue lower case bold font
beneath the red warning font, blue being traditionally accepted as being health and
medically-related. Font size specification as above could apply equally here.
The remaining information including the nutrition panel and ingredients listing would
continue to be in black font of a size suitable for the packaging. I believe there is a case for
a specified minimum size and that no text should be placed on or below the fold of a crimp
seal as is currently the case with some snack and chocolate bars.
The use of green font or background colour for information labelling is to be specifically
discouraged, if not prohibited, as it has environmental and organic connotations and could
easily be used as a marketing ploy in the same way that the words “organic” and “natural”
have been misused or abused.
Q22. Are there ways of objectively testing legibility and readability? To what
extent should objective testing be required?
4.2 Labelling could be tried and tested in development stages on focus groups of all
demographics. Special consideration should be given to the visually impaired and aged
population. Perhaps engaging the collaboration of such bodies as Vision Australia and
Aged Care Association of Australia in this country and their equivalents in NZ in testing
acceptability of different font sizes and colour would be appropriate. English is the lingua
franca of both Australia and New Zealand so this should be the primary language used. We
are already seeing multiple languages used on some imported products in relation to their
ingredients lists and it can be frustrating sometimes trying to find your own language.
For kosher and halal products, the situation is different and of course the languages of the
predominant ethnic groups to whom these foods apply should be included along with the
English version and their appropriate community associations could be included in
consultation and development of legible and meaningful labelling that suits their particular
Placing text at right angles to other text can actually be helpful in breaking up the “visual
blur” of multiple layers of information. Using some lines around text to box it off (like the
nutrition information panel) and perhaps the use of grading-down shades of the same
background colour on paper-based labels e.g. pale orange-yellow-lemon-cream-beige-
white, can be used to differentiate between types of information and reduce the overwhelm
factor. Almost all text colour shows up well on a yellow-shaded background however careful
use of text colour against background would have to be considered to avoid impinging
upon concerns of colour-blindness. Consultation with experts in this field of and testing on
affected individuals in conjunction with those experts could be done.
Q23. How best can the information on food labels be arranged to balance the
presentation of a range of information while minimising information overload?
Comprehensibility 4.3 The preamble to this question raises some very valid
points.Numerical data and percentages is problematic information to assimilate for a
population not educated to make food choices this way from childhood. Teaching the basics
in schools and applying it to the lunch choices in much the same way the telling of time and
the counting of money is taught, as a basic life skill, might work well for the future.
The NIP and RDI information panels have been devised without much advice for how they
can be made relevant within the total daily intake of a variety of foods across three or more
meals per day by someone whose life pattern consists of getting out of the house to work
and fitting in a plethora of errands and lunch on the run before the rushed, often takeaway
evening meal and bedtime. They satisfy the needs of the legislators and manufacturers to
have fulfilled their role in informing without taking the responsibility to advise by setting up a
suitable programme of education to make it relevant and useful to people in practical terms.
Far more useful is the Healthy Eating Recommended Daily Servings webpage on the
Federal Government’s Dept of Health and Ageing website, from which the “five servings of
fruit and veg” has been heavily promoted by the supermarkets (whatever their motives
might be). Incorporating a form of reference back to this guide in an easily comprehensible
format within the existing labelling format would be useful, perhaps some matching colour
coding on labels to relate back to it, with the guide mandatorily available at all retailers’
points of sale.
Colour coding could be employed to match the colours used on the Government‟s
Healthy Eating Guide - see screen-shot below:
Cereals = orange, Vegetables/legumes = green, Fruit = red, Milk/dairy derivatives = blue
Serving size could be related to the way we serve our food, rather than weight, to make it
more relevant. It is in preparing food that we weigh individual ingredients, not in serving it –
who weighs the finished dish onto their plate? Usually a large serving spoon is used –
perhaps start talking about so many kJ or grams of fat/protein etc per level table-spoon
instead. A spoonful is visual, grams are not – weight depends on the density of the food
and it is easily misjudged, whereas everybody can visualise a table-spoon or a cup/half cup
as used on the government Healthy Eating Guide. Trying to visualise 100gm of mudcake vs
100gm of candy floss is hard, whereas a tablespoon of mudcake and a tablespoon of candy
floss can be visualised immediately.
At all times the consumer’s right to information should be paramount. Both the “majority”
requirement, nutrition and ingredient information, and the “minority” requirement e.g.
allergy information, need to be incorporated. Other than safety warnings, it is possible that
minority requirements could be addressed by means of the provision of a toll-free number
or website address as is often already the case.
For most of the largely ignored but overwhelming 90% majority of people demanding
positive GM derivation to be labelled regardless of DNA content, optimism bias as referred
to in the preamble probably does not exist; anecdotally it is often the case that the lack of
GM labelling leads to rejection of a product that does not bear a statement declaring GM-
free. Manufacturers yearning for a reduction of labelling regulatory burden should be
concerned. However, misgivings could arise in these consumers that since labelling is not
policed and there is very little enforcement of legislated labelling, there is likewise no
policing of voluntary labelling such as GM-free, and its validity is not tested either.
Therefore it is becoming imperative that the demands of this 90% of the consumer base is
heeded and complied with under new labelling regulations and enforcement introduced
both for the sake of the consumer and ultimately for the manufacturer as well. Speaking for
myself, if it says canola oil anywhere on the pack, it goes straight back on the shop shelf,
moreso now that so much Australian canola is no longer GM free. It would seem that
introducing mandatory statements regarding derivation and the processing procedures
used would obviate the need for any other labelling for 90% of the population! Simply state
“GM product” and no-one would bother reading the remainder however it was presented –
problem solved! That’s what the manufacturers are afraid of and that of course is why they
are resisting it. But labelling exists for the consumers – their demands should be satisfied!
Q24. In what ways can consumers be best informed to maximise their
understanding of the terms and figures used on food labels?
4.3 cont‟d Please refer to comments under Q23. Also, in relation to the above suggestion
that government authorised Healthy Eating leaflets be available at checkouts, the
supermarkets publishing their own monthly magazine could be encouraged to include a
tear-out information card in their recipe magazines that are usually for sale at the checkout.
If this was designed as a bookmark, it would more likely be kept and referred to. It could
even have a magnetic strip so that it could be placed on the refrigerator. These leaflets
could also be sent out at local council level with rates notices or by local state ministers with
their newsletters, which reach all households, not just ratepayers.
Q25. What is an appropriate role for government in relation to use of pictorial
icons on food labels?
4.4 Icons are a space-economical way of conveying a message quickly to busy shoppers.
Only icons with a clearly defined and government approved definition should be used, for
consistency of message and to avoid confusion. To this end allowing manufacturers and
interest groups to develop their own icons for use in marketing messages where those
icons could be easily confused with a government health message icon is to be avoided.
Too many icons of similar appearance or similar message would become confusing if their
meanings are ambiguous or not well publicised.
Healthy eating guidance
The following observation was recorded at the Sydney Public Consultation Meeting No 2
As a dietician running a public practice I deal with consumers one-on-one and with groups. I run
shopping tours to teach people about food labels. Most of the clients are middle class and
well educated but they still struggle to determine if products should fall into categories of:
use regularly, use occasionally or use rarely, from reading the labels. They also struggle
with the % daily intake concept, though this is great for dieticians. There is a need for
something simple/symbolic which will enable consumers to categorise food into for
example: eat me every day, eat me sometimes (be cautious) or eat me rarely. UNQUOTE
Colour coding on labels as previously suggested, relating back to the government Healthy
Eating Guide which could be handed out on the shopping tours, might resolve this.
As an alternative to colour coding, the six food categories as defined by the Federal Dept of
Health and Ageing’s Healthy Eating Guide could be iconically represented on food products
to show the predominant food type to which the finished product belonged and the relative
percentage levels of that food type it contained thus:
Cereals – a wheatsheaf 20%/0.5 tbspn/serve
Dairy - a milk carton 40%/2 tbspn/serve
Fish, fruit and vegetables similarly
The “extras” (treats) could be a “warning-red” gift
This would provide a quick snapshot of the relative merits of one food choice over another
according to the consumer’s dietary requirements. It could have a particular application for
products aimed at the elderly or very young consumer segments where quick the visual
perception icons provide would be appreciated by the visually or literacy challenged.
Organic certification logo
For organic foods, there are seven certifying bodies and each has its own logo. For some
consumers new to organic food, this can be confusing, especially as the term “organic” is
used indiscriminately in advertising by manufacturers who have not undergone certification
by any of the certifying bodies. If the certifying bodies could agree one logo only, this would
be helpful, with the certifying body that carried out the certification being named beside it.
Some issues relating to the Radura logo for irradiated food have already been covered.
Since so little irradiated food is actually labelled, I have yet to see it on a product. The only
product I have seen which declares itself as irradiated is a particular brand of herbal tea
which states “Treated with ionising electrons” and it does not bear the Radura logo. This
logo is not mandatory in Australia whereas it is in the USA. Consistency of the use of this
logo should be government mandated worldwide and its true meaning explained to anyone
that thinks it represents an environmentally friendly or has some botanical connotation.
The Radura symbol looks like this:
which is remarkably similar to the symbol for the United States Environmental
This has many people in the USA asking – was this intentional?
The Radura symbol, developed in the Netherlands and now internationally accepted, is
required labelling for irradiated food in the USA. It is not employed in Europe where far
stronger labelling regulations are in place, the like of which I would like to see introduced
here. In Europe, ALL irradiated ingredients in a finished product/restaurant meal must be
labelled as irradiated even if the finished product/meal itself is not irradiated and there is
definitive wording that must be used. Once again Europe has set a very high benchmark to
which Australia should aspire.
It is appropriate and necessary for government to play a role in the use of icons having a
clear, unambiguous meaning without any euphemistic or misleading intent. Further, not only
icons but clearly defined wording on all food labels should appear where there is a safety
issue or a health risk or where the long-term effects are still in question and if there is
sufficient consumer concern that the evidence is not yet all in and consumers have stated a
strong preference for labelling. This applies to irradiated food, GM derived food and
nanotech engineered food and should be extended to the foods they feed their animal
family as well as their human family. Icons with defined meanings should be devised by
government, mandated by government, and policed by government. Government and
manufacturers have a duty of care and a duty to inform consumers.
Q26. What objectives should inform decisions relevant to the format of front-of-
4.5 The objectives, as always, should be to inform the consumer and satisfy requirements
for guidance in relation to dietary suitability both in terms of healthy dietary balance and
personal safety (e.g. allergens). It should be a quick “snapshot” of the food product and its
suitability for the consumer. Encouragement to turn to the back of pack for more in-depth
information should be included. They could see at a glance whether it was a product
deserving of more in-depth investigation. Thus time-poor consumers could more quickly
complete their shopping without the need to stop and pick up and turn over every item yet
still be encouraged to shop with health and safety in mind. The traffic light system as tested
by CHOICE and reported on their website is useful in this regard and in providing sufficient
information for the aged and vision impaired as well as children and students choosing their
own meals who might feel disinclined to read labels deeply. Link to the CHOICE test:
Q27. What is the case for food label information to be provided on foods prepared
and consumed in commercial (e.g., restaurants, take away shops) or institutional
(schools, pre-schools, worksites) premises? If there is a case, what information
would be considered essential?
4.6 With the increase in time-poor consumers opting for take-away and the rise of the
café society there is a definite need for consumers to be provided with the same type of
information that they would see on prepared complete meals found in the freezer
compartments at any supermarket. Australian Food News reported on 23 March 2010
that this has already been recognised in the USA as the new US Health Care
Legislation has decreed that chain restaurants having 20+ locations must provide
nutritional information to diners at the point of purchase, of a type that mirrors that found
on packaged foods. This includes caloric (energy) information being highlighted on
hand menus as well as wall and drive-through menu boards. This is one American
innovation that Australia would do well to emulate.
As reported in Australian Food News 18 February 2010, Australian Bureau of Statistics
figures showed an increase in turnover in December ’09 of 3.9% in the Cafés,
Restaurants and Takeaway Food services category with consistent growth over the
three month period to year end.
Under the same link above can be found another report by Nicole Eckersley dated 29
April 2010 stating that McDonalds now ranks No 6 in the world’s top ten brands by
dollar value. For a “cheap takeaway” to reach this rank, they must be selling huge
quantities of “cheap” meals to an enormous volume of people worldwide. The Millward
Brown Optimor BrandZ Top 100 quotes the value $66 billion dollars of sales world-wide
for McDonalds for the year with KFC at $7.1 billion and Burger King $1.7 billion.
An article in the 16 February 2009 edition of The Australian stated that for every dollar
spent by Australian consumers on food and drink, 44 cents was going towards fast
Clearly take-away is not going away. As it increasingly replaces conventional home-
cooked food made from labelled ingredients, it must itself begin to be labelled.
Icons could play a role in improving readability and comprehension of nutrient content in the
case of retail food outlets. In these situations there is usually little time or inclination for the
consumer to become involved in a numerical nutrient table and when scanning wall menus
or handout menus when serving time is of the essence. However these meals should not
be excluded from labelling. Here, government could design and mandate an icon for each
of the food nutrient types and the number of times it appears against the meal in question
indicates the relative level of that food group in the meal, on a scale of 1 to 5. For example:
five ovoids (eggshapes) – high protein level
one oilcan – low fat level
two sugar cubes – moderate sugar level
four hash symbols – high fibre level ####
three loaf symbols – moderate to high other carbohydrate level
Minimum/Maximum percentages could define the number of icons to be used for each
nutrient. This gives a very quick, visual idea of the relative nutrient content of each category
in the finished product, relevant to a more relaxed situation or when eating on the run and
would translate well to a board menu on the wall. Perhaps such a system could be
introduced for school lunches.
One last point: where microwave ovens are employed in food preparation I believe
there should be a notice both on the menu and displayed on the wall of the
establishment. As a result of scientific evidence of the adverse effects on foods and
studies proving measurable adverse health effects on those who consumed
microwaved food, microwave ovens were banned for a period of time in Russia from
1976, and the debate continues. As further scientific evidence emerges, there is now a
rising tide of antipathy towards them here, which should be respected.
Q28. To what degree should the Food Standards Code address food advertising?
4.7 Advertising claims should be closely monitored and there should be legislation
governing what may and may not be claimed in the way of health benefits. This should
reflect legislation designed for food labels as outlined in Q8 in relation to health promotion
initiatives. The use of a defined selection of scientifically proven claims as suggested in Q8
could also apply here.
We do have an Advertising Standards Authority to whom breaches can be reported
however there has been criticism that it is a body comprised of volunteers who meet
infrequently so that consequently progress in dealing with reports of breaches can be
delayed. We therefore need a separate reporting body for food advertising breaches and
again an Ombudsman might be the favourable choice.
Care should be taken around the use of suggestive visuals that create an impression that
the spoken script does not mention, The use of sporting figures or people dressed in
training gear can subtly suggest something is a healthy diet choice when in fact it is not.
The overall impression of the advertising is difficult to legislate and control however.
Ultimately consumers have to apply common sense and while most will claim to a market
research interviewer that they “tune out” when TV ads are on, mute the sound or leave the
room, when prompted recall questions arise in a survey they can usually relate the
dominant scenario and the underlying message. It is when people are consciously tuned
out that they are most susceptible to the successful subtle insistence of the subconscious
messaging system that advertising agencies are paid so highly to achieve. In reality, any
legislation around actual spoken or written content will be weakened by the persuasive
power of the backdrop visuals. The following quote by the AFGC supports my reasoning:
Under Section 4.5 of their first submission, “Function of food labels - commercial
imperatives”, the AFGC have made the following point:
QUOTE: “Through combinations of words, imagery and branding labels communicate with
consumers and create an impression about quality, nutritional attributes, health positioning,
taste, convenience and value for money. Moreover, through label design and brand
support, food products can represent values shared by the consumer – such as minimising
environmental impacts and supporting cancer research.” UNQUOTE
The same point would be valid for food advertising.
Q29. In what ways can consistency across Australia and New Zealand in the
interpretation and administration of food labelling standards be improved?
5.1 – 5.4 Any authority set up to interpret and administer food labelling standards has to be
comprised of representatives from both countries if the identical standards are to apply in
each country, Regular consultation between representatives would be necessary. Policing
and enforcement agencies perhaps could be separate and carried out by the appropriate
persons in each country, the feet on the ground in each case, for maximum efficiency and
Q30. In what ways can consistency, especially within Australia, in the
enforcement of food labelling standards be improved?
5.5 One point of contact at Federal agency level for consumers to voice concerns is both
desirable and necessary. The idea of an ombudsman has already been suggested here.
There should be a clearly defined and straightforward “grievance procedure” for the
consumer to follow and an established step-by-step protocol for the agency to follow in
response in investigating alleged breaches and appropriately warning or prosecuting
offending food manufacturers. Findings should be made public via a website. The whole
process should have a defined timeframe for this including reporting back to consumers to
avoid rendering the process unwieldy and cost-ineffective for all. There should also be a
defined, non-negotiable penalty structure for food manufacturers found to be in breach of
labelling standards after due process has been followed.
Q31. What are the strengths and weaknesses of placing the responsibility for the
interpretation, administration and enforcement of labelling standards in Australia
with a national authority applying Commonwealth law and with compatible
arrangements for New Zealand?
5.6 Since the intent of labelling is to provide valid information for consumers, to protect
their safety and address their concerns, the national authority must have, as its prime
concern, honouring this intent rather than protecting the interests of business. A single
focus one-stop-shop approach, providing consistency and clarity of purpose with
unbiased fairness to all parties, would be its strength and promote confidence within the
consumer to make use of it. Therefore there is no question that this authority should not
be populated by anyone having a vested interest in any food manufacturing concern
nor by any personnel that have exited food manufacturing within, say, at least a ten
year time period. There is popular criticism of the US FDA that it has been populated
with ex-food manufacturers or those having recent close interests in that industry. This
is to be avoided at all costs as a potential weakness.
Q32. If such an approach was adopted, what are the strengths and weaknesses of
such a national authority being an existing agency; or a specific food labelling
agency; or a specific unit within an existing agency?
5.6 cont‟d The strengths of creating such a national authority as a specific unit within
an existing agency are that the existing agency personnel have a foundation of
knowledge and experience on which to draw and probably a network of professional
contacts to be considered as candidates for additional staffing. Existing staff could
mentor the additional staff taken on to form the unit and help to cope with the increased
enforcement workload during the settling in period. The authority would evolve naturally
from the existing agency by both extension of existing procedures and the bolting on of
Using an existing agency without creating a separate, specific unit within it is a
possibility that would offer the same strengths as already noted above. However without
additional staff the additional workload could weaken the whole structure and create
inefficiencies within the existing functions and fail to properly integrate the new
Creating a whole new separate labelling agency, though an apparently attractive
prospect, would likely cost more in both time and money and innumerable committee
meetings would have to be held to establish structure, hierarchy, staff hiring, division of
labour, simple decision-making procedures ad infinitum. Very little in a practical way
might be achieved address problems and resolve consumer grievances for at least a
year and quite possibly two.
Q33. If such an approach was adopted, what are appropriate mechanisms to deal
with the constitutional limits to the Commonwealth‟s powers?
5.6 cont‟d No comment. I have no knowledge of constitutional law.
Q34. What are the advantages and disadvantages of retaining governments‟
primary responsibility for administering food labelling regulations?
5.7 The primary responsibility for administering food labelling regulations must continue to
be held by government and its agencies. Self-regulation is a recipe for disaster and the
consumer being duped in favour of the vested interests of large corporations. The words fox
and hen-house spring to mind. We only have to look where this arrangement has got us
with pet food – crippled cats and dogs with Fanconi-like syndrome because consumers did
not know what they were feeding their pets. The PFIAA was disinterested in supporting the
call for the cessation of pet food irradiation or at least for appropriate labelling. I know this
because I was one of the main lobbyists and I and other pet owners sought their support by
direct contact on several occasions only to be knocked back each time,
Industry associations such as this exist in general for two reasons:
1)To protect their own interests and present a united front against the consumer with a
single consistent message
2) as a powerful and cashed-up lobbying force to government. As our food manufacturing
base continues to be swallowed up mainly by three main corporations whose sole intent
seems to be complete control of the food supply, there has to be a separate, controlling
entity to police their ethics.
Co-regulation is equally unacceptable. Consultation and consideration must be given to the
needs and viewpoints of manufacturers, however they should not be given power or
responsibility in the decision-making process,
An independent government-controlled body accountable to the consumer, and staffed by
public servants whose role is to serve the public should be the agency of choice.
Q35. If a move to either: self regulation by industry of labelling requirements; or
co-regulation involving industry, government and consumers were to be
considered, how would such an arrangement work and what issues would need
to be addressed?
5.7 Please refer to previous answer to Q34 on this issue. In any co-regulation of this nature
the consumer would have the least power. Government by its nature is powerful and
wealthy industry is even more powerful. Whilst consumers might appear to hold a balance
of power in where they walk their wallets, there are insufficient numbers of them who would
take any real interest and practical part in any such arrangement, and their representatives
are frequently carefully selected as middle of the road moderates who can be co-opted into
going with the desired flow. Whilst consumers are consulted and listened to, industry
carefully selects those to whom it will lend its ear, then goes away and dilutes the message,
responding with a watered down version. Consumers have far more power with their
government, especially in election years.
Q36. In what ways does such split or shared responsibility strengthen or weaken
the interpretation and enforcement of food labelling requirements?
5.8 Sharing the responsibility for interpreting food labelling requirements between
government and industry and consumer would strengthen the outcome because this would
provide for a broader interpretative foundation encompassing all viewpoints. There needs to
be ongoing consultation with consumers by government and food industry such as this
review has facilitated.
Enforcing food labelling requirements has to come from government to be effective. For
reasons stated above I would have little faith in the success of shared enforcement.
Q37. What are the strengths and limitations of the current processes that define a
product as a food or a complementary medicine?
5.9 Where substances could be regarded as either a food or a complementary medicine, it
is better that the food classification overrides the medicine classification in terms of labelling
requirements. Both foods and medicines are ingested and pass through the alimentary
canal. Therefore any treatment they have undergone in their processing should be stated
so that the consumer can decide if it is appropriate for them to ingest. It is misleading that
two herbal teabags which both undergo irradiation should be labelled differently in this
regard because one of them is claiming a therapeutic effect and the other one is only
intended to be used as a beverage. Separate claims as to medicinal benefit can be stated
as additional information, when the appropriate TGA classification has been granted.
The teas in question are Hilda Hemmes herbal teas, and it is interesting to note that their
therapeutic quality teabag range, though also irradiated, are not so labelled because they
are classified as a medicine rather than a food. Yet it is still a teabag you make into a drink.
This is not the manufacturer’s fault, they are complying with the existing legislation, but it is
this kind of double-standard in the relevant legislations that annoys those consumers who
oppose food irradiation and whilst irradiation is not likely to be stopped soon, in the interim
at least, we deserve appropriate labelling on all products that pass our lips however it is
classified. It still goes down through the body the same way. I did email the manufacturer
about the use of irradiation and they kindly responded explaining that due to a 1990 survey
of Australian herbs finding unsafe levels of bacteria which were not destroyed by boiling
water, irradiation was adopted as a safety measure, ending by asking the question “isn’t it
better to be safe than sorry?”
Well no, it isn’t necessarily. When irradiated foods are not labelled as irradiated and there is
an adverse effect due to their ingestion it is too late to do anything about it. The government
adopted for “safe rather than sorry” in offering irradiation to a cat food importer in 2007 as a
quarantine measure. The owners of over 100 cats killed and paralysed during 2008 as a
result of being fed the irradiated food are certainly sorry. Sorry enough to lobby the Minister
of Agriculture to have the process stopped. On the production of peer reviewed, published
scientific papers proving that feeding cats irradiated food leads to the delayed onset
neurological disease “leucoencephalomyelopathy” and almost an almost daily avalanche of
strongly-worded email evidence from owners to AQIS of Australian cats dying of seizures or
becoming paralysed as a result, the Minister finally reviewed the evidence and ceased the
process of offering irradiation as a quarantine measure for cat food in May 2009.
Pet food, like complementary medicines, is not subject to the same regulations as human
food, so the product was not labelled as irradiated. Yet pets are increasingly being
considered as part of the family or even a family substitute with the fastest rising
demographic of solo households and couples choosing to delay having children. It is time
pet food was brought under the same regulatory umbrella as human food and the same
applies to ingested therapeutic products. Being a premium priced, grain-free, protein-rich
“natural and wholistic” food, it was sought out by discerning consumers only wishing the
best for their cats whom they did consider as being part of their family and who were mainly
the type of people that would read labels closely and would tend to favour natural and
wholistic products like therapeutic herbs. Thus, they were in the main people that would
have eschewed an irradiated product. Had this product been appropriately labelled, their
heartache and thousands of dollars in veterinary fees would have been saved. Having said
this, had only the Radura logo been used as in the USA without any text incorporating the
word “irradiated”, speaking for myself, an owner of one such affected cat, I would have
been none the wiser at that time and would probably have believed the green flower-like
symbol to be part of the Canadian manufacturer’s labelling intending to represent the
natural botanicals included in the product.
The word “IRRADIATED” should appear in bold upper case font in a prominent position
on all products thus treated, that are ingested by humans or their animals.
Q38. What are the strengths and weaknesses of having different approaches to
the enforcement of food labelling standards for imported versus domestically
5.10 Given that so many domestically produced foods are made from imported products
either in whole or in part, it would seem to be difficult to accurately label the finished product
unless there was sufficient information provided by adequate labelling on the imported raw
materials. The onus should be on the importer to ensure that information is sought from the
supplier to enable relabelling upon import or agreement to label in accordance with local
requirements so that the consumer has all the information required to make purchasing
The move to harmonise all countries under one world authority such as Codex
Alimentarius, governing food, its treatment and its labelling, is disturbing to those who
cherish national sovereignty. The idea of so much power being invested in just one
body is profoundly disturbing, especially when individual nations appear to be having
little or no input into the legislation. Globalisation of this nature is what has been
responsible for the mergers and acquisitions of smaller, individualistic food companies
into the giant conglomerates which hold so much political clout that consumers have
very little voice to have their demands taken seriously. We only have to read the
dictatorial, consumer-dismissive tone of AFGC’s first submission to understand that.
Q39. Should food imported through New Zealand be subject to the same AQIS
5.10 Yes. In speaking with a representative of AQIS I understand the NZ quarantine
requirements are different from those of Australia. This review is not concerned with food
safety therefore it is hard to see why this question has been asked and reading the
preamble 5.10 has not provided sufficient clarification to enable a fuller answer to be given.
If the question is about food labelling and the labelling regulations are the same for NZ as
for Australia it should not matter if the food labels are not inspected again in Australia
provided they have been inspected upon import into NZ.