VIEWS: 12 PAGES: 33 POSTED ON: 9/23/2011
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 named ingredients. 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 imperatives “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 food labelling? 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 priority.” 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 excluded. 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 desirable. 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 overcome? 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 initiatives? 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 choices.” UNQUOTE 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 manufacturer entirely. 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 promotion agenda. Q11. What are the practical implications and consequences of aligning the regulations relating to health claims on foods and complementary medicine products? 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 purchase. 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 information? 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 http://nano.foe.org.au/sites/default/files/Nanotechnology%20in%20food%20and%20agricult ure%20-%20text%20only%20version_0.pdf 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 Consultancy Group) 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. http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/scienceandeducation/factsheets/factsheets2008/smallpart iclesnanote3923.cfm 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.” UNQUOTE http://www.ausfoodnews.com.au/2009/03/06/nanotechnology-in-food-needs-to-be- assessed-on-case-by-case-basis-efsa.html 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 http://2020science.org/2010/01/07/uk-house-of-lords-scrutinizes-nanotechnology-and- food/#ixzz0npWNZVan 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 proven. 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 labelling : QUOTE: “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 http://www.vegsoc.org.au/forum_messages.asp?Thread_ID=3124&Topic_ID=8 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 levels? 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 inhibited. 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 Recommendation 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. UNQUOTE 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 for years. 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 requirements. 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 QUOTE: 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. Irradiated food 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 Protection Agency: 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. Summary 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- pack labelling? 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: http://www.choice.com.au/~/media/Files/Consumer%20Action/Food/Traffic%20light%20lab elling/f133668.ashx 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. http://www.ausfoodnews.com.au/tag/fast-food/page/2 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. http://www.ausfoodnews.com.au/tag/fast-food 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. http://www.ausfoodnews.com.au/2010/04/29/millward-brown-reveals-top-100- brands.html 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 food. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/news/for-fast-food-the-eat-goes-on/story- e6frg90f-1111118859617 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 effect. 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 new ones. 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 functions. 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 produced foods? 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 decisions. 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 inspection requirements? 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.
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