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Australian control review of food labeling law

28 October 2009 3,059 views No Comment

A wide-ranging review of New Zealand’s labelling laws for packaged food is likely to be run entirely by Australians.

The year-long review has a broad brief and food-safety campaigners hope it will look at contentious matters such as the disclosure on labels of genetically modified ingredients and a “traffic-light” system to show if a food is healthy or unhealthy.

Current rules covering packaged foods require at least a nutrition panel, a list of ingredients and the disclosure of various allergens.

But consumer research indicates these are poorly understood and many people rarely read them.

The review was instigated by the Council of Australian Governments and the transtasman Food Regulation Ministerial Council.

The ministerial council has said the independent review panel will be headed by former Australian Health Minister Neal Blewett, but it is yet to announce the other members.

A ministerial council official said yesterday she did not know if a New Zealander would be among them. “To be quite frank, I don’t think so, but I don’t know.”

Greens health spokeswoman Sue Kedgley said the documentation released about the review showed it was driven by Australia.

“It’s clearly focused on increasing competitiveness for Australian businesses. There’s no mention of New Zealand.

“I would be upset if we don’t have any New Zealand representation on the panel. It would show what a charade this is.”

It would reinforce the country’s loss of sovereignty on food standards under a treaty which relegated New Zealand to having only one vote on a ministerial council dominated by Australian states.

“New Zealand’s ministerial council member, Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson, said she was open-minded about the review. The panel’s membership was yet to be decided.”

Ms Kedgley said food labelling was of vital importance to New Zealanders and her party would make a joint submission with Australia’s Greens.

She would urge the panel to consider better disclosure of GM ingredients, country-of-origin labelling – required in Australia but shunned by the New Zealand Government – and some form of easy-to-understand health labelling such as a traffic-light system.

The Soil & Health Association said Ms Wilkinson needed to ensure the review covered labelling GM food ingredients.

Traffic-light labelling would fall within any requirements to introduce nutrition labelling on the front of food packaging.

Some manufacturers have introduced nutrient-based average daily intake indicators on the front of their packaging, a move seen by some public health practitioners as a bid to avoid being forced into a traffic-light system.

The Food Safety Authority says its focus group research indicated a traffic-light system was “the most understandable label format”.

But later consultation with “stakeholders” had highlighted difficulties and costs associated with implementing such a scheme.

“We will work further with the food industry to determine the feasibility of running supermarket-based labelling interventions.”

source from:www.nzherald.co.nz  By Martin Johnston  

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