Food law under review in Australia, New Zealand is first in decades

Food law under review in Australia, New Zealand is first in decades
A review of food regulations in Australia and New Zealand is in progress to prepare for the future. The reform includes amending parts of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 for the first time in almost 30 years.

New Zealand and Australia have a shared regulatory system that sees joint development of food composition and labelling policy and standards.

In November 2019, the Australia New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation endorsed a plan to reform the bi-national food regulation system.

Public comment period
A scoping paper is open for public comment in New Zealand and Australia until Nov. 16. It seeks views on issues and tensions within the regulatory system and ideas for possible modifications.

The review will also examine the associated operations and responsibilities of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). In recent years, FSANZ’s operating budget has declined in real terms.

The Australian Government’s Department of Health is leading the work with New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). It has been running since July 2020 with stakeholders saying the Australia-New Zealand food regulatory system can be improved in relation to responsiveness, flexibility and timeliness but it is not broken.

The first reform idea is defining public health and safety in legislation to include long-term health and nutrition as objectives. The second is recognizing trade as a core goal and reframing consumer choice as a factor for FSANZ.

Amendment plans
Two reform ideas were identified for FSANZ’s functions. Additional areas could include a role in emerging issues such as food fraud and food crime and coordinating food safety research.

Two ideas were put forward to support more strategic reviews of food standards. This includes removing exemptions that currently exist in the FSANZ Act on food standards so they could be subject to regular checks and additional resources to do more reviews.

Two suggestions have been identified to address issues relating to legal processes such as reframing legislation to support more risk-based processes and redefining decision-making arrangements.

Three reform proposals relating to new pathways to amend food standards were identified. One is to enhance FSANZ’s ability to adopt or accept risk assessments from overseas. Another is to enable FSANZ to adopt or incorporate international standards and the third would enable industry to bring new food products to market in Australia and New Zealand quicker. It will also shift oversight toward post-approval monitoring and quality assurance.

Three ideas have been identified that could help consistency in interpretation of food standards by the jurisdictions. The first is giving FSANZ resources to provide guidance about food standards within its current legislative remit. Next is new legislative power to provide binding interpretive advice about standards to jurisdictions and industry. The final point is providing the agency with limited enforcement powers to enforce compliance with food standards.

Feedback will inform a shortlist of reform opportunities that will be further researched and subject to a cost-benefit analysis. Findings will be collated and further consultation will take place before any legislative changes.

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