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Australia, NZ to review burden of food labelling laws

By staff reporter , 26-Oct-2009

Australia and New Zealand are to undertake a review of food labelling laws and policy to reduce the regulatory burden on food companies without compromising health and safety.

Requirements for information to appear on food labels in Australia and New Zealand are governed by the Food Standards Code. While there are certain elements that are required on all labels, such as product name, supplier details, use by dates and the presence of allergens, there are frequent demands for more elements to be included.

Labelling topics that have been under fierce debate, not only in Australia and New Zealand but all around the globe, include front-of-pack nutrition information, GM ingredients and environmental footprint.

At the moment, requests for changes in food labelling standards are taken on a case-by-case basis, however. There is no process laid out to look at the cumulative burden on food businesses and there is little scope for innovative schemes.

The Council of Australian Governments has therefore agreed that the Australian and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council should undertake an evidence-based and independent review of food labelling law and policy.

The panel is currently recruited, and is expected to include “prominent individuals who possess knowledge and expertise in a number of areas, including public policy/economics, public health, law, consumer behaviour and business”, said the Food Labelling Review Secretariat, in its announcement on Friday. The panel will be headed by former Australian health minister Dr Neal Blewett.

The ministerial council has also published a Terms of Reference document, available here , which sets out the context of the review and gives more details on what it will entail.

The document emphasises that all labelling requirements impose costs in industry, and says they must be evidence based and effective in achieving their policy purpose; do not impose unjustifiable burdens; and can be enforced in an effective, proportionate and consistent manner.

The first stage of the review is a consultation on the issues included in this document. Views are being accepted until 20th November.

Panel’s task

The panel’s role will be to look at the policy drivers behind food labelling demands.

It will also consider what government’s role should be, what principles should guide decisions about regulatory intervention, what policies and mechanisms are needed to ensure government plays its role, and what principles and approaches needed for compliance.

It will also evaluate currently policies, standards and laws, and existing work on health claims and front-of-pack labelling, and make recommendations for improving food labelling law and policy.

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