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Risk - an anticipative approach to managing risk

Risk analysis

Risk analysis is the internationally agreed method that shapes our approach to food standardsvand safety decisions. It consists of three parts — risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. Risk assessment involves an evaluation of the best available scientific evidence to provide the technical basis of decisions. From this base, risk management is the application of law, policies and perspectives that enables sound judgement. Both processes are supported by a platform of risk communication to optimise information sharing.

Emerging issues and intelligence

In 2019–20 we began work on longer term emerging issues and engaged our key stakeholder committees and our Board in horizon scanning across two, five and ten years. The outcomes from the process with the Consumer and Public Health Dialogue (CPHD), the Retailers and Manufacturers Liaison Committee (RMLC) and our Board were included in our 2019 report published in May 2020.

This is an overt strategy to lift FSANZ’s emerging issues gaze from hazards to also include broader processes for example climate change and changes such as consumption habits and supply chain issues. Future annual emerging and ongoing issues reports are expected to have a greater focus on these types of processes and changes.

Ongoing food safety issues in 2019:

  • arsenic in rice
  • 3-monochloro-propandiol and glycidyl esters
  • caffeine
  • hepatitis A virus in ready-to-eat berries
  • intense sweeteners
  • microplastics in the food supply
  • per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances
  • pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

Three issues were archived or management through other processes in 2019:

  • antimicrobial resistance
  • glutamates in food
  • salmonella in raw fish.

Archived food safety issues in 2019:

  • antimicrobial resistance
  • glutamates in food
  • salmonella in raw fish.

Behavioural and regulatory analysis

In 2019–20 we considered the behavioural and regulatory implications of regulatory options to inform our standards setting. In addition to statutory requirements to consider the costs and benefits of proposed standards, we also satisfy the requirements of the COAG Guide for Ministerial Councils and National Standards Setting Bodies. We use the regulatory impact assessment process to document and refine our understanding of the costs and benefits of a range of options, including the status–quo option. The Regulation Impact Statement will identify the preferred option for the FSANZ Board, being the option that delivers the greatest net benefit to the community.

In 2019–20, we studied the behavioural and economic evidence base for P1050—Pregnancy warning labels on alcoholic beverages. FSANZ tested consumers understanding and response to the four warning text options through an on-line representative survey of Australians and New Zealanders. The consumer testing helped us to refine the subsequent message to be included on the warning label. To complement the consumer testing, a literature review of recent published literature on the effectiveness of warning labels was completed. The literature review assisted in developing the design elements that draw attention to the warning. Additional economic analysis was undertaken with new data provided from a range of stakeholders, this gave increased confidence that only a small number of FASD cases need to be avoided to offset any costs to the community of the proposed standard.

We continue to collaborate with our international colleagues through the International Food Safety Regulatory Economics Working Group and the International Social Science Liaison Group. Both groups meet by teleconference 4-times per year to exchange ideas, data, methods and findings. Of particular note is a joint literature review on consumer understanding and responses to allergen declarations and precautionary allergen labelling. This review will inform work by the Codex Committee on Food Labelling, and will be an important step forward in the use of behavioural evidence by Codex.

Regulatory and behavioural analysis continued to inform standards development with substantive work being undertaken in relation to: P1028 Review of infant formula standard; P1044 Plain English allergen labelling; P1053 Food Safety Management tool and P1052 Primary Prod and Process Requirements for High-risk Horticulture.

Risk advice for imported food

Imported food is inspected and controlled using a risk-based border inspection program called the Imported Food Inspection Scheme, which is administered by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (Agriculture). FSANZ advises Agriculture on whether imported foods have the potential to pose a high or medium risk to public health. Agriculture then determines appropriate measures to manage food safety risks for food imported into Australia.

In 2019–20 we provided imported food risk advice to Agriculture on viruses in ready-to-eat berries and pomegranate arils, bacterial hazards in cooked poultry meat and ready-to-eat cooked crustaceans, chemical, bacterial and viral hazards in human milk and human milk products, and caffeine.

Science―Robust evidence and sustained, high quality

Regulatory Science Strategy

In 2019–20 we released our new Regulatory Science Strategy11, which outlines our strategic approach to addressing challenges that are posed by global trends and a dynamic food system.

It describes our delivery through five interdependent strategic objectives including maintaining outstanding scientific capabilities, tools and partnerships in food regulatory science to meet current and future needs. It also emphasises our increased focus on science communication to meet the increasing expectations of our stakeholders. The Strategy ensures that FSANZ continues to use the best available scientific evidence to develop food standards and positions us as a leader of regulatory science in the region.

Fellows

Our Fellows program involves experts in a range of scientific disciplines. They provide us with
objective expert advice and critical review of our work. This program also helps to develop academic links and networks.

See 3. REPORT ON PERFORMANCE, for more information on the engagements undertaken in 2019–20 with our fellows.

FSANZ FELLOW

BACKGROUND/EXPERTISE

Professor Andrew Bartholomaeus

Toxicology and human health risk assessment

Emeritus Professor Ken Buckle

Food science, processing and microbiology

Dr Laurence Eyres

Food technology

Professor David Fraser

Vitamin D

Distinguished Professor Nigel French

Molecular epidemiology and risk research

Dr Olivier Gasser

Translational immunology

Professor Stephen Goodall

Health economics

Professor Bridget Hutter

Social sciences

Professor Martyn Kirk

Applied epidemiology

Dr Rod Lamberts

Science communication

Professor Peter Langridge

Genomics

Professor Robyn McConchie

Horticultural food safety

Associate Professor Brian Priestly

Health risk assessment

Professor Nicole Roy

Food-microbe-host interactions

Professor Seppo Salminen

Intestinal micro biota and health, probiotics and prebiotics, health claims

Professor Samir Samman

Human nutrition

Professor Murray Skeaff

Nutrition

Professor Mark Tamplin

Microbiology and food safety

Professor Wendy Umberger

Agricultural and food economics

Associate Professor Claudia Vickers

Synthetic biology; metabolic engineering of plants & microorganisms

11 https://www.foodstandards.gov.au/publications/RegulatoryScienceStrategy201923/Pages/default.aspx

Student projects

We offer opportunities for students and staff from other institutions to undertake placements and projects at FSANZ. In participating, students can gain research experience working alongside staff and extend their knowledge of food regulatory science.

In 2019–20 we hosted three undergraduate students from the University of Wollongong for 5 weeks, undertaking projects including research about the composition of sports foods.

A Masters student from the University of New South Wales remotely completed a research project on labelling and nutrition issues associated with plant-based milk beverages.

We also hosted staff from Hong Kong University for 9 weeks working with analytical programs and nutrient databases for estimating population intakes, and the China National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment for 12 weeks working in areas including dietary exposure assessment and total diet studies

Australia New Zealand Science Forum

The Australia New Zealand Science Forum allows FSANZ and the New Zealand Food Safety (NZFS) Business Unit at the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to nurture our scientific relationship. Meetings are held bi-annually to consider and collaborate on food regulatory scientific projects relevant to both agencies, particularly in relation to the development of food standards.

Projects jointly managed by FSANZ and NZFS are funded under the NZMPI Operational Research Program.

During 2019–20, we hosted two science forum meetings with our New Zealand stakeholders, with a focus on our joint work under the Ministerial priority areas and exploring ongoing opportunities for working together.

FSANZ-CSIRO Nutrition Workshop

Staff from FSANZ and CSIRO held a one-day workshop in November 2019 focussing on a range of shared interests in nutrition science, including food composition databases, diet quality indices, Health Star Ratings, gut health, novel grains, and bush foods.

Dietary Exposure Assessments

A key component of our scientific risk assessments is the preparation of a dietary exposure
assessment (DEA). Comprehensive DEAs were completed this year for a number of applications
e.g. A1186 Soy leghaemoglobin in meat analogue products, A1155 oligosaccharides as novel
foods in infant formula products. Our DEAs also supported other risk assessment work being
undertaken by the agency, such as the survey on 3-MCPD and glycidyl esters (GE) in selected
vegetable oils and infant formulas in Australia and New Zealand.

FSANZ is recognised nationally and internationally as having a high degree of expertise in this
area. This is reflected in our participation in FAO/WHO international working groups and expert
committees. We also provided input into the revision of international guidance documents
on DEAs.

We undertook a review of our own principles and practices of DEAs to streamline our work
and to ensure it fit for purpose and reflects international best practice. We have also made
some upgrades to our dietary exposure assessment computer program Harvest. We have
provided technical advice, DEA training and information for stakeholders including those from
the jurisdictions, Saudi Food and Drug Authority, the China National Center for Food Safety Risk
Assessment (CFSA) and University students on placement.

International engagement

International engagement is vital to our work and ensures FSANZ we continue to work effectively with other countries in relation to food safety and standards setting. In 2019–20 we led the Australian work for several Codex Committees which develop international food standards. However, in 2020 a number of physical meetings were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Our experts are often invited to participate in other forums, including international scientific meetings. In June 2020 our experts participated in the FAO/WHO Joint Meeting on Food Additives which was held virtually over a two week period.

In January 2020, the CEO and General Manager for Risk Assessment attended the inaugural meeting of the Heads of Food Agency Forum held in Riyadh, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. FSANZ will host the second meeting virtually in March 2021. We used this opportunity to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Saudi Food and Drug Administration.

Prior to the imposition of COVID-19 related restrictions on travel, we hosted several international delegations in our FSANZ offices in Canberra, including from Bangladesh, China, and the Republic of Korea. FSANZ also hosted international secondees from China, Hong Kong SAR of China and Saudi Arabia.

In April 2019, following several months of bilateral discussions, FSANZ signed a trilateral MOU with the Singapore Food Agency and Enterprise Singapore. The MoU seeks to formalise the interactions between our agencies with a view to further strengthening our relationship in areas of mutual interest, including scientific collaboration and information exchange.

We continue to co-chair the APEC (a forum of 21 Asia-Pacific economies) Food Safety Cooperation Forum. As part of our APEC work we are leading an APEC project on Food Safety Risk Communication with three virtual workshops planned in 2020/2021.

Photo of FSANZ CEO Mark Booth at the inaugural meeting of the Heads of Food Agency Forum, Saudi Arabia Jan 2020