I am proud to present the Annual Report for Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the significant achievements delivered by our agency in 2019–20.
2019–20 has been an extraordinary year for FSANZ and indeed the world. The January bushfire crisis in Australia and COVID-19 pandemic has seen significant changes to the way we work, it has also seen our agency rise to the challenges and adapt and respond quickly to the new operating environment.
Despite ongoing pressure on our resourcing, we have successfully delivered on a number of significant commitments to government and our core program of work
In July 2019 we delivered a report to Health Ministers on pure and highly concentrated caffeine food products following the tragic death of a young man in NSW in 2018 from caffeine toxicity associated with pure caffeine powder.
Ministers agreed to all five recommendations made in the report, including an urgent proposal to amend the Food Standards Code to prohibit the sale of pure and highly concentrated caffeine products to consumers.
Working closely with our federal, state and territory partners, including the Therapeutic Goods Administration we raised an urgent proposal in October to ban the sale of these products. The FSANZ Board approved the prohibition in December 2019 and we have until December 2020 to complete a full review of the decision — as required under our Act.
Our review of chapters 3 and 4 of the Foods Standards Code progressed this year with public consultation in February on proposals P1052 Primary Production and Processing Requirements for High-risk Horticulture and P1053 Food Safety Management Tools. Given the impact of COVID-19 on the industry, we are reviewing our consultation mechanisms and activities for the coming year to ensure we have a full range of views from industry to inform our decision.
In February 2020 we notified the Forum of our decision on Proposal P1050 — Pregnancy warning labels on alcoholic beverages — this was another major piece of work for the agency that has been underway for the past two years. In March, the Forum requested a review of the decision on the grounds that the warning label placed an unreasonable cost burden on industry. In June 2020 we notified the Forum of our response which was to re-affirm approval of the pregnancy warning label subject to changing the signal words from HEALTH WARNING to PREGNANCY WARNING and extending the transition period from two to three years to mitigate costs for industry.
We also prepared a new proposal to review Standard 2.9.4 — Formulated supplementary sports foods. This is a major piece of work for the agency likely to take several years to complete. In 2019–20 we finalised a situational analysis to inform the future direction of sports food regulation including targeted consultation and detailed investigations of the complex regulatory environment in Australia and New Zealand. In the coming year we will work towards developing revised regulation of sports foods to enhance consumer safety and to accommodate the rapidly changing sports food market.
In October 2019 we released our new Regulatory Science Strategy 2019–23. This strategy ensures we remain prepared to respond to global challenges, monitoring trends to anticipate and respond to emerging risks in a dynamic food system. The strategy outlines how we will continue to align our work to Ministerial priority areas, grow our scientific and risk analysis capabilities, build stronger links with academia and industry, and communicate our science to meet the needs of our stakeholders.
January bushfire crisis
In response to the January bushfire crisis across NSW and Victoria, we worked closely with state and territory health authorities to assess the risk of any potential food safety issues due to environmental contamination.
We also developed a series of social media posts and refreshed web content on food safety in a bushfire to help communities affected by the bushfires to keep food safe during the emergency.
In line with Australian and New Zealand Government advice, in March we transitioned all staff to work from home arrangements. Our well established ICT infrastructure together with significant support from our HR and Operational teams meant there was minimal disruption for staff and our stakeholders. As remote working arrangements are continuing for many of our staff in Australia, our focus is on ensuring they are well supported and remain engaged and effective during this time.
To support stakeholders impacted by COVID-19 we have been actively reviewing our Work Plan to relax submission deadlines where possible and support stakeholders who are experiencing difficulties meeting timeframes. We also established a dedicated web presence to provide a central source of advice for consumers and businesses on COVID-19 and food safety. Working with the Food Regulation Sub-Committee this content has been updated regularly to ensure the latest information on COVID-19 is available.
Following Forum endorsement in November 2019, a review of the food regulation system has commenced to ensure it remains strong, robust and agile into the future. This includes a comprehensive review of the FSANZ Act. This is an exciting time for the agency and presents opportunities for us to clarify our role in the system and ensure we remain fit for purpose in a global food environment that is rapidly evolving due to innovation, consumer expectations and the COVID-19 pandemic. A review report is expected to be finalised by the end of 2020.
In this Annual Report, we are reporting for the first time on seven key performance areas that were developed in consultation with staff to measure and report on our performance. Reporting against these seven areas helps us to better tell our performance story and focus our efforts in the coming year to meet statutory and government priorities.
I’d like to thank outgoing Board member Jane Lancaster for her significant contributions and technical advice to the work of FSANZ over the last four years. Jane’s expertise has been valuable to our standards development work and the broader strategic operation of the agency.
The impact of COVID-19 remains a challenge for stakeholders within the Food Regulatory System. Our commitment to maintaining engagement with impacted stakeholders will be a priority for the coming year.
This year we will progress reviews of the food safety requirements and primary production and processing standards in Chapters 3 and 4 of the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code) including options for engagement in light of COVID-19.
Similarly, our review of infant formula is expected to reach a significant milestone with the release of a first call for public comment on the proposal in the coming year.
Following the release of our final report of new breeding techniques in December 2019, the definitions for ‘food produced using gene technology’ and ‘gene technology’ in the Code are being revised to make them clearer and better reflect existing and emerging genetic technologies — we expect to release our first call for submissions to be released for public consultation by the end of 2020.
We have also commenced two new pieces of work on added sugars and energy labelling of alcoholic beverages, including carbohydrate and sugar claims following a request from the Forum in August 2019. In the coming year we will continue to gather the evidence base for these pieces of work and undertake targeted stakeholder consultation with industry. Chief Executive Officer's year in review
On top of our business as usual standard setting work, we will be providing input into the strategic review of the Food Regulation System including the FSANZ Act.
This is an ambitious work plan for the coming year, but one I am confident we can deliver on with our highly skilled, passionate and committed staff.
Significant effort has been placed on developing the workplace culture and improving staff satisfaction. We have started to see some positive developments in this work and will remain a high priority in 2020–21. In June we undertook a second staff culture survey to track progress. The results of this survey will help us to identify key areas where we need to continue to focus our efforts to ensure staff are engaged and supported through a positive workplace culture.