Sustainable and Effective Improvements to the Nation's Food Policy
Collaboration between the Government's and the food industry is underpinning the nation's preventive health agenda, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing Catherine King told the Industry Leaders Forum of the Australian Good and Grocery Council.
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2 November 2011
I recognise the traditional owners on the land upon which we gather and wish to pay my respects to their elders past and present.
On behalf of the Australian Government, I would like to congratulate the Australian Food and Grocery Council on its initiative in setting up today’s forum — and thank the industry for its continuing constructive engagement with the Government.
The continuing discussions between us play an important part in helping the Government to meet its health objectives.
As you know, the Government’s historic health reforms are well under way.
We are strongly committed to reducing the incidence of chronic disease and advancing the health and wellbeing of all Australians.
As that implies, we are also committed to ensuring that consumers have the best possible information about the food they buy.
As well as links between industry and the Australian Government, strong, effective food policy also needs constructive working partnerships between the federal, state and territory governments.
This is because our federal system provides the states and territories with specific food-sector responsibilities of their own.
It underlines the need for all of us to work together to achieve sustainable and effective improvements to the nation’s food policy.
I can point to many instances where collaboration is beginning to make a difference.
And we believe it will also help to create an innovative, vibrant and sustainable food industry in Australia.
National Partnership Agreement on Preventive HealthI want to outline some of the notable achievements in the health space that have emerged from our ongoing engagement with industry.
These achievements have helped directly and effectively underpin the nation’s preventive health agenda.
It is important, too, that these have been aligned with the Government’s initiatives to work alongside the states and territories.
This has been made possible under the recent National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health (NPAPH), for which my colleague the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, is responsible.
It is relevant to today’s forum that this National Partnership Agreement is providing more than $870 million over six years to support — among other things — healthy lifestyle programs in workplaces, communities and among children.
These funds are also underpinning social marketing campaigns and their important messages, such as Swap It Don’t Stop It, the second phase of the Measure Up campaign, which encourages people to swap some of the things they do for healthier choices.
The purpose of these campaigns is to change the public’s behaviour towards consuming healthier foods and leading more active lives.
And I am pleased to say the campaigns will have the support of the food industry.
Australia’s Changing DietThe need to work collaboratively with the food industry is underscored, in part, by the fact that processed and pre-prepared foods now form a large part of the Australian diet.
Manufacturers, retailers and the food service sector have a huge influence over what we eat.
Taking a cooperative approach — as we do through the Food and Health Dialogue, for example — helps us to work together across multiple sectors of the food industry to improve dietary intakes.
Together, we’re making it easier for Australians to make healthier food choices.
Together, we’re making sure that all Australians will find a greater range of healthier foods available in their local retail outlets, regardless of where they live.
Food Labelling Law and PolicyWe have a partnership, and I recognise government and industry will never automatically agree on everything.
Reaching agreement in the area of food labelling needs flexibility and a mature, healthy dialogue. It also requires an understanding of how Australia’s jurisdictions work.
Food labelling is a hugely important factor in the preventive health equation and it’s not fixed with instant solutions.
You will be aware of the important labelling review report, titled Labelling Logic: Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy 2011, which was prepared by the independent Panel for the Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy, commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council.
Early this year I officially received this final report from the chair of the review panel, Dr Neal Blewett.
Now that the review is complete, the Ministerial Council is responsible for providing a comprehensive response to the report’s recommendations.
I have already drawn attention to our need to work with other jurisdictions, and you might like to know that the Australian Government is now working with state and territory governments and the New Zealand Government to formulate this response.
As you would be aware, the Australian Government is only one voice and one vote on the Ministerial Council.
Developing this response is a complex task, and taking account of different stakeholder views is an important part of this process.
From the Commonwealth’s perspective we have worked very closely with industry throughout this process. And indeed AFGC has been integral to this consultation and has provided a very strong voice for the sector. We have of course heard the arguments of the public health sector and consumer advocates, and remain aware of the diverging views on labelling.
The Ministerial Council will consider its response to the Labelling Logic report next month (December 2011). This will be provided to COAG next year.
Of course, from the Government’s policy perspective — and this conviction applies to everything that we do in the Health portfolio — we believe that consumers are entitled to have the best information possible.
We want sufficient and clear food labelling to help Australians make healthy food choices.
So the Labelling Logic report touches on some prominent public health issues.
We as a government are aware of the pressures your industry is under and the need to continue to support innovation to grow the food manufacturing sector.
Food and Health DialogueWe can work collaboratively with industry to make positive changes in the nutritional composition of commonly-consumed foods.
The Food and Health Dialogue is an opportunity for Government to work with industry and public health groups to encourage reformulation by reducing the saturated fat, added sugar, salt and energy in our nation’s foods, and increase the fibre, wholegrain, fruit and vegetable content of commonly-consumed foods.
The Food and Health Dialogue – a voluntary initiative – has illustrated that a system that encourages government and industry to work voluntarily together can be highly effective.
The Government has committed $900,000 to the dialogue over three years from 2010-11, funding that is helping to support research and modelling to inform the setting of important food reformulation targets.
It is also being invested to identify food categories that have potential for healthier reformulations — and to monitor changes in people’s nutrient intakes and the associated public health benefits that might result from reformulation activities.
To date, the Food and Health Dialogue has negotiated sodium-reduction targets for bread, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and simmer sauces, and for sodium- and saturated-fat-reduction targets for processed meat products.
I want to acknowledge that participating companies have agreed to reduce sodium across their bread products to 400 milligrams per 100 grams by the end of 2013 — and that is significant for Australia’s health.
More than 100 Australian bread products have been identified for reformulation.
In addition, where sodium in ready-to-eat breakfast cereals exceeds 400 milligrams per 100 grams, companies have agreed to reduce sodium content by 15 per cent by the end of 2013.
More than 20 ready-to-eat cereals will be reformulated — building upon the 77 per cent of the cereals marketed that already have sodium content at or below 400 milligrams per 100 grams.
Your industry is to be congratulated for these health achievements.
In other areas important reformulation targets have been set for commonly consumed simmer and pasta sauces with notable achievements to date.
In addition, the nation’s leading processed meat manufacturers are also engaged in these health advances and have agreed to reduce, by the end of 2013, the sodium content of bacon and ham and cured meat products to 1090 milligrams per 100 grams.
They are reducing the sodium content of emulsified luncheon meats to 830 milligrams per 100 grams.
And they are reducing by 10 per cent the saturated fat content of cooked and smoked sausages and luncheon meats (except salami) where these have more than 6.5 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams.
Better Stakeholder Engagement in The Food Regulation SpaceTo complement the Food and Health Dialogue, we want to increase our efforts in engaging with stakeholders in food regulation matters.
The Food Regulation Standing Committee has agreed to the establishment of a Working Group that will develop a systematic, consistent process for engaging and communicating with stakeholders.
This includes a proposal to hold a Food Regulation Stakeholder Forum in 2012.
ConclusionThis is an exciting list of achievements in the public health context and indicates the importance of maintaining the high level of collaboration that we have achieved.
It is to our mutual benefit – and certainly to the benefit of the wider public.
What of the future?
Coming up next in health advances, through the Food and Health Dialogue, we can expect reformulation targets to be set for soups, savoury pies, processed poultry and cheese based on its multi-nutrient approach.
It is significant that more and more Australians eat away from home — so our common efforts will also create a strategy to engage the quick-service restaurant sector on reformulation, portion sizing and consumer messaging.
The Government is keen to see targets and strategies like these succeed for the sake of public health. To this end, we believe our continuing conversation with the industry is crucial.
We see the AFGC playing a vital role in the health of our community, and I want to thank AFGC for maintaining that exchange.
For my part, I look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with AFGC. I wish all participants well in today’s important forum.
For all inquiries, contact the Parliamentary Secretary's office 02 6277 4230
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