Address to Australian Food and Grocery Council Leaders Forum - Parliament House - 10 October 2012
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10 October 2012
I am very pleased to join you here at Parliament House for this morning’s session of the annual industry leaders forum.
Your industry is very welcome here at the heart of government, as both a vital food supplier and a major employer.
Commitment and EngagementThe food industry is a crucial partner in national public health policies and their development and delivery.
Health trends are showing an increase in the rates of obesity and chronic illness growth, principally associated with poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle.
We appreciate your support to improve the health of Australians through better nutrition, labelling and responsible marketing initiatives.
As Parliamentary Secretary for Health I’ve worked closely with AFGC over the past two years to address some of these issues.
Specifically through the very strong work of the Food and Health Dialogue; the development of a front of pack labelling framework and the drafting of a new standard for health and nutrition claims.
Health Claims StandardWhen I addressed your Forum last year the government was in the process of finalising its response to Labelling Logic, the food labelling report chaired by former health minister Neal Blewett.
I think it’s fair to say that whilst we haven’t necessarily agreed on everything, we have had a very productive working relationship and have been able to work collaboratively to achieve some very good outcomes.
The draft standard for nutrition and health claims I hope will be a case in point, and I believe has created a good model demonstrating how different levels of government, including New Zealand, public health groups and industry can work together to achieve an outcome.
Food regulation ministers are committed to seeing this standard finalised, as I know all you are too, and we are hopeful of this happening by the end of the year.
Front-of-Pack LabellingA similar process has been followed as we look to develop a single interpretive front of pack labelling system. This is something that all Ministers committed to in responding to Labelling Logic and I’m encouraged by progress to date.
Prevention and Food and Health DialogueWe are currently putting in place the policy framework and resources to strengthen and build a comprehensive approach to prevention in Australia.
The National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health is laying the foundations for healthy behaviours in the daily lives of Australians through the use of active community settings such as schools and workplaces.
This Agreement also allocates $1 million to our Industry Partnership initiative and the AGFC has helped us build the work of the Food and Health Dialogue through collaborative, voluntary engagement with the food sector.
To date the dialogue has negotiated sodium reduction targets with industry for bread, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and simmer sauces, processed meats, soups and savoury pies. Saturated fat targets have also been agreed for processed meats.
A recent dietary analysis of the cumulative effect of sodium reformulation activities for bread, breakfast cereal, simmer sauces and processed meats together indicate a potential reduction of about 4 per cent of sodium intakes across most age groups.
This equates to the potential removal of approximately 2200 tonnes of salt from the food supply each year – a figure which will increase further as more food categories are engaged.
I want to thank industry and its representatives for this achievement and the fact that the Quick Service Restaurant sector has now engaged with the dialogue strategy to make their food choices healthier.
Healthier Australia CommitmentIn this context I would like to make special mention of industry’s Healthier Australia Commitment that is being launched today.
I understand more attention will be given to this at your leaders’ dinner, but it does warrant particular mention now also.
The Healthier Australia Commitment is a voluntary move by industry to help Australians live healthier, active lives, involving a number of Australia’s biggest food companies including Unilever, Nestle, Campbell Arnotts, Lion, Sugar Australia and many others.
I understand HAC members have made commitments to ambitious targets to reduce fat, sodium and energy levels in their products and I certainly welcome this commitment.
This is work that is complementary to a number of initiatives already underway and will only serve to improve those outcomes too, so I certainly welcome this voluntary industry initiative.
Development of a Nutrition PolicyPart of our response to the Blewett Review also included a commitment to the development of a National Nutrition Policy.
This will provide an overarching framework to identify, prioritise, drive and monitor nutrition initiatives.
It will be developed within the framework of the governments broader preventive health agendas and will be cognisant of current food and nutrition-related activities such as the National Food Plan.
Food, nutrition and public health experts will be engaged to ensure the policy will meet the needs of the Australian population, both now and in years to come.
In the meantime, a scoping study, including a comprehensive review of evidence, will help identify current population health issues relating to nutrition within the Australian population and any gaps in current policy.
Recommendations from the evidence review will guide the development of a draft discussion paper to be released for public consultation in 2013
And outcomes from that consultation will inform and guide the National Nutrition Policy development process.
Industry will also be an important stakeholder in the development of this policy.
Review of the Dietary GuidelinesI know many of you have an interest in the Review of Dietary Guidelines. Later this year, we will also release the revised and evidence-based Australian Dietary guidelines which will cover all age groups and focus on food rather than nutrients, as we eat food, not nutrients.
Finally, the role of industry in supporting the development of national healthy weight and lifestyle initiatives is important and we thank you for it.
Your participation on a number of working groups to develop and implement initiatives, is very much appreciated.
And I look forward to continuing to work with you on these critical public health initiatives.
Thank you again.
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