Growing calls for NZ to have own food standards

By Amelia Wade

Food advocates are concerned that food additives banned in other countries are still allowed in New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images
Food advocates are concerned that food additives banned in other countries are still allowed in New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand needs to establish its own more stringent food standards authority which is separate from Australia, food advocates say.

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There are 18 food additives allowed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand that are banned in other countries. Some of the additives have side effects including nausea, vomiting, high blood pressure, skin rashes, breathing problems and other allergic reactions. Others cause cancer in animals.

However, FSANZ says it believes that all additives it has approved are safe. Long-time food advocate Sue Kedgley said it seemed to her that consumers had to prove that something was unsafe before action was taken, rather than an additive being proved it was fine for consumption before it went on the market.

"It's always been a mystery why we have such lax standards in New Zealand and why our authorities would appear to be utterly unconcerned about the fact that additives which cause cancer in animals should be permitted in New Zealand," the former Green MP said.

"And it seems like they [FSANZ] [are concerned] about anything that causes microbial contamination, like salmonella, but things which don't cause you to be sick, but things that cause cancer in animals, they tend to take a blind eye to, it's a bit of a 'she'll be right' attitude."

Another of Ms Kedgley's concerns was the "cocktail effect" of consuming many different additives. "The problem is that some of these additives may affect us in ways that are difficult to detect. They might have long-term, chronic and cumulative effects.

"And nobody knows what effect a lifetime exposure to a cocktail of additives from an early age might have because no one has been testing for this."

Ms Kedgley said it was time to consider New Zealand forming its own food authority which was much more strict on which food additives should be allowed in New Zealand.

New Zealand is one of ten jurisdictions which vote on what is approved for use both here and in Australia.

In 1996, an agreement to establish one joint food setting system between Australia and New Zealand came into force to "harmonise" food standards between the two countries.

The agreement contains provisions which allow New Zealand to opt out of a joint standard for exceptional reasons relating to health, safety, environmental concerns or cultural issues.

New Zealand has only opted out of joint standards on two occasions - the first was in 2005 and related to mandatory country of origin labelling on exceptional third country trade grounds. The second was in 2006 and related to mandatory fortification of bread making flour with folic acid.

Author and writer Wendyl Nissen agreed with Ms Kedgely's opinion - it's time for New Zealand to separate itself from Australia. "New Zealand likes to see itself as clean and green, but it's not when it comes to our food."

Nissen said at the very least, there should be a voluntary withdrawal of additives which are banned in other countries because of dangerous side effects.

"That's a solution that I think would really work here and it would encourage food manufacturers, because of the publicity, to look at it."

One of the additives Nissen was most concerned about was artificial sweetener cyclamate which is banned in the US because of studies which showed it caused testicular atrophy in mice. "That one's a nasty bastard and you know if they ban it in the US then there's definitely something not right with it," Nissen said.

Spokeswoman for FSANZ, Lorraine Belanger, said they believed "all additives we have approved are safe".

"However, some individuals have intolerances, just as they do to natural ingredients. For this reason we permit these additives but require labelling so that consumers can make a choice to avoid them if they are sensitive."

And Ms Belanger said there was no evidence that serious effects such as kidney tumours, genotoxicity, or chromosomal damage, were induced by food use of colour additives.

Ms Belanger said they conducted survey work and if there were any concerns they investigate whether regulatory changes are needed. "FSANZ looks at all good research on food additives.

"If there was a health and safety issue the permission for an additive would be reviewed.

"Also - we liaise with international colleagues, including participating on the international Codex Committee which considers food additive safety, and we monitor international developments," she said.

- NZ Herald

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