Speech at the celebration of 20 years of the Australia New Zealand Food Treaty

  • Jo Goodhew
Food Safety

E aku rangatira, tēnā koutou katoa. Ka nui te honore ki te mihi ki a koutou.

It is a pleasure to be here today to open this event, celebrating 20 years of the Food Treaty.

I want to use this opportunity to highlight the importance and success of the Food Treaty for both Australia and New Zealand, and also give my thoughts on some of the topics you will be hearing about today, including the future of food regulation.

 

Importance of trans-Tasman relationship and success of the Food Treaty

It is important to acknowledge the incredibly close relationship New Zealand has with Australia. Australia is our most important trading partner and a natural partner on foreign and trade policy, and that is set to continue in this post-Brexit world. It is our largest market for high value products and indeed our exports are heavily weighted towards processed foods.

The Food Treaty has achieved its aim of reducing unnecessary barriers to trade and has delivered significant growth opportunities for New Zealand and Australian companies. Our exporters now see Australia as an extension of our own domestic market.

The joint food standards system exemplifies the excellent relationship New Zealand has with Australia, and this Government is committed to maintaining strong working relationships to ensure the continued success of the system.

The development of joint standards is underpinned by sound science and evidence. Consumers have confidence and trust in the food they are eating, and industry has the confidence to innovate and try new ways of doing this.

Australia and New Zealand also collaborate and take a leading role in influencing the work of Codex Alimentarius, which is so important in achieving a more global approach to food regulations and harmonisation in food standards internationally.

My colleague Steven Joyce, Minister of Science and Innovation, is currently working on developing a Science and Innovation cooperation agreement with Australia. When established, this will further deepen trans-Tasman cooperation.

 

Conference Programme

This Conference is a fantastic opportunity for all those involved in the food regulation system to come together and gain valuable perspectives.

The Acting Chair, Lynne Daniels, will take a look back at the last 20 years, and you will hear from Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser on the importance of science in decision-making.

You will also get to hear about the perspective of public health and consumer expectations in the food regulation system. This is becoming more of an issue for food regulators as consumers’ interest in their food extends beyond traditional food safety.

Increasingly, consumers are seeking access to information to make values-based decisions about their food. These include food quality; animal welfare; labour standards; genetic modification; use of food additives and processing; and country of origin.

These increasing expectations present new challenges on what should be regulated and what should be left to the market.

As the food industry evolves its practices to respond to consumer needs, governments have an important role to play to support and enable businesses to evolve and be innovative, while still ensuring the integrity of our food safety system.

You will also hear some commercial and trade perspectives from industry. These perspectives are important as the food regulation system underpins the free trade of food and helps our exporters trade and gain access to new markets.

 

High value nutrition

Later this afternoon you will be hearing about a big opportunity for New Zealand’s food regulatory system, and linking science with food standards – the recently implemented health claims standard.

The Health Claims standard, developed through Australia and New Zealand’s joint system, has now been fully implemented.

The Standard will enable increased food innovation and encourage the development and communication of a wider range of foods with proven health benefits to consumers.

Providing clear and truthful information to consumers will increase the confidence they have in their food and promote healthy outcomes.

Health claims also contribute to New Zealand’s business growth agenda goals for the primary sector. Consumers throughout the world are demanding food with scientifically proven health benefits – for example, foods to improve digestion and to provide the optimal conditions for growth and development.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has developed guidance to assist industry in self-substantiating a general level health claim and establish a food-health relationship.

Government agencies are also working to support industry by providing regulatory and technical advice. You will also hear an industry perspective of the significance of this area of work.

This is very much a case of regulators working with industry to help create opportunity from the regulatory standards developed in the joint system. The bar is set high for health claims, but this is essential in order to gain the most benefit for New Zealand exporters.

In addition, MPI has been collaborating with international regulatory authorities to build international market acceptability of health claims. Through developing cooperative agreements with international regulators, MPI is working towards equivalence and building confidence in our health claims system.

Ultimately, this can support acceptance of New Zealand value added export foods with substantiated health claims around the world, all contributing to growth in our exports from food.

 

The importance of science and the Food Safety Science and Research Centre

As food regulators, we know the importance of having our food standards supported by sound science. The New Zealand Government, food industry, and research partners have recently established the Food Safety Science and Research Centre.

Based in Palmerston North, this virtual centre will help ensure that our food safety system continues to be world-leading by promoting, coordinating and delivering sound food safety science.

The benefits arising from the Centre will be delivered across the food and beverage sector, and the value chain. The Centre will enable sharing and coordination of expertise and resources, and streamline the uptake of research findings by the food industry.

Most importantly, the Centre will also look beyond short-term reactive issues. Research programmes will cut across food and beverage sectors to identify ‘over the horizon’ issues and pre-empt emerging food safety risks. This represents an exciting and novel approach for New Zealand’s food safety science.

 

Future of food regulation and the Food Treaty

The top priority of the food regulation system is the protection of public health and safety. Our food regulation system is a success story, and is widely recognised as delivering exceptionally high standards of food safety.

Government and industry are working together to supply safe food to millions of consumers throughout the world.

In addition, we are starting to think more and more about the role the food regulation system plays in promoting and protecting public health – for example the establishment of Health Star Ratings on packaged foods, as well as the use of health claims.

The world is evolving and our food regulation system needs to continually improve in order to sustain its success.

To ensure we operate strategically and anticipate the future food environment, Ministers in the food regulation space are beginning conversations about how to continue the success of our system.

This involves identifying key themes in the future of food regulation, such as:

  • increasing globalisation and the increasing importance of trade agreements;
  • diversification of consumers and industry, as demand grows for ethical and health-related products;
  • rising consumer concerns about the transparency of regulators, and different perceptions of risk;
  • technological development which will transform food production and add complexity to risk management.

 

Conclusion

As the food industry evolves its practices to meet new challenges, the Government has an important role to play to support and enable businesses to evolve and be innovative, while still ensuring the integrity of our food system.

Essential to maintaining this integrity is the trans-Tasman food regulatory system and our very strong relationship with our Australian colleagues.

So, thank you to all of those present that have helped make our regulatory system a success, and will continue to make it a success well into the future.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.