New Zealanders are generally well served by the body responsible for ensuring the food we eat is safe, Food Safety Minister Lianne Dalziel says.
Lianne Dalziel today released an independent report by an international expert which finds that the New Zealand Food Safety Authority's (NZFSA's) risk management framework ‘provides a very good structure for systematically and flexibly managing the wide variety of food safety risks encountered in New Zealand and for handling new risks’.
The review of NZFSA’s risk assessment framework was undertaken by Dr Stuart Slorach, a British-born, Swedish-based scientist with a distinguished international career in food safety and risk assessment. Although the review was commissioned by NZFSA after criticism of its handling of a report into the A1/A2 issue, Dr Slorach also considered other examples of NZFSA's approach to risk management including campylobacter in poultry, aspartame, raw milk products, mercury in fish, and imported foods.
"With respect to the A1/A2 issue, one of the messages I have taken from the report is the need for NZFSA to continue to develop its risk communication skills to enable it to better inform the public when faced with the difficult job of sending clear and unambiguous messages and at the same time communicating uncertainty. This is clearly a challenge but is an important part of NZFSA's role," Lianne Dalziel said.
Dr Slorach said that NZFSA's handling of the release of the Swinburn report resulted in some loss of transparency and led to damaging and unnecessary speculation that NZFSA was trying to withhold important information. Dr Slorach attributed this to an error of judgement but said it did not result in a loss of essential information.
One of the aspects of the Swinburn report was its recommendation for further research on the A1/A2 issue. Dr Slorach was concerned that neither NZFSA nor the Ministry of Health took any specific action to gather together researchers to discuss support for new research.
"I had thought there may have been a gap in the handling of the recommendation that further research was needed as it was not brought to anyone's attention and therefore got lost in the process," Lianne Dalziel said.
"I have noted that Dr Slorach has recommended that once the European Food Safety Authority has finished it review of the science of A1/A2 milk that a group should be called together to look at the possible need for further research, and that will happen."
The preliminary results of the European Food Safety Authority's review of the science around A1/A2 milk are expected later in the year.
Lianne Dalziel said Dr Slorach has made a number of useful recommendations that will be considered by government, including that NZFSA's mandate be defined in national legislation as it is in Denmark, Ireland and Sweden to ensure transparency and to confirm the consumer focus of NZFSA.
"He has also recommended giving NZFSA a clearer mandate to apply a precautionary approach when dealing with uncertainty in risk management and has suggested a more holistic approach by government agencies responsible for advising the public on nutrition and information on food-related health risks and health benefits," Lianne Dalziel said.
"Dr Slorach has also made several recommendations around the campylobacter strategy which I will be referring to the NZFSA to report on in consultation with the Poultry Industry Association."
Lianne Dalziel said NZFSA became a standalone organisation in 2002 and a government department in mid 2007.
"It's a relatively new agency which has learnt a lot since its handling of the A1/A2 milk issue. I am pleased that overall Dr Slorach’s report shows the Authority’s risk assessment framework provides a good basis for setting food safety standards and that New Zealand ‘punches far above its weight’ in its work with international standard-setting bodies such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) and the World Health Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).”