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Jul 13, 2009

Public health doesn’t cut it in Food Standards Board

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton reveals the low profile of public health in new Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Board appointments.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Mark Butler, has just announced four new appointments and three reappointments to the FSANZ Board.

FSANZ develops food standards for what goes into our foods and what goes onto food labels so, naturally enough, the FSANZ Board needs some members with connections to the food industry, even though they would at times have strong conflicts of interest with Board matters.

The new parliamentary Secretary for Health, Mark Butler’s media release stated: “Our rigorous food regulatory system provides assurance about the safety of foods sold in Australia and New Zealand, protects the health of the public, and ensures that consumers are informed.”

From that, you might also expect to find representatives from:

  • public health
  • human nutrition
  • food safety
  • consumer matters
  • food industry.

You might expect that public health would have a particularly high profile because it is concerned about protecting and promoting the health of the whole community with particular emphasis on preventing problems across all groups.

As well, public health also considers population-wide solutions that include interactions between food, social systems, our basic biology and the effects our food choices have on creating a more sustainable environment.

Most important in food standards is the readiness of public health advocates to tackle issues without fear or favour.

Let’s take a look at the new Board and their past and present affiliations.

Ms Philippa Smith AM. Chair of the FSANZ Board. Former Commonwealth Ombudsman, CEO of the Superannuation Funds of Australia and Chair of the Consumer’s Health Forum. Also sits on the board of the Australian Institute of Public Health. Main area of relevance: consumer matters, public health administration.

Ms Jenni Mack. Background in consumer affairs, chairs Choice, past consumer work includes relevant issues such as food, chemicals, enforcement, compliance, standard setting. Main area of relevance: consumer matters.

Dr James Murray AO. Received his gong for services to policies related to animal and plant health, pest and disease control, quarantine, food safety, agricultural trade. Main area of relevance: food safety.

Dr David Roberts. Currently chairs the NSW branch of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology. Last post was Scientific and Technical Director for the Australian Food and Grocery Council (representing major food companies). Previously Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics. Main areas of relevance: food industry, human nutrition.

Associate Professor Winsome Parnell. Representing the NZ government. Teaches at the University of Otago and specialises in food security, nutrition for low income families, maternal and infant nutrition and nutrition surveys. Main areas of relevance: public health, human nutrition.

Professor Katrine Baghurst. Ex CSIRO nutrition researcher who has done many nutrition-related surveys. Currently works as a nutrition consultant, including to various major food companies and primary industry groups (Meat & Livestock Australia). Main areas of relevance: human nutrition, food industry.

Dr Michele Allan. Previously MD and CEO of Patties Foods (makers of various pies and baked goods) with previous experience at Amcor, Bonlac Foods, Bioinformatics, Kraft Foods and other companies where she played a leading role in food safety systems and food packaging. Currently consultant to Temptation Bakeries. Main areas of relevance: food safety, food industry.

Mr Peter Boyden. CEO/marketing executive for major multi-national companies, ex MD and regional board member of Unilever. Also board member of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, non-executive director of Meat & Livestock Australia and non-executive director of Board of Dairy Innovations Australia Ltd. Main area of relevance: food industry.

Dr Laurence Eyres. Food scientist/technologist, specialising in quality assurance, and research and development of food products, particularly oils and fats. Currently Business Development Director, Food and Nutrition, at Auckland University. Main area of relevance: food industry, food safety.

Associate Professor Peter Williams. Leader of regulatory affairs at the National Centre of Excellence in Functional Foods, previously Director of Scientific and Consumer Affairs at Kellogg and before that, Chief Dietitian and Food Services Manager at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Currently member of the Heart Foundation Food Information Program Oversight Committee and non-executive member of Nestlé Scientific Advisory Group Network. Main areas of relevance: human nutrition, food industry.

Ms Diane Yates. Former Labour Party member of the New Zealand government with expertise in education, government administration.

The food industry is well represented. Consumers also get a reasonable look in with the Chair and a top consumer representative. Several members also have expertise in human nutrition. The gap appears to be public health interests with only one Board member a specialist in this area. Why is it so?

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