Recommendations to improve food labelling law and policy in Australia

Recommendations to improve food labelling law and policy in Australia and New Zealand are contained in the report of an independent panel presented to Federal, State and Territory Governments today.

The report, Labelling Logic, was presented by chair of an independent Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy, Dr Neal Blewett, to the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King. Ms King, chairs of the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council which commissioned the report, praised Dr Blewett and his panel of experts for their work.

“This is a most important review of what are matters of widespread interest to consumers, regulators and the wider food and health sectors,” Ms King said.

“Dr Blewett, as former Health Minister, architect of the modern universal health system in Australia and a strong advocate on consumer issues, has done a great job in leading the panel as it developed this report.

“This Report seeks to address many food labelling issues that have challenged governments here and abroad for many years. The impact of each of the recommendations in this Report will need to be carefully assessed.”

“A range of issues generated considerable debate during the Review process. Examples of these include the role of food labelling in addressing population health priorities, and the extent to which information about food ingredients, production processes, manufacturing technologies, and the presence of additives and allergens should be declared on food labels.

“The establishment of the review was an acknowledgement by all governments that there are a wide range of issues relating to food labelling which need to be addressed including the fundamental question of whether everything we consume is being accurately, clearly and sufficiently labelled.

The Commonwealth response to the recommendations will be guided by three principles:

  • Consumers are entitled to have the best possible information and we want food labelling to help Australians make informed decisions when it comes to food;
  • That information, in line with the Government’s commitment to improving heath outcomes, should help consumers to make healthy food choices; and
  • That we continue to support an innovative, vibrant and sustainable food industry in Australia that actively supports the government’s health agenda.

Ms King said the Ministerial Council was grateful to all who had taken the time to have input into the Independent Review which included two rounds of written submissions and public meetings in all capital cities across Australia and New Zealand.

In addition to Dr Blewett as chair, the review panel included public health law academic, Dr Chris Reynolds, economic and consumer behaviour expert Professor Simone Pettigrew, food and nutrition policy academic Associate Professor Heather Yeatman, and food industry communications, marketing and corporate affairs professional Nick Goddard.

“I thank Dr Blewett and all the panel for their excellent work. The report will now go to the Council of Australian Governments. In addition, I have asked the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing to work in conjunction with other Commonwealth Government Departments and the Ministerial Council (which represents all State and Territory Governments and New Zealand) to develop a whole of government response to the recommendations.” Ms King said.

The development of a government response is going to be a complex task and views on the recommendations are likely to be varied. The Parliamentary Secretary will commence meeting with key stakeholder groups during the coming weeks. The Ministerial Council has suggested that a realistic timeframe to consider a response is December 2011.

More information, including the final Report and copies of public submissions and public consultation meeting records are available at


Myth of the five-second rule


Eating dropped food can cause food poisoning even if it’s picked up immediately.

You’ve just made a cup of tea when you drop the last chocolate digestive from the packet.

You quickly scoop it up and pop it in your mouth, secure in the knowledge it only briefly touched the floor.

But now scientists have warned the unwritten ‘five second rule’ could end up causing food poisoning or worse.

Oops: Wet food will pick up more bacteria than dry food, but all dropped snacks will pick up some bugs.

The well-known rule states it is safe to eat food dropped on the floor as long as it is picked up within seconds.

But the stray biscuit, chip or piece of toast is likely to collect a ‘new cargo of bugs, however quickly you pick it up,’ according to New Scientist.

The question featured in the magazine’s ‘Last Word’ section where readers pose open questions for the scientific community to answer.

Scientists said cholera only needs half a million cells to establish an infection – which is a barely visible speck.

It said: ‘If you drop a piece of food on the floor, it is supposedly safe to eat it as long as you pick it up before 10 seconds has elapsed, because it takes that amount of time before it can be colonised by microbial life. Is there any truth in this whatsoever?’

The theory is commonly used in the UK, America and elsewhere. In Russia, for instance, there is a saying: ‘Promptly picked up is not considered fallen.’

But a succession of subscribers said the theory was untrue, partly because so many factors are involved such as cleanliness of the floor and type of food.

One stated, simply: ‘When you drop food, two things are likely to happen; traces of the food stick to the floor, and trace of the floor (or what’s on the floor) stick to the food.

‘So unless the floor is surgically clean, the food will have acquired a new cargo of bugs, however quickly you pick it up.’

Another reader described the rule as ‘a polite fiction, – everyone known it is an urban myth but plays along.’

Those who preach the homespun philosophy are most likely simply trying to justify not wasting food.
The best way to disprove the theory is to sprinkle castor sugar thinly on to the floor, drop a sweet on to it and catch the sweet as it bounces.

It will have tiny traces of the sugar on it – but if it was bacteria it would be enough to infect ‘a ward full of patients’ said the journal.

It added: ‘Cholera needs perhaps half a million cells to establish an infection – this is a barely visible speck.’