Background: The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code establishes uniform food standards on issues including ingredient and additive use, food composition, and labeling. The Code is given legal effect under State, Territory and New Zealand law, making it a criminal offence to supply food that doesn’t comply. Unlike most legislation, anyone – including individuals, organizations and companies - may apply to change the Code. Applications are commonly made by industry, and typically relate to approval of new additives or processing techniques.
Methods: Review of the potential to use this regulatory mechanism to advance public health objectives through the prevention of chronic diet-related illness. A proposed amendment to the Code was developed through consultation with stakeholders, a consultant and Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Results: The proposed amendment seeks to incorporate established Food and Health Dialogue reformulation targets for salt into the Code. Products which fail to meet targets in specific food categories will be required to add warning labels. The amendment has been drafted according to FSANZ requirements, although this is the first use of the mechanism by a non-government organization to ‘harden’ voluntary industry-agreed standards. The proposed amendment aligns with overarching Code objectives of ‘protecting public health and safety’ and ‘providing adequate information’ to consumers. Significant hurdles identified include procedural requirements for evidence and cost-benefit analysis, and the need to frame the proposal with sensitivity to all stakeholder interests so that political feasibility is maintained.
Conclusion: If successful, amendment of the Code to introduce a mandated requirement to meet agreed compositional standards with sanction in the form of a warning label would strengthen incentives for industry compliance and improve the ability of consumers to make informed and healthier choices. More broadly, the case study illustrates a potential powerful new regulatory strategy for preventing diet-related ill health.