New allergen working group in New Zealand

Food Industry and Consumer representatives and regulators have met in Auckland and Christchurch to set up an Allergen Working Group in New Zealand.

The spearheading of a New Zealand group is an exciting move that will bring big benefits to the New Zealand Food Industry and consumers. Allergy New Zealand has been doing extensive work in this area in New Zealand over the last 18 months. "Allergy New Zealand identified that positive, cooperative and effective relationships with the food industry and related bodies would be key in educating the market and consumers alike in allergies, and helping protect the lives of those many New Zealanders who suffer from food-related allergies. This is a very positive step in the right direction," says Allergy New Zealand's Sara Jane Murison.

A huge focus at the moment is on food labelling - The FSANZ Code regulates which allergens must be labelled but it does not advise a form that the labelling should take or how to assess hazards and risks, or determine whether precautionary labelling is required, such as 'may contain peanuts', which is not regulated under the Code. This issue has become a key objective for The Allergen Working Group. "You only have to look at supermarket shelves to see there is no standard format. When a company makes a statement like 'may contain', the reality is it doesn't always mean the same thing," says Chair of the New Zealand FCG Allergen Working Group, Tania Watson.

The group's objectives will mirror those of the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) Allergen Forum. The establishment of the New Zealand group reinforces the level of commitment shown to ensure that food-allergic people have a choice of safe foods in the market place. "The aim is to ensure that the manufacture of food in Australia and New Zealand involving allergens is carried out under a legislative and enforcement framework, that is risk based, fully supported by industry, consumers and health professionals and is sustained by sound science, trusted analytical methods and a consistent labelling regime," says Fiona Fleming, from George Weston Foods Limited and Chair of the AFGC Allergen Forum.

Allergy New Zealand attended the annual international Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Alliance meeting in the USA in September. This year much of the forum was dedicated to food industry workshops and labelling. "It was very positive to see that good progress is being made around the world towards the improving of manufacturing practises and the correct labelling of food products. One of the biggest achievements was the agreement by all those at the Alliance meeting to make moves towards removing 'may contain statements from packaged foods'," says CEO of Allergy New Zealand, Natalie Lloyd.

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