One of the key arguments by the food industry made during the recent Food Bill debate, and one reiterated globally by food companies fighting for less restrictive food labelling legislation, is that regulatory decisions around food safety issues should be “evidence based”. In the current contest over food colouring additives that is precisely what both Food Safety Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NZFGC) have failed to do.
When confronted by a request from food safety journalist Wendyl Nissen for a voluntary reconsideration of the use of additives that are permitted here, but banned elsewhere, those arguing for the status quo have failed to do precisely that – provide evidence in support of their stance.
Aside from the obvious argument, that food safety authorities in the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Canada, Russia and the European Union have imposed restrictions on these additives precisely because of the evidence against them. In the case of Carmoisine (E122) both the USFDA and the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency have changed their opinions on the additive following results from a study of food colouring effects on child health by Southhampton University.
Given that both of these authorities are popular references for FSANZ and local food producers in claiming the safety of their processes, the absence of evidence in the press statements from both FSANZ and NZFGC seems to be avoidance of evidence rather than using it for support.
This is particularly obvious in the case of FSANZ, a publicly funded authority that regularly claims a high science position when supporting its decisions. In this case, however, FSANZ spokesperson Lorraine Belanger sought refuge in the position of rationally destitute religious and political leaders by claims FSANZ “believes” all additives it has approved are safe.
Coming a matter of days after the the Pike River enquiry’s results are made public, is this institutional belief the same as the Labour Department’s belief that safety administration at Pike River was up to standard?
Not only is this a bad time for civil servants to be asserting their faith in self belief over evidence, the danger of such attitudes has never been more obvious to most people. NZFGC and its members should also take note of the culpability of the mine’s owners in the disaster at Pike River. Like the mining company, food producers have been warned by researchers that these additives are dangerous enough to be banned in a large number of markets. The least they can do is to offer evidence on which their decisions to continue using them are made, a piece of independent research that refutes the body of evidence on which the FDA, UK, Europe, Russia and Canada made their decisions.
Belief is simply not enough in matters of health, or in public respect for those companies involved.
The opinions of the writer are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.