In January this year, a panel of experts, led by Dr Neal Blewett, released its report entitled Labelling Logic – Review of Food Labelling Law and Policy (2011). The Report contained 61 recommendations. On 1 December, the Commonwealth government released its own responses to the Blewett recommendations. Those responses did not include the views of the State and Territory ministers nor the New Zealand government. It is unclear why the Commonwealth released its own views independently of the Forum on Food Regulation (convening as the Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council) (Forum) in advance of the Forum's report.
On 9 December, following a meeting in Melbourne of the Forum, the full 71 page report of the Forum was released. The Forum's report contains its responses to the 61 Blewett recommendations and represents the views of all Australian State and Territory governments, the Commonwealth government and the New Zealand government.
Many of the Blewett recommendations are accepted. However, in key, controversial areas, such as front of pack traffic light labelling, genetically modified (GM) foods and country of origin labelling (CoOL), the recommendations are not accepted. Also, in some areas, the Commonwealth government's views differ from those in the Forum's report.
It would be easy to believe that little is achieved over the last 2 years and that it is back to square one. It is true the outcomes of the Forum's responses to the Blewett Report will result in few meaningful, immediate changes. However, the process conducted by the Blewett panel with its thousands of submissions and detailed Report is very important in providing a framework for future policy debates. Many points of view are now evident and clarified.
The continuing policy dialogue can occur in a fully informed and transparent manner. Also, the Forum is to be applauded for not taking the politically correct, soft option of accepting all the Blewett recommendations. Instead, the Forum has said "no, or 'lets do some more thinking", on the basis of regulatory burden and industry cost outweighing the benefits of some of the recommendations.
Some public health advocates and consumer groups may be unhappy with the Forum's responses. It is likely industry and government agencies may be relieved because the Forum maintains the status quo for the time being in key areas of labelling regulation and does not disturb the current framework of regulation for government agencies.