Chief executive Andrew McKenzie’s column
Ensuring a safe food supply for consumers is the top priority for the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA). This is a challenging task in a world where global food production and trade is becoming ever more complex. Combining efforts with a range of the world’s other top food safety authorities is an integral part of how we can protect consumers both within and outside New Zealand.
Over the years NZFSA has formalised working agreements with the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency, Health Canada, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the New South Wales Food Authority. Collaboration with these authorities who, like us, have a consumer-focused, science-based approach to food safety is recognition that none of us alone is as smart as all of us together. Furthermore, sharing knowledge and working together on specific issues gives us all a way of cutting costs by learning from each other and sharing resources.
On a concrete level NZFSA has in the past, for example, learnt a great deal from the New South Wales Food Authority’s approach to working with councils who inspect food businesses in New South Wales. We have ‘borrowed’ their approach of creating regional council groups – the so-called clusters. NZFSA now meets regularly with the New Zealand cluster groups in order to ensure good communication, standardised practices and to train council staff.
Conversely, we have been able to share our expertise with other authorities. As an example NZFSA staff with internationally recognised expertise in shellfish safety have been seconded to the New South Wales Food Authority to help work out cost effective standards and structures for shellfish producers there.
On a more abstract level combining our resources – particularly around the never-ending quest for detailed, robust scientific knowledge – can create the synergies required to ensure safe food. Because a wealth of information about food safety is just a mouse click away for ordinary people, questions are increasingly likely to be raised if food regulators internationally act out of step with each other. Through our formalised relationships with other food authorities we are able to speedily and effectively share information, policy and best practise, especially around emerging issues and food incidents, the science that informs our food safety and nutrition work, as well as composition and labelling.
We are also learning from each other about the most effective methods of communicating with consumers in a meaningful way that will bring about positive food safety changes. With the emergence of new channels of communicating, we can benefit from others’ experiences of sharing risk communication messages in the new media landscape.
Published in Food NZ October/November 2009