Staying in touch with people

"The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people."

These words are attributed to the 28th United States president, Woodrow Wilson, but could just as easily be the motto for NZFSA's revived Consumer Forum, which we reconvened late last year after a two-year break.

As the regulator responsible for ensuring food is safe and suitable, it is vital that we stay in tune with the people that we are tasked with protecting, so that we are aware of the issues New Zealanders are concerned about.

The philosophy behind the Consumer Forum - which brings together representatives from a range of organisations and groups, including the Nutrition Foundation, Cancer Society, National Heart Foundation and Plunket Society - is that we get access to grassroots consumer advice on food safety and nutritional matters.

The organisations that we have invited along to the Forum have an interface with consumers on general food-related issues - rather than on one single issue, topic or area - and they are representative of NZFSA's target consumer audiences.

The insights we get through our discussions and interactions with the Forum members will in turn help us better perform our regulatory activities, and it will help us provide relevant and practical food safety information so consumers can make choices that support better health.

I know there has been concern from some quarters that food safety might be overlooked with the amalgamation of New Zealand Food Safety Authority and MAF. I can assure you this is not the case, and one of the ways that we will actively continue to ensure consumers’ voices are heard on food safety matters is by encouraging participation in the Consumer Forum.

We already have strong working relationships with many of these consumer organisations. The Forum is an opportunity for everyone to be in the room at the same time and share views. The wide range of issues on the agenda at the last meeting included vitamin D, raw milk products, bisphenol A and labelling.

We also updated members on the consumer surveys we regularly conduct. Recent surveys have looked at consumer awareness of folic acid/folate and salt/sodium, as well as public perception of food safety issues generally.

The Forum is scheduled to meet twice yearly. However, during the months in between our face-to-face meetings we have encouraged Forum members to be in email or phone contact when there are important issues they want to raise with us. We hope to also utilise this communications channel if we need to get messages to their support base.

Judging by the animated interaction at the first meeting of the revived Forum, I’m sure it will create an environment for all of us to learn and I welcome the free and frank discussions I am sure will continue to take place.

Deputy Director General Standards
Carol Barnao