Cheese enzyme and phytosterol under scrutiny in Australian food law

Related tags Fsanz Genetically modified food Juice

Amendments to Australia's food code continue, with the nation's
food agency calling on companies and organisations to comment on a
host of new proposals, including the addition of phytosterols to
fruit juices and fruit drinks.

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) warned, at the same time, that changes to the code will only be approved if there are "no concerns for public health and safety and that adequate and accurate information is provided to consumers."

The standard-setting process usually involves two rounds of public consultation.

An Asia-Pacific branch of global soft drinks leader Coca-Cola South Pacific has applied for permission to use phytosterols, derived from vegetable oils, as novel food ingredients in fruit juice and fruit drinks containing a minimum 20 per cent fruit juice.

Tapping into baby boomer health concerns, the products are aimed at consumers over the age of 40 with worries about their blood cholesterol levels.

Phytosterols are already allowed in table spreads and margarines and their use in low-fat milk, yoghurt and breakfast cereals is under consideration.

Novel food ingredients such as phytosterols must undergo a safety assessment by FSANZ before they can be sold. FSANZ is seeking community comment at this early stage on a range of issues associated with the use of phytosterols in fruit juice and fruit juice drinks.

Analysts predict that Australia's fruit juice industry will explode over the next few years, led by the strong emergence of juice bars. These outlets are expected to double their current $150 million (€90.5 million) turnover in 2005, taking their share of Australia's $1 billion juice industry to 30 per cent.

Also under consideration, enzyme leader Novozymes has asked FSANZ to amend the Food Standards Code to approve the use of a new enzyme - phospholipase A1 - as a processing aid.

Its purpose would be to improve process efficiencies and yields in cheese manufacture. The new enzyme is produced using recombinant DNA techniques. The related enzyme, phospholipase A2, has already been approved for use as a processing aid.

Biotech firm Syngenta Seeds is seeking approval for food derived from corn line MIR604, which has been genetically modified to be resistant to three species of corn rootworm.

If approved, food from this corn line will be able to enter Australia and New Zealand as imported products. The application is for use of MIR604 corn as a food only.

At present, GM corn cannot be grown commercially in either country. If FSANZ accepts this application, the authority said it would undertake a safety assessment of the new GM corn to ensure that it is as safe for consumers as its non-GM counterpart.

In addition, FSANZ is reviewing the use of sulphites and benzoates as chemical preservatives in food.

The review has been initiated because the 21st Australian Total Diet Study found high consumption levels by some age groups in the population, including young children.

Although these high levels are unacceptable, says FSANZ, they do not represent a risk to the health of these individuals.

"We intend to work with food manufacturers to establish the best way, if necessary, to reduce dietary exposure to sulphites and benzoates,"​ reports the authority.

Further biotech moves as the Australian branch of US firm Monsanto applies for approval for food derived from genetically modified cotton line MON 88913.

The introduced genetic trait confers increased tolerance to glyphosate herbicide during the reproductive phases of growth.

As in Europe, all GM foods must undergo a pre-market safety assessment by FSANZ before they can be sold in Australia and New Zealand.

" FSANZ has concluded that there are no public health and safety issues associated with this GM cotton and is recommending approval for use, mainly as cottonseed oil,"​ said the authority.

Any comments on the above proposals from industry, public health professionals, government agencies and consumers should be made to FSANZ​ by 14 September 2005.

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