On 29 June 2022, I was lucky enough to attend the FSANZ Stakeholder forum on making the Food Standards ‘Future Ready’. Stakeholders were very candid with FSANZ about their issues and concerns for the future.
A key takeaway for me was that the ‘human experience’ lies at the heart of food whether it is regulation, production or consumption, and this human experience needs to be reflected in the digital future. In catering to the human experience, SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) need more consideration in any regulatory framework going forward (from communication to designed processes that consider SME needs) and industry wants more trusted collaboration with FSANZ.
While I do not have a crystal ball, I believe that an online portal, similar to the ATO business portal, may be something that we see from FSANZ in the near future. We might also see a consolidation of functions within FSANZ. All major change takes time however, and with a change in government, this is indeed going to impact any timelines and future directions of FSANZ. It is promising that the current government is interested in industry engagement and re-energising onshore manufacturing so hopefully investments in reducing red tape and encouraging food entrepreneurs are features of this new direction.
Glenys Beauchamp, the FSANZ Board Chair, was one of the opening speakers and confirmed that the FSANZ Act review is continuing. In particular, FSANZ is looking for ways to better prepare for present and upcoming challenges and opportunities including food security, climate change, transport disruption, and partnerships with First Nations peoples and industry.
The rest of the day was split into 3 sessions, all of which were very thought-provoking!
First, we heard from Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, CSIRO Senior Principal Scientist – Strategy & Foresight. What Dr Hajkowicz offered was a ‘no holds barred’ scientific viewpoint of the global ‘Megatrends’ which are sure to impact the food industry. Top of the list was climate change (increasing severe weather events and increased temperatures by up to 4 degrees in the near future), compounded by electricity and water shortages, and antimicrobial resistance. He also forecasted that data sharing, automation and artificial intelligence will become increasingly mainstream, and that relocation of workers to the regions will continue. Dr Hajkowicz emphasised the importance that food has in preventative healthcare in the face of rising public health care costs so ensuring a safe, healthy, and reliable food supply into the future is critical.
A panel, consisting of government authorities and consumer group, Choice, then responded to these megatrends. The panel expressed both concerned by the climatic predictions but also optimism about the future given technological advances; however the panel expressed a key driver will continue to be the story, relationship and human experience associated with purchases, businesses, and the digital future. Overall, all attendees agreed that a proactive approach to the issues was needed.
In the second session, key stakeholders gave short presentations outlining their issues and concerns with the current regulatory environment and their wishes for the future of regulation and collaboration. Common themes amongst the presenters included regulatory efficiency (including national regulatory enforcement), more funding to FSANZ, effective, simple, and frequent communication, data sharing, and the need for the regulatory to trust the industry. It was refreshing to hear open dialogue from stakeholders directly to the FSANZ board to help shape the future of FSANZ and food regulation in Australia/New Zealand. Some examples of the issues currently faced by food businesses included ongoing logistic issues, cost pressures, and re-labelling and re-formulation issues due to ingredients in low supply.
The Digital Future
FSANZ has engaged digital agency, Think Place, to assist in developing FSANZ’s digital transformation and data strategy to deliver efficient and effective service and information to achieve better outcomes for Australians and New Zealanders (including businesses). In the third session, Think Place asked attendees three questions:
- What are 3 things that excite and concern you about Megatrends?
- What are the critical digital issues FSANZ needs to address in next 2-5 years?
- How can industry contribute to this future?
These questions generated a lot of discussion amongst attendees. Climate change, data privacy and security were definitely areas of concern while industry attendees were excited by new opportunities for efficiency and collaboration that a digital future may bring.
Overall, I was impressed by the ideas generated and the thoughtful reflection of all attendees. It is clear that the challenges are big but even bigger are the opportunities!
Contact Michelle at Food Envy Labelling
If you would like to more about the stakeholder forum, or if you need any specific advice about Australian food and health claim labelling requirements, please feel free to contact me. I am here to help.