Additives and food processing aids – FGC media response

20 July 2015

The NZ Listener asked FGC for comment on the use of additives and food processing aids and on their inclusion in food labelling.

Some, but not all, of FGC’s comments were featured in their July 25 issue in a cover article weirdly entitled “The Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets – Would you like wood pulp, animal enzymes and oxidised fat with that?” It draws on a recent book by writer Joanna Blythman ‘Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry's Darkest Secrets’. 

The Listener story and the book it’s inspired by will no doubt be well-received by those people who prefer to get their food information from unofficial sources served with a good dose of sensationalism and lashings of conspiracy rather than from science- and evidence-based official sources such as Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the European Food Safety Authority or the United States Food & Drug Administration. Be sure to check out the repeated Google-truth that food colour Brilliant Blue “has been found to disrupt cell metabolism when entering the bloodstream”. Scary-sounding, but not true.  

Note: Despite FGC supplying a written statement, The Listener managed to misquote us, saying New Zealand’s food safety system was recognised as “the best in the world” when FGC clearly said it is “one of the best”. 

Katherine Rich’s full responses to their questions were:

Listener: Whether we’re behind the times in not voluntarily withdrawing some additives that have been phased out elsewhere - primarily the ones known as the Southampton Six

No, New Zealand is not behind the times when it comes to additives. The Australia New Zealand food code has just gone through a major revision and is up to date. Our food safety system is recognised as being one of the best in the world. The joint food code that New Zealand shares with Australia is very highly respected and, more importantly, it is evidence and science-based. Like other regulatory bodies around the world, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has reviewed the findings of the Southampton study and other more recent science and concluded there was not sufficient evidence to make changes to current safety limits. The additional labelling in the UK was viewed at the time as a political compromise, but was not an evidence-based decision. According to the FSANZ website (link below), "The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published opinions on six food colours in November 2009, and a further seven food colours in 2010. EFSA concluded that the available evidence did not indicate a causal link between exposure to the colours, including those in the Southampton Study, and possible effects on behaviour".

FSANZ website on Southampton study:

There was so much misinformation being printed about colours in New Zealand that FSANZ was moved to put a lengthy statement on its website:

Despite the NZ Herald having to print corrections about colours (e.g. attached) it continues to repeat some of the same errors.


Listener: The fact that food ingredients labelling doesn’t have to include things that are defined as food processing aids – there is a long list of these on the ANZ Food Standards Code. For those who want to know what’s been involved in making what they are eating this is a worry - one of the things Blythman talks about is cut fruit being sprayed with an enzyme solution to keep it fresh-looking.

Food processing aids used in manufacture don’t remain in the food. It’s not a food safety issue as they don’t stay in the food and are not additives. This is why they aren’t included on labels. The Food Code makes this clear. For that reason, it’s likely that the cut fruit example wouldn't be an aid in New Zealand, although it could well be the case in the UK. Here, it would be an additive and labelled if the spray remained on any packaged fruit as part of the final consumed product. 

Listener: Clean labelling - the practice of responding to consumer demand for more natural foods by making it seem as if there is nothing artificial added. And the use of marketing hype “No artificial flavourings” for instance on packaging of a product that’s full of artificial colours (A Homebrand product reviewed in Wendyl Wants To Know on the weekend), That seems like blatant hoodwinking and hoping consumers won’t read the small print.

New Zealand has very strict food labelling rules through the FSANZ Code and the Fair Trading Act. The label must tell the truth and not mislead people otherwise it's a Commerce Commission issue. Manufacturers have worked hard to help consumers understand labels, and in some cases have done this by simplifying recipes to reduce the number of ingredients. Over the past decade the food industry has carried out major reformulation projects to reduce salt, sugar and fat where possible, and many food companies are also moving to the new government-endorsed Health Star Rating system. Many companies also put a lot of time and effort into promoting healthy living and eating education programmes and resources in schools and communities, and remind people of the importance of moderation in food choices.