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Launch of the 'Food additives shoppers' guide', City Markets, Bunda Street, Civic, Canberra, Monday 6 December 1999

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Grant Tambling 

Parliamentary Secretary for 

The Minister for Health and Aged Care







Ladies and gentlemen …..

I've been looking f orward to launching this Guide because it's one of those must-have publications for anyone who wants to find out more about food additives. Despite its small size - it is big on information and practicality.

In addition, as I was browsing through the Guide it struck me that it might also be an invaluable tool for Scrabble enthusiasts - it certainly contains lots of interesting, long words that might not only improve one's knowledge of food additives but also your word-score!

Knowing about food additives is particularly important for any mum or dad or their kids, who may be allergic to certain food additives. Information on food additives can also be important in managing certain medical conditions. I am sure that food intolerances and food allergies are areas that our other guest speakers, Professor Smallwood and Sharon Mitchell, will touch on today.

I wear a number of different hats in the Parliament. As the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Aged Care, my responsibilities include the regulation of standards for food and medicines in Australia - and responsibility for the Australia New Zealand Food Authority-or ANZFA as it's often called-and the Therapeutic Goods Administration. I'm also a Senator for the Northern Territory.

In my various roles, I am constantly being informed of new facts and figures, new technologies and developments.

Today, 'facts and figures' are certainly centre stage - in a very literal sense - as we gather here to launch this new guide on food additives.

So, what exactly are food additives and food additive numbers? What do they do? What do they mean? And why do we need them?

Put simply, 'food additive' is the umbrella term that covers ingredients deliberately added to foods today for a range of reasons such as to improve taste, to stop foods from drying out, to protect us from food poisoning and to keep food our fresh.

Food additives include colourings, artificial sweeteners, food acids, flavourings, thickeners and vegetable gums.

We can see from the Guide, that food additives also include preservatives.

In days gone by, people relied on traditional preserving methods so they could store foods and survive through times of adversity. While some of these methods are still used today for preserving jams, vegetables and some fermented meats, we now rely primarily on additives in our processed foods and drinks to carry out this function.

Over the years, food additives have copped some bad publicity. Mostly, the criticism is unwarranted. In fact, additives have a lot of advantages. One of those benefits is that we can enjoy a wide range of foods throughout the year - in many cases this extension of availability would not be possible without food additives.

A good example is to look as the way jams have changed. Traditionally, sugar was always used as the preservative in jams. These days, people want jams without sugar, either as low kilojoule alternatives or for special dietary needs. So with the help of additives, artificial sweeteners replace the sugar, humectants are used so the jam has a smooth taste, thickeners give it bulk, and preservatives stop it going off once the jam is opened.

I've just given an example where the food additives used are synthetic, but it should be remembered that some substances used as additives also occur naturally. For example, citric acid can be used as a food additive - it also present naturally in oranges.

Many people here today will be familiar with a publication called '508 - what's that? That booklet is the predecessor of the one being launched today. The '508' in the title referred to potassium chloride-a mineral salt.

ANZFA has revamped that publication so it now has a more user-friendly format. In particular, in the new version, additives are now listed both alphabetically and numerically. It's still a handy pocket size which is great because it means that you can easily take it with you when you shop.

You might want to think of this guide in terms of being a 'codebuster' or 'codebreaker' for food additives. There are overseas publications about food additives with these sorts of names.

By law, food manufacturers are required to list on the label either the food additives code number or name or include both. These code numbers can seem a bit technical or may be meaningless or confusing for many people. This is exactly where the Food Additives Shoppers' Guide comes in handy as it takes away much of the mystery surrounding these numbers.

The codes are generally made up of 3 or 4 numbers. The reason food additives have code numbers is not to be difficult or to purposely hide information from consumers.

It's because many additives have long and complex scientific names which are not only difficult to understand but would also take up too much space on a label. To illustrate this point, later on, you might want to turn to page 63 of the Guide and have a look at code number 385, which is a preservative. The third word in this preservative's name is 27 letters long!

This international code numbering system for food additives was developed to make identifying food additives easier rather than harder.

Now let's take a practical example from the Guide.

If you're reading the food ingredients list of a processed food in the supermarket, and you want to know what '440' is- you can flick through the Guide, and see that it is pectin - a vegetable gum used in products such as jams.

When people ask me about additives and whether they are safe, I tell them-YES- the government wouldn't permit them to be added to food if they weren't. Additives have to go through stringent safety assessment procedures before they gain approval from ANZFA - the national food regulator.

While additives are safe, some people in the community may experience adverse reactions to food additives. Other people have food intolerances to foods such as peanuts and milk.

We're really keen for these people to know about the Shoppers' Guide so they can use this publication to avoid foods which may affect them. Indeed, the more practical information we have about food, the better it is for everyone.

The Shoppers' Guide is a resource which can complement the advice and information provided by health professionals such as dieticians, nutritionists, and members of the medical profession.

So, if you want to be the full bottle on food additives, I'd encourage you to have a look at this publication.

It's on the ANZFA's website at free of charge. And I'm told it's also available in major retail book sellers across Australia for $3.95.

It would also make a very handy Xmas stocking filler. It is something that is sure to be appreciated by anyone who has an interest in knowing more about ingredients in food.

It is now my great pleasure to officially launch the Food Additives Shoppers' Guide.

I urge you to have a close look at the Guide. Next time you are in a supermarket, check out the ingredients lists on food labels for additives, and use this Guide to crack the codes.

Spread the word about this Guide among your family, friends, and work colleagues, as we're keen for as many people as possible to know about it. Above all, happy reading!



jy  1999-12-09  10:47