Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A little bit about the current state of food law in Victoria, or: I just don't geddit.

Clearly the lack of readily available dairy-free chocolate at the Paris end of Collins Street has made me a leeeedle bit cuh-raaaaayzy. 

I've done some digging, using the host of I-used-to-be-a-lawyer-and-I'm-very-nosy-and-pissed-off skills at my command, and here is my potted summary of the current state of food labelling laws in Victoria in relation to 'may contain traces of' (incidentally, the most recent changes to Victoria's Food Act have to do with the reclassificaiton of food selling outlets. I couldn't find any recent changes which mentioned trace elements. If there are, please feel free to direct me to them). 

And so, an act in ten parts:

  1. The principal State Act that controls the sale of food in Victoria is the Food Act 1984 (the Act). Quite funnily, the Act is noted on the DHS website as being "the applicable legislation for ensuring the wholesomeness and purity and standards for food sold in Victoria." Oh giggling! 
  2. The Act is also the means through which the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code is applied as the law in Victoria (the Code).
  3. The Code's website contains the following statement in relation to 'may contain traces of':  
    "You’ll notice some labels say ‘may contain’ certain allergens, for example ‘may contain nuts. This is put on by the manufacturer who may be concerned that, while nuts aren’t added to the food, traces may be present due, for example, the product having been made on the same equipment as products containing nuts. Allergy consumer support groups are working with the food industry to make these labels more helpful to allergy sufferers."

  4. Under Chapter 1 - General Food Standards, Part 1.2- Labelling and Other Information Requirements, the Code has a number of provisions relevant to us.  They are: Standards 1.2.3: Mandatory Warning and Advisory Statements and Declarations, and Standard 1.2.4: Labelling of Ingredients. What does each Standard say that is relevant to us?
  5. Standard 1.2.3: Mandatory Warning and Advisory Statements and Declarations says that certain substances must be declared on labelling where the substance is present in food as an ingredient, an ingredient of a compound ingredient, a food additive or component of a food additive, or as a processing aid or component of a processing aid.  (In case you're wondering, wine doesn't declare the use of milk solids or isinglass used as a processing aid as it is not longer present in the food). 
  6. So what is the definition of 'ingredient'? Standard 1.2.4: Labelling of Ingredients provides the definition used in the Code and therefore also in the Act. It is: "ingredient means any substance, including a food additive, used in the preparation, manufacture or handling of a food".
  7. So at this point a person might, quite cleverly, conclude that this all hangs on the definition of ingredient, and that seeing as milk in the formerly dairy-free dark chocolate at Haigh's is not a food additive, or used in the preparation, manufacture or handling of the chocolate, it is therefore not an ingredient. 
  8. But then! You may encoutner Standard 1.4.2: Maximum Residue Limits. You might open the attachments. And unless you are a biochemist familiar with residues named SUM OF AVERMECTIN B1A, AVERMECTIN B1B AND (Z)-8,9 AVERMECTIN B1A, AND (Z)-8,9 AVERMECTIN B1B and ACIBENZOLAR-S-METHYL AND ALL METABOLITES CONTAINING THE BENZO[1,2,3]THIADIAZOLE-7-CARBOXYL MOIETY HYDROLYSED TO BENZO[1,2,3]THIADIAZOLE-7-CARBOXYLIC ACID,
  9. But it remains: subject to the caveat that some of those hoxy-poxy-di-deca-coagulate-thingummywhatsits might indicate a certain trace level of milkiness, milk is not an ingredient in the formerly dairy-free dark chocolate at Haigh's. It does not meet the definition. And what's more, there has been no recent change that I can see to Victoria's food safety laws. Indeed, the Act nominates the Code as being of binding force in Victoria, and the Code notes that allergy groups and manufacturers are currently working together to address the trace element issue. It does not say that too much residue is classed as an ingredient. It does not suggest that the way to address the possibility of too much residue in a product is to simply pop it in the ingredients list. It does not suggest that manufacturers urgently need to change their labelling.

  10. And if I'm wrong, which I might be; or if this is a contentious matter, which it is; or if I was just a little bit tired and woozy when I wrote this, which I am; or if this, like almost every legal matter, has more than one way of viewing both problem and solution - then why don't we know about it? Why is it so hard to figure this out? Perhaps a friendly biochemist, food technician or food safety lawyer might wish to swing by here to enlighten us. I'm sure we'd all welcome the opportunity to learn more, and I would certainly welcome the possibilty that I might get my dark peppermint frogs back.


lisa said...

"Allergy consumer support groups are working with the food industry to make these labels more helpful to allergy sufferers"... I don't understand what's not clear and helpful about the old "MAY CONTAIN TRACES OF..." standard?

Good work, Miss T.

lisa said...

By the way, where do we stand on the frogs at the moment? I too was gutted to see their ingredients list had changed. But if we KNOW that they still don't contain milk except in a 'may contain traces of...' way, even though the label includes them as an ingredient, can we still eat them? I NEED TO KNOW.

Cindy said...

Much as I love me some smokin' hot science, I barely even studied chemistry at high school. Would you believe I was studying technical drawing when I could have been bunsen-burning hoxy-poxy-di-deca-coagulate-thingummywhatsits?!

Props for the research and legalese translation. :-)

Miss T said...

Exactly Lisa. "May contain traces of" is perfectly sufficient. It is clear and it indicates that traces - or even a little more than a trace amount - may be in the food. It alerts highly sensitive sufferers to stay away. It alerts low-level sufferers to the level of risk and allows them to assess whether they should eat according to their own knowledge of the extent of their sensitivity.

Cindy - but you are my science queen! Although I am kind of glad that someone couldn't just glance at the di-deca-whosits and tell us what they mean :)

meveg said...

Thanks for the info Rachel. When I emailed Haigh's, the reply I received stated that the change was a result of new legislative requirements, and since Green & Blacks seem to have gone down the same path, I just assumed this was correct. It's intriguing, the only extra info I have found is about the current review; none of the submissions I have read contain enough detail though.

Haigh's stated in their email that they have not changed the recipe for the dark chocolate, it's just that the 'trace percentage' was too high, so I guess they are still technically vegan. But now we won't know if they do decide to add milk as an ingredient in the future, so I think I'll stay away.

Miss T said...

Thanks Meveg. I had a look around for any legislative changes because of what Haigh's told you, but couldn't find anything! I wonder if they are as confused as we are! Also, seeing as Green and Black's is a UK company, I wonder if their changes were due to a changein UK law (and G&B made the change a year ago; Haigh's would be pretty slow on the uptake then!)? I would also assume that as a amtter of customer courtesy they would advertise any changes due to legislation in their stores. I haven't yet received an response from them but if I do I'll ask them to send me the new rules!

Like you, I'm also going to stay away, not only because I won't ever know if they do chaneg the recipe (their track recor don customer information isn't stellar right now!) but it's also the principle. I do not eat anything with milk as an ingredient. Their packaging lists milk as an ingredient. I therefore won't eat it, even though I think their definition of ingredient is misleading.

Let's hope we get to the bottom of this!

lisa said...

It's so annoying! Miss T you are spot on - it's a clear warning, and then the consumer can decide whether to eat the product, based on their own personal dietary requirements. Let the people decide - why do we need to be nannied? As Meveg points out, even though Haigh's may still be vegan now, we'll never know if they do start adding milk. Grrrrrr.