Safe Food Production NSW was established on 18 December 1998 under the Food Production (Safety) Act, 1998 (Act No.128, 1998). (1) Over time, Safe Food Production NSW would bring together the former NSW Dairy Corporation, NSW Meat Industry Authority, and the NSW Shellfish Quality Assurance Program. (2)
The Agency was generally known as Safe Food and was responsible for the safe production, processing, wholesale and distribution of all primary produce and seafood for human consumption from the paddock or ocean to the back door of the retail shop, with additional coverage of retail butcher shops and supermarket meat departments. NSW Health and local government continued to be responsible for the retail and food service sectors until a comprehensive food safety authority was established in 2004. (3)
The establishment of a food safety authority was to be undertaken as a two-stage process. (4) The first was the establishment of the agency to be known as Safe Food. The second phase was required under section 73 of the Food Production (Safety) Act 1998 and consisted of a ministerial review of the Act’s objectives in establishing a single regulator. The review was to occur after three years of Safe Foods establishment. (5)
On 18 December 1998, certain provisions of the Act covering the establishment of the agency and the appointment of a Chief Executive Officer commenced. Other provisions allowing Safe Food to provide advice to the Minister on the establishment of food safety schemes and for the establishment of the Safe Food Production Advisory Committee also commenced. (6) The Safe Food Production Advisory Committee provided expert advice to Safe Food on a range of matters. The Committee was chaired by the Chief Executive Officer of Safe Food. (7)
Safe Food's regulatory powers and functions commenced on 1 July 1999. (8) On this date, Safe Food assumed the responsibilities and functions of the NSW Dairy Corporation, which was dissolved. (9) In August 1999, administrative responsibility for the NSW Shellfish Quality Assurance Program was transferred from NSW Fisheries to Safe Food Production NSW. (10)
The provisions of the Food Production (Safety) Act 1998 which commenced on 1 July 1999 excluded provisions for the transfer of the Meat Industry Authority's functions. This occurred on 4 August 2000, when the NSW Meat Industry Authority was dissolved and its functions transferred to Safe Food. (11)
Although Safe Food was responsible to the Minister for Agriculture, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Fisheries had to concur in the appointment of Safe Food's Chief Executive Officer. The Minister for Health's approval was necessary for all food safety schemes and any scheme covering seafood required the Minister for Fisheries approval. (12)
Safe Food was responsible under the Food Production (Safety) Act 1998 for establishing food safety schemes. These schemes are the means by which the responsibilities of food businesses, and SafeFood's regulatory role, are detailed for each industry or sector covered by SafeFood. (13) The Dairy Food Safety Scheme was promulgated on 1 July 1999 and the Meat Food Safety Scheme came into force on 4 August 2000. The Seafood Safety Scheme followed later. (14)
In 2000, Safe Food was responsible for two subsidiary companies:
1) Milk Marketing (NSW) Pty Limited; promoted milk but the dairy industry withdrew funding for milk marketing and the company's operations in this area ceased in May 2000;
2) Pacific Industry Services Corporation Pty Limited; operated Safe Food's laboratory in Chippendale. In May 2000, the company merged its operations in a joint venture with a microbiological consultancy known as Microtech Laboratories. The company sold its share in the joint venture in 2001. (15)
In 2001, Safe Food consisted of the Chief Executive Officer; Financial Controller; Executive Officer; an Executive Director for each of the three main industry areas of Dairy, Meat, and Seafood; and the following sections: Corporate Services, Science and Risk Management. (16)
As indicated earlier, the establishment of a single food safety authority was to be undertaken as a two-stage process with the second stage being a review of the objectives of the Food Production (Safety) Act 1998 three years after the establishment of Safe Food Production NSW. After four independent reviews on food safety over a five year period, a single regulator, the NSW Food Authority, was established on 5 April 2004 under the Food Act 2003 (Act No.43, 2003) as amended by the Food Legislation Amendment Act 2004 (Act No.16, 2004). (17) Under the Food Legislation Amendment Act 2004, the NSW Food Authority was a continuation of, and the same legal entity, as Safe Food NSW. (18) The Food Legislation Amendment Act 2004 also repealed the Food Production (Safety) Act 1998.
The establishment of an integrated or 'through-chain' food regulation agency was completed on 23 April 2004, when staff from the New South Wales Health Department and the Area Health Services were transferred to the NSW Food Authority. (19) The bringing together of the different State agencies responsible for food safety across the entire food industry, from primary production to point-of-sale created a more streamlined, consistent and efficient approach to food regulation in New South Wales.
The NSW Food Authority was responsible for:
1) licensing and auditing businesses subject to food safety schemes;
2) inspecting other food premises for compliance with food safety standards;
3) sampling and analysing foods for compliance with the Food Standards Code;
4) monitoring labels for compliance with the Food Standards Code;
5) where necessary, penalising non-compliance; and
6) enhancing the scientific basis underpinning food policy and regulation. (20)
The NSW Food Authority also facilitated the development and review of national and state food legislation in consultation with stakeholders by: contributing to the development and implementation of national food policies; active involvement in applications and proposals to amend the Food Standards Code; and establishing food safety schemes for high-risk foods and businesses through a process of risk prioritisation. (21)
The NSW Food Authority also educated consumers on food issues by: cultivating good food handling practices, sharing information on food safety, and providing information on food labelling. (22)
In the 2005/06 financial year, the NSW Food Authority consisted of the following Branches:
1) Operations Branch; comprises work units for compliance, audit and inspection, industries, enforcement, foodborne illness investigation, new food safety program development, food recall, technical and scientific support, labelling and the NSW Shellfish Program;
2) Policy and Science Branch; responsible for advising on strategic direction; undertaking risk assessment; policy development and program evaluation; and co-ordinating changes to legislation, including the food safety scheme regulations;
3) Finance and Licensing Branch; responsible for managing all of the Authority's financial planning, operational and reporting activities, including those of its controlled entities: the Office of the NSW Food Authority and subsidiary companies. The Branch is also responsible for issuing licences to over 13,000 primary production businesses in New South Wales;
4) Consumer and Corporate Services Branch; responsible for consumer education and communication activities; the Consumer and Industry Contact Centre; and corporate functions such as human resources, information management and technology and administration. (23)
To achieve its objectives, the NSW Food Authority worked closely with other State Government agencies, particularly the New South Wales Health Department, the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, the New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation, and the NSW Office of Fair Trading.
From 1 July 2014, the NSW Food Authority had not directly employed staff; all staff were employed by the cluster department. In the financial year 2015-16, there were changes to the internal structure within the Department of Primary Industries. This saw the NSW Food Authority and Biosecurity NSW merge in one branch called Biosecurity and Food Safety. As a result, the resource allocation and funding between the Department and the Food Authority was outlined in a Shared Resources Agreement, with the NSW Food Authority retaining its statutory entity status under the NSW Food Act 2003. In 2017-18, this agreement was renamed Resources Agreement. (24)
2 April 2020, in accordance with Administrative Arrangements, the entity of NSW Food Authority was transferred to the Department of Regional NSW. Through the NSW Food Authority, Department of Primary Industries was still also responsible for regulating and monitoring food safety across the entire food industry supply chain in NSW through the Biosecurity and Food Safety Compliance team. (25)
1. NSW Government Gazette (No.176), 18 December 1998, p.9720.
2. Safe Food Production NSW Annual Report 2001, p.12.
3. Safe Food Production NSW Annual Report 1999/2000, p.2.
4. Safe Food Production NSW Annual Report 2001, p.12.
5. Food Production (Safety) Act 1998 (Act No.128), s.73.
6. NSW Government Gazette (No.176), 18 December 1998, p.9720.
7. Safe Food Production NSW Annual Report 1999/2000, p.3.
8. NSW Government Gazette (No.72), 25 June 1999, p.4076, Safe Food Production NSW Annual Report, 1999/2000, p.2.
9. Safe Food Production NSW, Annual Report, 1999/2000, p.1.
10. Safe Food Production NSW, Annual Report, 2001, p.12.
11. Safe Food Production NSW, Annual Report, 1999/2000, p.3; 2001, p.20.
12. Safe Food Production NSW, Annual Report ,1999/2000, p.3.
13. Safe Food Production NSW, Annual Report, 2001, p.14.
14. loc. cit.
15. ibid., p.34.
16. ibid., p.10.
17. Food Legislation Amendment Act, 2004 (Act No.16, 2004) Schedule 1, Clause 21.
18. ibid., Schedule 1, Clause 28(7).
19. NSW Government Gazette (No.75), 23 April 2004, p.2192.
20. NSW Food Authority, Annual Report, 2005/2006, p.10.
21. loc. cit.
22. loc. cit.
23. ibid., pp.12-13.
24. NSW Food Authority, Annual Report 2020-2021, pg.19.
25. Administrative Arrangements (Administrative Changes Regional NSW and Independent Planning Commission) Order 2020; cl. 8; notified on NSW Legislation website, 2 April 2020.