Issue 72 Contents
Women in Science in the Public Service
About the Department... FSANZ is a small agency playing a pivotal role in safeguarding food in the whole of Australia and NZ. Prior to 2004 the agency used to regulate only processed foods, whereas now it has a comprehensive approach: “from paddock to plate” adopted to better protect our food at all stages of production.
Job description... I am the Section Manager for the Modelling, Evaluation and Surveillance Section which is responsible for data collection for evidence-based decision making. There are a total of 18 professionals – 90 % of whom are women, working in four teams:
• Consumer and stakeholder research
• Food Composition Database
• Dietary Modelling
Consumer Research. This team was created in 2001 to do research on the impact of food standards on our key stakeholder groups, such as consumers, food producers, government enforcement officers, health professionals and dieticians. Recently due to the increase in food awareness by consumers and need for evidence on consumers’ attitudes and behaviour towards food, there has been a focus on consumer research. Data collected are used to evaluate and update current standards.
Surveillance This group plans and coordinates nation-wide surveys with other food regulatory agencies in the States and Territories and in New Zealand. Recently we completed a survey on the presence of antibiotic residues in farmed fish, a study which took 18 months from planning to issuing recommendations. The obtained results led to increased inspections at the border and enforcement action on some farms.
National Food Composition Database. This group organises the analysis of foods for nutrients and trace elements and reporting of the results. A recent project concentrated on measuring the amounts of folic acid and iodine in foods. These data are now being used in recent proposals prepared by FSANZ for mandatory fortification of the food supply to address folic acid and iodine deficiencies.
Dietary Modelling. Modelling allows us to develop policies for risk assessment and risk management by predicting dietary intakes of different food chemicals under different scenarios. I started this area in 1997 and due to our expertise we have been invited to participate in the International WHO/FAO Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants - JECFA. This participation has been very rewarding as it allowed myself and other staff to network with modelling experts from all over the world.
Background... I completed the equivalent of a Bachelor of Science at the University of Oxford majoring in Chemistry. My first job was to train as a Social Worker in London before my first visit to Australia where I worked at the ANU’s Research School of Chemistry. We moved to Papua New Guinea in the early 80’s where my interest in social sciences was rekindled, in particular in relation to human nutrition. When we returned to the UK, I completed a Master of Human Nutrition in the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I then went back to PNG, working for the “Save the Children Fund”. My work there concentrated on developing food and nutrition policies and programs for improving the health of children. We eventually relocated to Australia where I lectured and tutored in Nutrition at both the University of New England and University of Canberra.
Career history... I joined the Agency 13 years ago following 5 years working at universities.
Have you encountered negative stereotyping? Not really. Both our team and agency are multidisciplinary, and we all have experience outside FSANZ in academia, public health or industry.
Best/worst job aspects? The best aspect is to be at the forefront, using science to develop new approaches to setting food standards. Also as it is a very consultative process, we interact with people in diverse areas and often we have to explain the science behind our decisions in a language that is accessible to the general public. The worst aspect in these days of the internet could be that we have to be ready to respond very quickly to consumer or other stakeholders’ concerns at the same time as trying to be consultative.
Staying in touch with science... Due to the breadth of my area and the quantity of work we are covering, I concentrate mainly on the areas in which we are currently involved in the different teams.
Advice for beginners... This is a small agency that allows interaction with a wide range of professionals, other government agencies as well as other stakeholders. The work is challenging, science based and it is very rewarding to see the use of scientific evidence in standards development, with the final food standards being applied throughout Australia and New Zealand.
How do you relax? Being a sole parent of three teenagers keeps me busy. I enjoy reading, bush walking and spending time with family and friends.
Issue 72 Contents