Ms MEGARRITY: My question without notice is to the Minister for Health. What is the Government's response to community concern about the use of monosodium glutamate [MSG] in restaurant food?
Mr KNOWLES: The Silverwater gaol does not have MSG in its food, although one would think from the reaction in the Parliament last week of the Leader of the Opposition that she had a delayed MSG reaction. Everyone understands that monosodium glutamate is a powerful flavour enhancer for food. While it is safe for the majority of the population, the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital allergy clinic estimates that between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the population experience what the unit calls a food intolerance that is sufficiently significant for sufferers to visit their doctor.
Symptoms of monosodium glutamate [MSG] intolerance may include severe headache, migraine and nausea, numbness in the neck extending to the arms and back, irritable bowel syndrome, itchy rashes like hives, asthma-like symptoms, mood changes, heart palpitations, disturbed sleep and vivid dreams. MSG occurs naturally in some foods but usually in quantities far too small to have any real impact. In packaged foods in which MSG is added consumers already have the benefit of a labelling regime that specifies the list of ingredients in the package. For example, MSG can be listed under a variety of names: hydrolysed vegetable proteins, potassium glutamate and sodium caseinate. MSG additives can be identified by the numbers 621 to 625 inclusive.
This type of information is simply not available to patrons of restaurants where liberal doses of MSG can be added and therefore incorporated into meals. Without warning, as a consequence of large amounts of added MSG, patrons can suffer serious reactions and can get those intolerance symptoms and allergic reactions as a result. As all honourable members would be aware, in many restaurants the solution to this problem has been a simple one. The restaurateur simply identifies whether the restaurant uses MSG in food preparations.
Sadly, though, there are restaurants that do not provide adequate consumer information about the addition of liberal doses of MSG. As a consequence the Government formally applied to the Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Authority [ANZFSA] for the introduction of a standard to require restaurants and other food outlets to notify customers whether MSG has been added during the preparation of food. I am advised that ANZFSA will not be in a position to commence that work until later this year and that it is highly unlikely the regulation will be produced prior to 2003 at the very earliest. Therefore the Government proposes to prepare a regulation under the New South Wales Food Act which will require food businesses to identify whether they add MSG in the preparation of food.
Mrs Skinner: When are you going to be prepared to provide treatment for patients? Where is Danielle Evans' treatment? Her life is at risk.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for North Shore to order. I call the honourable member for North Shore to order for the second time.
Mr KNOWLES: What was I saying about mood changes, heart palpitations and irritability? The honourable member for North Shore has all the symptoms. Sure as eggs, she has had MSG for lunch! Mr Speaker, I think we should check out the kitchens to ensure there is no MSG, otherwise look at the effect that it can have on some honourable members! As I said, the Government will prepare a regulation under the New South Wales Food Act which will require food businesses to declare whether they use added MSG in the preparation of their food products. This will bring into line those restaurants that do not provide such information with those that do. The simplest form of notification will be the incorporation of appropriate advice on a restaurant menu. Naturally the Government will work with the New South Wales Restaurant and Caterers Association to ensure the smooth implementation of the requirement which will provide clear advice to consumers about the existence of added MSG.
In addition, the Government proposes to further assist the New South Wales allergy unit at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital [RPA] and the recently established chair in paediatric allergy at the Westmead Hospital to encourage further research and public education about allergic reactions and food intolerance. Discussions are under way to set up at the New South Wales allergy unit the serious food allergy and intolerance register for those who have serious adverse reactions to foods. The register will collate data about reactions to particular food types as part of the overall management of safe food and its production in this State. People suffering from an adverse reaction to food will be able to ring a 1-800 number or go online to email their details to the RPA medical unit. The register will also be available for doctors, pharmacists, school teachers and child care workers to report any incident in which a person has suffered an adverse reaction to food. The focus will be on a broad range of allergies, including adverse reactions to MSG, peanuts, milk, eggs, prawns and other seafoods. The serious adverse reactions to food register will be an important tool in analysing ongoing data and proposing further work to assist those who suffer from allergic reactions and food intolerance.