The complete package

Sydney-based Jet Technologies combines experience with international expertise to deliver complete packaging solutions. We spoke to the company’s founder and Managing Director, Albert Malki.

In 1967, a then 19-year-old Albert Malki began working in his family’s packaging business in Italy. A decade or so later, in 1981, he moved to Sydney to try his luck in the Australian packaging industry.

“I tried to act as a bridge between the industry in Italy and Australia,” Malki, Managing Director of Jet Technologies told Food & Beverage Industry News.

“I started with importing plastic raw materials for packaging as well as machinery for processing, such as extruders, printing presses, bag sealing machines, thermal forming lines and so on.”

In the early days, the business was a “one-man show”, operating out of a 60sqm room in Bondi Junction.

Since then Jet Technologies has grown significantly. “Today we employ 48 people all over Australia – most in Sydney, but we also have staff in Melbourne and Adelaide, as well as New Zealand,” said Malki.

Recently, the company opened a branch in Indonesia which employs 16 staff. “We pretty much copied the success of what we’ve achieved in Australia and New Zealand,” he added.

Apart from packaging, the company now also has printing and manufacturing divisions which are run by Malki’s sons, Jack Malki and Daniel Malki respectively.

The packaging division offers both consumables and machinery. It focuses a lot of energy on food packaging, particularly for the meat, coffee and dairy sectors.

Its product range include adhesives, smooth wall aluminium trays, filling and sealing machinery, degassing valves, die-cutting and roll fed lidding, coffee bags with valves, vertical form fill seal machinery, manual tray sealing machines with gas flushing twist-off closures, and tray seal machinery.

Forging key partnerships

According to Malki, there has been a major transformation in the Australian packaging over the past 30 years. In the 80s a lot of products, such as bottles, flexible packaging, and caps were made in Australia.

“Many of these manufacturers have either been taken over or merged with others,” he explained. “Or in some cases they have moved their factories overseas or in other cases they have simply disappeared.”

“I remember when there were around 50 [manufacturers] in each state. Now they could be counted on the fingers of one hand.”

During the 80s and 90s, Jet Technologies capitalised on this transformation by establishing partnerships with several major international suppliers.

_DSC2989 (2)
Albert Malki, Managing Director of Jet Technologies (centre), pictured with Jack Malki (left) and Daniel Malki.

 

“For example, when Amcor stopped producing twist-top caps to closures, we started importing them. And the same thing happened with lidding. That comes from the world’s largest manufacturer, the closure which I use for jars of tomato sauces, juice, and so on,” said Malki.

Today the company’s partners include Crown (a leader in metal packaging technology), Constantia Flexibles (part of Constantia Packaging AG), Italian packaging giant Goglio and others.

According to Malki, being associated with such heavy weights gives Jet Technologies a significant advantage over competitors.

“When you deal with big boys it really puts you in a situation where you can go with confidence to the market and if there is a problem you know they will always back you up,” he said. “That has always been my mantra.”

Complete solution

Jet Technologies offers complete packaging solutions.

“We take a look at clients, then supply them all the machinery and consumables they need – everything except the food itself!” said Malki.

“In contrast, there are many packaging providers that supply only the machines or only the case packer. Or maybe they supply only the filling machine or VFFS machines or some film.

Then, sometimes if they supply the film they don’t supply the aluminium or the paper.”

On top of that is the expertise that comes with 50 years’ experience.

According to Malki, clients regularly encounter technical problems. For example, they may not know the correct film structure for a particular application or may be unsure how to solve a problem of sealability when hot filling at high temperatures.

“Maybe they’re going to be sterilising the product after heating and that creates issues on the production line. They need to know how to cool off the product quickly after it was heated to 120 degrees celcius,” he said.

“It’s not that straight forward for someone who sells packaging to know the answers to all these points. It’s called experience at the end.”

The company offers extensive technical support. “Particularly in Sydney and Melbourne we have a very good setup where the technicians are local and can service the clients very quickly,” said Malki.

Packaging trends

Malki said that barrier film, which extends the shelf-life of food products and helps open export markets, is an important product at the moment.

“We are offering more in cups and also lidding. Generally, it all goes in the direction of barrier,” he said.

Freshness is also very important right now.

“For example, for pre-cooked meals, we see more and more aluminium being used in trays rather than plastic. It’s a very good way to maintain the freshness of the product, plus it can be cooked or heated in the oven. Few people know that an aluminium tray can be used in microwave ovens,” he said.

“In UK supermarkets, they typically have three or four aisles of pre-cooked meals, while in Australia at the moment it is just in a small corner. We feel this is an industry that can grow more and more.”

Malki expects the demand for packaging to double in coming years. Expansion is therefore very much on the agenda for Jet Technologies.

“We’re hiring new people to make this a reality. I have this vision on both the consumables and the materials,” he said. “We feel they have a lot of potential and they can save a lot of money and expand the horizon of our clients.”

 

 

What science says about getting the most out of your tea

Tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world. Tea is personal; everyone has opinions about making the perfect cup. But what does science say about getting the most out of your brew? The Conversation

It’s not the only reason to drink it, but tea consumption is linked to a number of health benefits. It’s thought to improve mood and cognition, and reduce risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Tea is a source of micronutrients, including fluoride, magnesium, and zinc. However, the health benefits are mostly linked to three main bioactive compounds; Catechins, caffeine and L-theanine. Bioactive compounds are non-essential nutrients that may impact health.

Laboratory and animal studies have suggested these compounds may have multiple health effects. But, the results in human studies are much less clear. Catechins are a type of polyphenol, a group of chemicals with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are molecules that prevent cell damage. Caffeine makes you feel alert and the amino acid L-theanine is believed to be responsible for tea’s relaxing properties. These compounds also contribute to your brew’s taste and mouthfeel.

Which tea is healthiest?

Black, oolong, white and green teas all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences come from the harvest timing and processing, particularly the level of oxidation, a reaction that occurs when processed leaves are exposed to high oxygen levels. Black tea is fully oxidized, oolong is partially oxidized, while green and white teas are unoxidized. White teas are from early harvests, green from later.

Processing has little impact on L-theanine, with similar levels found in all teas. Caffeine levels vary widely, however black tea typically has the most. Catechins are altered by oxidisation, so levels are highest in green and white teas.

More antioxidants and less caffeine means green tea is typically considered the healthier option. So green tea has been the focus of most studies of the health benefits. However, all teas are a good source of L-theanine, caffeine and catechins.

But, be warned. Having “tea” on the label doesn’t guarantee bioactive content or health benefits. Pre-packaged iced teas and instant teas may have limited bioactives and can be high in sugar. Herbal and fruit teas don’t contain any actual tea leaf, and so properties vary.

Excessive consumption of tea can also be harmful, leading to over consumption of caffeine. Tannins, which are another group of polyphenols in tea can also bind to iron and reduce iron absorption if consumed with or soon after a meal.

Brew science

Getting the maximum health benefit from your cuppa is more about the brewing than the tea you choose.

Patience is important. If you are jiggling the tea bag around in the cup for 15-30 seconds, you are probably only getting a fraction of the bioactives you would by following the maker’s instructions.

Brewing with freshly boiled water for two to three minutes, as per the instructions, extracts about 60% of the catechins, 75% of the caffeine and 80% of the L-theanine. The longer you brew the more bioactives you get, but also the stronger the taste. Research has found that brewing for 20-30 minutes at 80°C extracts the maximum level of bioactives, but that’s not really practical for daily life, and probably isn’t very tasty!

Interestingly, the pH of water also impacts the extraction process. Low pH (acidic) water extracts bioactives better than high pH (basic) water. The pH of tap water is about seven, which is neutral, so there might be a benefit to adding lemon with your tea, rather than after its brewed.

Tea in the microwave?

The idea of making tea in the microwave is horrifying for purists. It’s argued microwaves are inferior to kettles for heating water, as there is less control over the temperature. But the microwave could actually be a useful tool for extracting more bioactives.

Microwaves can actually increase the levels of bioactives in your cup. Adding freshly boiled water to the teabag, steeping for 30 seconds, followed by a minute in the microwave (medium power) extracts more bioactives than a standard three minute steep.

Does milk change the health benefits of tea?

Some studies have suggested milk alters the antioxidant activity and health benefits of tea.

But others have shown the same level of antioxidants reach the blood after consuming tea with and without milk. There’s no real science behind the age old question of when the milk should be added. The Royal Society of Chemistry suggests adding it first prevents denaturation, or clumping, of milk proteins, which might give the milk a stale taste.

Milk probably doesn’t affect how healthy the tea is.
www.joannabeckettdesign.com

Loose leaf vs teabags

Loose leaf may contain more bioactives because they use higher quality leaves. But leaves in teabags are cut smaller, and this is thought to enhance the extraction process.

Lower quality teas may also include more stems, which are higher in L-theanine than the leaves. So while fancy loose leaf might taste better, you probably get more bang for buck from a humble tea bag.

Health benefits might not be the only reason we choose to drink tea, but if you want to get the most out of your cup, patience is the key. Whichever type of tea you choose, the longer you brew, the more goodness in each cup.

Emma Beckett, Postdoctoral Fellow (Human Molecular Nutrition), School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle and Quan V Vuong, Senior Lecturer in Food Science & Human Nutrition, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top image: Morgan Sessions/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

 

 

 

Health Check: does caffeine cause dehydration?

For a long time people have been told that caffeine is a diuretic. For some, this translates into advice to avoid or remove caffeinated beverages from the diet of people at risk of dehydration, or during periods of extreme summer heat. The Conversation

While possibly well meaning, this advice is wrong.

By definition, a diuretic is a product that increases the body’s production of urine. Hence water, or any drink consumed in large volumes, is a diuretic. Importantly, urinating more does not inevitably lead to dehydration (excessive loss of body water).

Drinking simultaneously provides the body with fluid for absorption (avoiding dehydration) and initiates urine production. Depending on the urine losses that occur following drinking, a beverage might be more accurately described as a “poor _re_hydrator” if large fluid losses result.

Caffeine is a weak diuretic, and tolerance to this effect is acquired rapidly (in four to five days) with regular caffeine intake. What’s somewhat concerning is that this has been known for almost 100 years!

In 1928, a study involving three people showed that when participants consumed no caffeine for more than two months, a dose as little as half a milligram per kilogram of body mass (roughly the amount in half a cup of coffee) caused a “noticeable” increase in urine loss.

But regular caffeine intake (for four to five days) created a tolerance to the diuretic effect, so that over a milligram per kilogram of body mass (one cup of coffee) was needed before an effect was detected. This suggested that regularly consuming caffeinated drinks wouldn’t lead to chronic dehydration.

While the study had obvious sample size limitations, an investigation employing contemporary research methods and analysis confirmed these findings more than a decade ago.

This study involved 59 healthy individuals being monitored for 11 days. The investigation was designed to determine if drinking caffeine resulted in fluid loss or dehydration.

Initially, each participant’s caffeine intake was stabilised for six days at 3mg per kilogram of body mass (approximately two to three cups of coffee per day). Following this period, caffeine intake was manipulated for five days at a dose of either zero, low (one cup) or moderate (two cups) levels.

Caffeine was found to have no effect on almost every measure of hydration.
Dai KE/Unsplash

The researchers monitored myriad hydration measures such as urine production and colour. Almost every hydration measure we currently use for monitoring fluid balance was not influenced by regular caffeine intake.

In hydration science, the effect of any beverage on fluid in the body is judged by the balance between how much the body retains of any volume consumed. Recently, the creation of the “beverage hydration index” has been established to describe the fluid retention capacity of different beverages by standardising values compared to still water.

Again, the beverage hydration index shows commonly consumed caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and cola have similar fluid retention capacity to water or commercial sports drinks.

One strength of the beverage hydration index is that it recognises all beverages make a contribution to total fluid intake (ranking some as more effective than others). By advising people not to consume drinks they enjoy (just because they contain caffeine), individuals may not automatically replace drinks, leading to a reduction in total fluid intake.

The evidence linking poor hydration status to poor health (particularly in vulnerable groups) is well established. Dehydration can produce disruptions in mood, brain and heart function and has also been found to be an indicator for worse prognoses in older patients admitted to hospital.

So while some caffeinated beverages such as cola and energy drinks have their own health implications such as high levels of sugar, in terms of optimising fluid balance, there’s no need to worry about caffeine.


Update: gram was corrected to milligram in the paragraphs outlining the 1928 dehydration study.

Ben Desbrow, Associate Professor, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wine exporters looking to consolidate on a stellar year

The year 2016 was a great one for Australian wine exports. Matthew McDonald takes a look at what was behind this success and what exporters need to do to keep the wine flowing.

Beginning in the mid 2000s, the Australian wine industry entered a difficult period. The combination of low grape prices and the entry of a lot of new producers resulted in a grape oversupply and poor results.

But last year things turned around.

“There’s definitely a strong degree of positive news that’s coming through for the wine sector, especially compared to what’s happened in the last 10 years or so,” Andreas Clark, CEO of Wine Australia told Food & Beverage Industry News.

According to Wine Australia, in 2016 the value of Australian wine exports grew by 7 per cent to $2.22 billion and volume increased by 1 per cent to 750 million litres. In addition, the average value of exports grew by 6 per cent to $2.96 per litre, the highest level since 2009.

The strongest growth came from the most expensive wines – those priced $10 per litre or above free on board (FOB) – which were up 19 per cent to a record $574 million.

So who is buying all this wine?

China is buying more and more of it. Exports to the nation were up 40 per cent to $520 million in 2016. “China’s now our number one market by value overall. It surpassed the US during the course of last year,” said Clark.

Of course, he added, there were exports to other countries too.

“We have seen strong growth in other parts of Asia as well. Free trade agreements have given a bit of a boost into markets like Japan and Korea, and other parts of South East Asia as well have had some strong growth,” he said.

The results in traditional markets, the US and the UK, were mixed.

“The US has been hard for many years but we returned to 3 per cent growth there last year,” said Clark. “So we’re starting to get some traction back there, but it’s a hard market and there’s a long way to go. We starting to see a lot of the media commentary coming through that’s a lot more favourable and talking up the Australian offer so that’s really good.”

The result in the UK was less positive. While it remains the number one European destination for Australian exports by volume, in 2016, the value of exports to the UK declined by 5 per cent to $355 million while volume dropped by 5 per cent to 236 million litres.

According to Clark, the “headwind of Brexit” affected this result.

“…that’s taken a hit in the short term. Long term, hopefully that will all wash through and we can return to some normalised trading there. But when you’re an exporter you’ve got to deal with the vagaries of the global economy,” he said.

Varieties

As the graphic (below) illustrates, in 2016 export success was varied among the wine varieties.

“We’ve had difficulties with Shiraz in the US recently. People are looking at other opportunities there such as Cabernet or Chardonnay which are strong… or looking at red blends: not so much a varietal descriptor but the red blend category has been strong in the US recently,” said Clark.

“People like the flavour of Shiraz but it’s had a bit of adverse publicity over the past few years so you need to come at that from different ways to make sure you’re meeting consumer need.

“On the other hand Shiraz is very popular in China, so it’s a matter of understanding what’s happening in the market and meeting the needs of the market appropriately.

“It’s taste or just consumer preferences. It can be a combination of taste and how you present the wine as well.”

Export Report_YEDec 2016

China

According to Clark, there are a number of factors behind the success in China.

“Fundamentally Australia’s well positioned as a food and beverage provider,” he said. “Our products are held in high regard. There’s a strong reputation for our ‘clean and green’ credentials.

“They like the taste profile of Australian wine and the free trade agreement has certainly given that some impetus.”

Tariffs on Australian wine imports to China, which were as high as 14 per cent, are now down to 5.6 per cent and will be removed completely in a few years.

The rise and expansion of China’s middle class is also crucial. Indeed, when metrics like population size and current per capita consumption of alcohol are considered, the potential for growth in wine exports to the world’s most populous country is huge.

Clark chooses not to get carried away with the possibilities.

“Some exporters have had great success there, some have found the market challenging and haven’t got any traction,” he said. “There is a strong growth story there. It’s exciting and all the fundamentals indicate it should continue to occur, but it’s not a uniform golden outcome for all.

“You can’t have all your eggs in the China basket. We need to cultivate other key markets as well and support them because in the long run that will put us in a much healthier and more sustainable position.

“At the same time it is a hard market to do business in. You have to get regularly into the market to understand their routes to market and partners and understand their brand proposition so they can have success there.”

What now?

Clark often returned to this theme of the continued need for hard work. If Australian wine makers want to take full advantage of the current success, he stressed, they can’t afford to slacken off now.

“What we need to consistently do is be out there working the shoe leather and putting those messages into the market,” he said.

“Others have got a bit of a head start on us in recent years or jumped ahead of us and we’ve got to give them a compelling reason to come back to Australian wine if they’ve deserted it in previous years.”

Keeping up such efforts can be difficult, especially for smaller players. The Australian wine industry is quite fragmented and has a lot of small producers, so the situation is not ideal.

However, as Clark pointed out, this diversity is also a strength.

“What that large spread of producers provides is a real interest and diversity to the Australian offering. It’s not monolithic,” he said. “We have 65 wine regions and a wide range varieties and styles.”

“Once people start unravelling that they are blown away. It opens up a whole new world to them.”

Playing with the senses can change how food tastes

It was Apicius, the Roman gourmand, who came up with the line that “the first taste is with the eyes”. The latest research from the emerging field of gastrophysics shows that he was absolutely right. Our brains evolved to help us find food – and making food look more visually appealing can prime expectations and therefore enhance the taste. The Conversation

It isn’t just the sight of the food, though – you should see, hear, smell and touch food as well if you are going to make enough of a meal of a dining experience. Here are a few ways in which our senses can conspire to make food more of an experience.

Heston Blumenthal’s Sounds of the Sea seafood dish.
Sergio Coimbra, CC BY

Think about the plate

Research shows that we rate food as tasting different depending on the colour of the crockery on which it is served. We conducted an experiment at Ferran Adria’s Alicia Foundation just outside Barcelona a few years ago in which we demonstrated that people would rate a pinkish strawberry mousse as tasting 7% sweeter, 13% more flavourful and 9% more enjoyable when it was served it on a white plate rather than a black plate. Meanwhile, others have demonstrated that we will eat less junk food if it is served from a red plate than from a plate of any other colour.

But it isn’t just the colour of the plate that affects our food behaviour and flavour perception; it is also the shape. Several studies have shown that people rate food as tasting sweeter if it’s served off a round plate than a more angular plate. So, for anyone with a sweet tooth, the recommendation from the gastrophysics lab is that you should save the angular black slate for the cheese.

Think about the cutlery

In order to get the food from the plate to our mouths, most of us use cutlery. But just how much thought have any of us given to the cold smooth hard metal that we put in our mouths several times every day? The latest gastrophysics research shows that food tastes better – and we are willing to pay more for it – if we eat with heavier cutlery. Adding texture to the handle or spoon of the cutlery can also make for a more enjoyable, more stimulating, and definitely a more memorable tasting experience.

It’s results such as these, collected from both the science lab and also from the comments of real diners in restaurants, that help explain the why Heston Blumenthal gave diners a heavy furry-handled spoon to eat the last course of “Counting Sheep” at his Fat Duck restaurant in Bray.

It is amazing to see all the new cutlery designs that are being developed. But some chefs in top restaurants – such as the two Michelin-starred Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain, and at the Chef’s Table by Kitchen Theory in London – are going even further and putting out dishes that are specifically designed to be eaten with the hands.

Think about the music

Sound really is the forgotten flavour sense. Enhance the sound of the crunch and people think that crisps taste crisper and fresher. This is the groundbreaking research that got us the IG Nobel Prize for Nutrition back in 2008. However, beyond the sound of the food itself, have you ever wondered why crisps so often come in noisy packets? It turns out that that too is part of “the experience”. Noisier crisp packets also make foods appear crisper – as we showed in research with Heston that was reported in 2011.

However, one of the most intriguing ways in which what we hear affects what we taste relates to the emerging field of sonic seasoning. For it turns out that playing tinkling high-pitched music brings out the sweetness in food and drink, while low-pitched brassy music accentuates bitterness instead. We have now identified the kinds of music that will bring out sourness, spiciness, and even accentuate the creaminess of a chocolate.

It may seem crazy, but the business world really is starting to sit up and listen. For instance, British Airways launched a “sound bite” menu, long-haul meals with matching musical accompaniment back in 2014. Meanwhile, a café in Vietnam just opened playing lots of sweet music to help people reduce their sugar intake.

Think about the lighting

You should also think about the lighting when you eat. Research from the US shows that people who like “strong coffee” drink more of the stuff under bright lighting, while increasing the brightness of the lighting can also nudge people toward ordering spicier chicken wings. In our own research, testing more than 3,000 people, we showed that we could enhance the fruitiness of a red wine (served in a black tasting glass) by around 15% simply by putting on some red lights, rather than regular white, or green lighting instead. Adding some of that sweet music in the background made the effects even more pronounced.

Put all the research together – and you can read about this in my recent book – and what some have been tempted to call “off-the-plate” dining can, I firmly believe, help us all to create more enjoyable, tastier, healthier, and more memorable meals.

Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology and University Lecturer, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top Image: Shutterstock

 

A big pawprint: The environmental impact of pet food

Pet food is an industry worth nearly US$25 billion in the United States. Owners make decisions about what to feed their pets based on marketing, personal beliefs and pet preference. And as with human nutrition, it can be hard to sort out truth from fads and marketing from science. The Conversation

Current pet food trends encourage owners to feed their pets much the same foods that humans eat: high-quality “human grade” meat and organic produce, maybe even some “superfoods.” While this approach is emotionally appealing, it is not necessary for pets’ health, nor is it environmentally sustainable.

Pets can have a large ecological footprint, and their food is a big contributing factor. Sustainable living experts Robert and Brenda Vale suggest in their book “Time to Eat the Dog? The Real Guide to Sustainable Living” that a medium-size dog could have a similar footprint to a large SUV. Other experts have come to similar conclusions about the sustainability of feeding pets.

Our Clinical Nutrition Team at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University recently published a Pet Food IQ quiz written by three board-certified veterinary nutritionists. As the quiz demonstrates, there are many myths about feeding pets, and cats’ and dogs’ nutritional needs are different from human needs in some important ways. By understanding these differences, owners can keep their pets healthy while minimizing impacts on the environment.

  • It’s all about the meat. Making pet food takes a lot of animal protein, and the current trend is to feed our pets high-meat diets. Typical dog foods contain 20 to 40 percent protein, while cat foods range from 30 to 60 percent, much of it from animal sources. Meat-based diets for humans and animals alike have much larger ecological footprints than plant-based diets, because it takes lots of land, water and food to feed pigs, cows, sheep, poultry and farmed fish.
This may be your ideal, but it’s not necessary for pets.
www.Shutterstock.com
  • By-products are sustainable and healthy for animals to consume. The best way to feed our pets meat-based diets with minimal footprints is to use every part of the animals we slaughter for human food, including organs. These ingredients (which do not include hair, horns, teeth or intestinal contents), often collectively termed “by-products,” can be very good-quality sources of nutrients that pets enjoy. While the pet food industry is well aware of this issue, many companies persist in telling pet owners that by-products should be avoided to make their own diets more appealing.
  • What’s good for humans isn’t always ideal or necessary for pets. Some manufacturers use the term “human-grade” to describe pet food or ingredients, but the phrase has no legal meaning and does not necessarily connote anything about quality or nutritional value. To be sold as food for humans, a product must never leave the human food production chain. While this requirement sounds good, it adds unnecessary cost and may eliminate the use of many high-quality, sustainable ingredients that people normally don’t eat. Pets need good-quality food, but they don’t have to compete for the same steak their owner is buying when they will happily and healthily eat organ meats or less-pretty trimmings.
Obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs in North America.
Dale/Flickr, CC BY
  • Cats and dogs can eat diets containing properly cooked grain and other plant ingredients. Contrary to many reports, there are no documented health benefits to feeding pets a grain-free diet or one that avoids other plant ingredients. According to a recent study, one of the main genetic differences between dogs and wolves is that dogs have an increased ability to obtain nutrients from grains and other plants. Current grain-free diet trends are about selling pet food, not about pet health, and can lead to less sustainable diets.
  • But vegetarian and vegan diets aren’t always the best choices, either. Although some human vegetarians and vegans choose their diets based on sustainability concerns as well as animal welfare, dogs and especially cats generally do best with at least some animal products in their diets. While eggs and dairy can be good options, strict vegan diets may cause health problems for pets. Dogs are omnivores and more flexible, but cats are true carnivores and have special nutrient needs that are hard to meet with plants alone. Thus, cats should be fed diets that contain animal protein and other animal-sourced nutrients.
  • One easy way to reduce the environmental impact of pet food is to use less of it. Obesity is a major problem for pets as well as for humans in the United States, and the root cause of most weight gain is eating more calories than needed.

The bottom line is that choices about your pet’s diet can have implications for its health, your wallet and the planet. You can have both a healthy and more sustainable approach by feeding your dog or cat diets that contain moderate amounts of meat and use animal by-products, and feeding your pet only the amount of food it needs to maintain a healthy lean body weight.

Cailin Heinze, Assistant Professor of Nutrition, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Plastic fantastic: how lotteries could revolutionise recycling

In July 2018, Queensland will launch a container refund scheme, in a bid to boost recycling and reduce litter and pollution.

It will join South Australia, the Northern Territory, New South Wales (later this year) and other places around the world in offering a small refund on all eligible drink containers deposited at designated collection points.

Many of the details have been decided already, including the size of the refund: 10c a bottle.

But is Queensland missing a trick here? Economic evidence suggests that the scheme could be cheaper to run, and boost recycling more, if it was run as a lottery instead, with every recycled bottle representing a “ticket” to a prize draw.

In it to win it

Boosting recycling relies on people changing their behaviour. One of the strongest drivers of behavioural change is economics; that’s why container refund schemes exist at all.

But economists also know that the type and size of this financial reward can have a large bearing on people’s behaviour. For many decades, researchers have focused on working out which rewards prompt the most effort. One key question is whether participants respond better to small, reliable rewards, or to being offered a chance of a big windfall.

Research suggests that contests can be easily designed to incite higher levels of effort than the more humdrum piece-rate rewards. Such contests have already been shown to work well in other environmental contexts, such as allocating pollution permits to companies.

Instead of getting 10c per container, Queenslanders could instead be given an electronic ticket for each container recycled. These tickets – which could perhaps be linked to a householder’s council rates account or other personal identifier – could then be entered into a quarterly lottery. The state government would need to decide on the size and number of prizes, as well as the eligibility rules.

Eyes on the prize

Several benefits are clear. First, there is evidence that it is very easy to incite more recycling using a contest approach.

Lotteries are also more flexible – the prizes can be adjusted relatively easily to increase or decrease participation. If recycling rates are too low, the prize value in the next lottery could be increased. In contrast, adjusting the 10c container refund would be far more difficult once it has already been set up.

The scheme might end up costing less overall, too. As the lottery may have only one prize (or a few), the administrative costs would be minimal compared with a per-unit payment. Depending on the size and number of the prizes, the prize fund could also be smaller than the cost of paying millions of 10c refunds.

Finally, the government can control the geographical placement of container points. This would allow it to influence the number of participants and also the ability to focus on citizens that may have certain preferences for recycling, or risk preferences that enjoy lottery contests. Indeed, research shows that risk attitudes and citizens’ preferences have an important impact on contest outcomes.

Lucky chance

A poorly designed lottery might conceivably work too well – recycling rates might become so high that they overwhelm the infrastructure or cause a glut of recycled materials. This has been shown to be possible when lottery-style contests are used in other environmental regulatory contexts. For example, contests that use pollution reduction as a lottery criterion can be too successful – driving down emissions hugely but at a significant cost to economic output.

Choosing the right-sized prize is crucial. If it’s too small, few people will be enticed to change their behaviour and take part. But if it’s too big, many people might stop using their kerbside recycling facilities altogether, “saving up” their recycling for the lottery. This would present a problem of “additionality”: the scheme would be capturing lots of bottles that would have been recycled anyway.

These are mere details, and the challenges of getting it right shouldn’t stop the Queensland government seriously considering giving the idea a go. It might make recycling a whole lot more exciting.

Ian A. MacKenzie, Senior Lecturer in Economics, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Raspberry farm snaps up new freezer tunnel

Westerway Raspberry Farm is a family-run business in the Derwent Valley that supplies fresh and frozen raspberries, blackcurrants, blackberries and other seasonal fruits to the juice, cordial, ice-cream and jam markets – as well as local farmers markets, independent shops and its very own farm gate shop.

For more than 20 years, the Clark family has focused on expanding its product line beyond fresh berries. After investing in mechanically harvesting technology to supply processing berries to juice customers, their attention turned toward setting up a processing facility to better process frozen berries for new markets.

Richard Clark, Owner of Westerway Raspberry Farm said: “The cryogenic freezer tunnel installed by BOC produces individually quick frozen (IQF) berries that retain the taste, flavour and texture of a fresh berry. The first season we produced 8,000 kilograms of frozen berries – next season we plan to quadruple this.”

The challenge

With demand for berries on the rise in Australia, Westerway Raspberry Farm knew getting into the untapped market for individually frozen berries would give them an opportunity to supply their high quality Australian berries all year around.

“Our biggest competitors are located overseas, with many frozen berries now imported from Asia, Eastern Europe and South America. We knew we had the strong food safety standards and enough supply to compete in this market, however we lacked the technology to really differentiate our product from the others.”

“The blast freezing we were doing previously would not achieve the desired efficiency or quality to grow the business – so we decided that individually quick frozen (IQF) product using a liquid nitrogen freezer tunnel would be a better option.”

The biggest challenge was then raising the capital to fund this new technology.

The solution

After receiving a $260,000 Coles Nurture Fund grant, the team worked with BOC to install a Linde CRYOLINE MT 5-600 quick freezing (IQF) tunnel and an 8,000 litre liquid nitrogen vessel.

“The berry season is very short, kicking off in December and running till early February – so when the grant was approved in September, BOC’s technicians worked very quickly to get it installed and commissioned in time.”

Combining state-of-the-art technology with a high-quality hygienic design, the CRYOLINE tunnel freezer is easy to operate, clean and suitable for a wide range of application. It has high-speed internal fans, controllable gas injection and exhaust levels to optimise the application of cryogenic gases for cooling and freezing.

“BOC’s team worked closely with us to install the system and help integrate it into our packaging line – we built a vibrating table so the berries could be easily loaded into the tunnel.

freezing tunnel (640x446)

“They then helped us pre-program each type of fruit as they have different freezing properties and require different amounts of liquid nitrogen – the electronic touch pad is very easy to use and gave us the power to continuously optimize the freezing process to our choosing.”

The benefits

Diversification

Since installing the tunnel, Richard believes his business is more dynamic and diverse – with the individually quick frozen (IQF) berry range giving the business an edge and plenty of room for growth.

“As we produce more high quality Australian-made frozen berries, we will be able to get more packets into Australian supermarkets and businesses – offering a more stable price and shelf life of up to two years.

“Our Linde CRYOLINE® tunnel helps us produce frozen berries more efficiently and economically than mechanically harvested fruit. With an added bonus of picking the raspberries when they are perfectly ripe and juicy, and freezing them instantaneously.”

At the peak of the harvesting season, the tunnel could process up to 150 kilograms of raspberries per hour – with a maximum production rate of 300 kilograms per hour.

“We are only just scratching the surface of what the tunnel can achieve – and we plan to fully test its capacity in the coming seasons.”

Quality

When it comes to producing a quality frozen berry, liquid nitrogen coupled with IQF technology has achieved far superior results for Richard than blast freezing or ammonia-based freezing.

“With liquid nitrogen, there is less cell damage with the berry as the water freezes rapidly. With blast freezing, you tend to get ice crystals that break the cell membrane – and you lose form and get a squishy product.

“When our berries enter the tunnel, they are evenly spaced and cover the whole belt, so when the liquid nitrogen contacts each individual raspberry, you get the best freezing and product quality result.

“This technology has enabled us to retain the taste, texture and flavour when the frozen berry is thawed – and most importantly, give Australian customers a high-quality local choice in the freezer aisle of the supermarket.”

Shelf ready packing with speed and precision

When a leading food manufacturer upgraded their condiment production line they needed an end of line solution to take the bottles and pack them into a configuration suitable for supermarket shelves.

When next walking down the supermarket aisle, spare a thought for the process behind how all the bottles, neatly packed with labels facing forward, arrived on the supermarket shelf.

In the past this was a labour intensive task, performed manually usually after hours, but now thanks to advances in technology, bottles can be positioned into cartons, forward facing as a fully automated process.

Hot Melt Packaging Systems (HMPS) is an Australian company that specialises in the design, development and manufacturing of high quality machinery for packaging processes. The company takes pride on being Australian designed and engineered and places great importance on ensuring the innovation of robotics and engineering continues to develop and remain in Australia.

When a global food manufacturer asked HMPS to provide an end of line solution for their high speed, condiment production line, HMPS did what they do best- designed an innovative, reliable packing machine using the latest technologies from Rockwell Automation.

The production line

To meet growing demand, the manufacturer had previously upgraded their main condiment production line to produce twice as much product in half the time. Bottles are sterilised, filled, capped and labels applied. The production line produces different sized and shaped bottles ranging from 500ml to 4 litre. To accommodate this, there is a multiple range of case sizes, pack configurations and bottle shapes.

According to Warren Booker, NSW State manager at HMPS, “In Australia, manufacturers are challenged by having to produce so many different products in the one machine. In countries with larger populations, like the US and Europe, one machine can be dedicated to a specific product which makes the machine design more simplistic. The Australian market has a unique requirement where they need a machine to be flexible to grow with the business and pack a range of different products in different packing arrangements”

HMPS worked closely with the customer to design a fully automated system that meets all the requirements for this application today but also has the flexibility to meet future demands.

RA_HMPS_Image3

Precise motion control

The challenge ahead was to pack bottles that are coming off the production line at 100 bottles per minute into a six by three pack configuration with labels forward facing. “There were fundamental considerations that required attention in the design phase to achieve this with a key focus on detailed simulation to make sure the advanced level of motion control required could be achieved,” explained Booker.

Given the large range of products which was being produced and the need for shelf ready cartons meant this production line had clear and precise requirements which HMPS had to comply with. Using the latest technology and working closely with the customer specified needs has allowed this project to be a smooth transition into full production speed maintaining high efficiency and reliability.

HMPS works with a variety of component suppliers and integrators. As a local manufacturer, HMPS not only supplies machinery to Australia, but also exports to countries such as South Africa, Asia, the USA, Europe and New Zealand. Hence, they select suppliers who are able to provide service globally and offer high availability on critical spare parts.

Having worked on previous projects with Rockwell Automation, HMPS knew that the Integrated Architecture system would provide the best solution for this application. Allen-Bradley CompactLogix uses a common control engine and integrates safety, motion, discrete and drive capabilities in the case packer system.

Advanced motion control is provided by Allen-Bradley Kinetix 5500 Servo Drives and PowerFlex variable speed drives. Given the high speed packing requirements of the system, safety door switches and guarding was provided by Allen-Bradley industrial components.

In addition, the case packer system has integrated control, drives and safety capabilities via Ethernet using Stratix 5700 Ethernet switches. PanelView Plus 7 provides high quality HMI for the system. “The Rockwell Automation solution provides a completely integrated and reliable system for the case packer and also provides the framework for a smart machine for HMPS to leverage the Connected Enterprise,“ said Michael Vlahos OEM sales manager at Rockwell Automation.

Quick changes, easily accommodated

“To future proof the machine, a degree of adjustment in the machine had to be considered. Due to the need for relative quick changes we have supplied a fully automated system,” comments Booker.

All the SKU’S or product range are listed on the main screen so the operator can go to see the core product and the machine will automatically resize at a touch of a button. In this way, the machine can apply the resize down to just using the one operator. In addition, the machine won’t run until everything is in exactly the right position and all guards and doors are in the safe (closed) position.

Remote trouble shooting

“We have a modem in the machine that looks at running time and reliability factor. In this way we have a track record of parameters as part of the control system, how it’s been running, how long etc. We have the software which allows us to log in remotely,” adds Booker.

RA_HMPS_Image4_5069CL

Fully automated shelf ready packing

According to Booker, “Rockwell Automation has been a longstanding collaborator of HMPS and they offer products which are perfectly suited to the efficient and fully automated requirements of our customers. Their product and service availability plays a big role in enabling on time delivery to customers and after sales service.

Machines are often pushing the limit as to how fast they want to go, we’re designing machines that are under a lot of pressure to perform quickly so we’re using a lot more servo drives and pneumatics, we’re fast in the collection but a little bit slow the way we pack the box so it’s a controlled environment.

This is their main line so if the machine breaks down there’s not a lot of diversion in place. The pressure is on us to provide a machine that is working well. When it is offline they are losing money. We need to make sure it’s working properly and reliably.”

The online tool that can track, monitor and analyse nutritional intake

We all know that most people could improve the quality of their diet. Most of us do not eat the recommended five-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables – let alone seven or even ten, as some have suggested. Nor do we consume adequate amounts of oily fish. The Conversation

Instead, intakes are often too high in saturated fats and sugars added to foods and fruit juice, and too low in fibre and some key vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A and iron. A significant proportion of adults in both the UK and the US are obese or overweight. Intake of red and processed meat is too high, and meat consumption continues to rise in the US, the European Union and the developed world. Despite a shift toward higher poultry consumption, the largest proportion of meat consumed in the US is still red meat (58%).

There are serious implications for long-term health as a result of this disordered way of eating. To improve the situation we need to know how much energy and nutrients are being provided by our food. To help do this, we developed myfood24, an online dietary assessment tool that can support accurate, detailed recording of food and nutrient intake by researchers, but which can also support patients with diet-related conditions, sports enthusiasts, families with “picky” eaters and others. With data on 40,000 nutrients, it includes the largest and most complete food composition table in the UK, and possibly the world.

Monitoring intake

The size of portions and packaging has increased over the past 50 years, as has the number of products on supermarket shelves. This variety of choice makes it hard for consumers to even start to estimate how many calories or nutrients they might be consuming.

A new generation of smartphone apps offer users a chance to monitor their intake. However, there isn’t strong evidence that most of these are effective. Twenty-eight of the top 200 rated health and fitness category apps from Google Play and iTunes focused on both weight management and self-monitoring diets. When these apps were compared to people using a standard record of weighed food that they ate, the apps over- or underestimated energy intake by 10-14%.

But it’s not just consumers who are affected by inaccurate monitoring. Researchers, who base their studies on this kind of data, also encounter problems.

A major limitation of nutrition research is getting an objective measure of dietary intake. Misreporting is a big problem when people self-report their diet and is particularly common in overweight or obese people. Misreporting generally tends towards under-reporting of unhealthy foods and over-reporting of fruits and vegetables.

Metabolic profiling, which involves testing urine for the hundreds of metabolites that provide chemical signatures of food and nutrient intakes, doesn’t require self-reporting and may be a useful addition to self-reporting. A highly controlled study of 19 people fed four different diets found differences in metabolite concentrations. While this approach cannot replace the need to determine what actual food and nutrients have been consumed, it could be used as an objective measure to validate self-reports.

Understanding what nutrients are in the food we eat also relies on having comprehensive and up-to-date food composition tables – standardised national databases with accurate measures of many nutrients in typical foods. Standard food composition tables in the UK list around 3,000 food items, the majority of which are generic rather than branded (which more of us are likely to consume). While they include the full range of nutrients, they only include a limited selection of foods which are available for purchase.

Useful data.
Shutterstock

Pre-packed foods legally have labels with nutritional values. These include values for energy (kJ and kcal), and amounts of fat, saturates, carbohydrate, sugars, protein and salt. Further information can be included but is not compulsory for mono and polyunsaturated fats, starch, fibre, vitamins or minerals. If a nutrition or health claim is made on the packaging then the amount of that nutrient must also be stated.

Real time feedback

Developed with funding from the Medical Research Council, myfood24 combines the convenience of new technologies with an enhanced food composition table. Covering a wide range of generic and branded foods, it’s a quick and easy tool to help researchers, and potentially also clinicians, to track, monitor and analyse nutritional intake. We mapped the 40,000 nutrients from food label information and generic food data. To get an idea of the scale of this, the number of products on supermarket shelves is around 50,000 items.

The tool replaces the need for time consuming and costly coding of paper records that researchers and clinicians use. It means that people can record their dietary intake by selecting foods and portion sizes and adding them to their food diary. We hope this will support more accurate self-reporting, especially as users can be less self-conscious than when reporting to an interviewer. Researchers can then use results from this to find out in detail what foods and nutrients are being eaten. This data can then be linked to health outcomes or matched against recommendations.

Real time feedback of nutrients in foods could help us choose a more appropriately balanced diet over the week. Much as we have come to rely on regular visits to the dentist to ensure our teeth are healthy, the regular use of dietary monitoring could help us to ensure that our food and nutrient intakes are also healthy.

Janet Cade, Professor of Nutritional Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Leeds

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Top image: Shutterstock

 

Hot food, fast: The home microwave oven turns 50

The year 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the home microwave oven. The ovens were first sold for home use by Amana corporation in 1967, but they had actually been used for commercial food preparation since the 1950s. It wasn’t until 1967, however, that technology miniaturization and cost reductions in manufacturing made the ovens small enough and cheap enough (a still steep US$495; US$3,575 in 2017 dollars) for use in the kitchens of the American middle class. Now, it would be hard to find a U.S. home without a microwave. The Conversation

Amana, a subsidiary of Raytheon corporation, actually called their first model the “Radarange” – a contraction of radar and range (as in stove). What do microwave ovens have to do with radar?

Radar is an acronym for “radio detection and ranging.” Developed prior to World War II, the technology is based on the principle that radio waves can bounce off the surfaces of large objects. So if you point a radio wave beam in a certain direction, some of the radio waves will come bouncing back to you, if they encounter an obstruction in their path.

By measuring the bounced-back radio waves, distant objects or objects hidden from view by clouds or fog can be detected. Radar can detect planes and ships, but early on it was also found that rainstorms caused interference with radar detection. It wasn’t long before the presence of such interference was actually utilized to track the movement of rainstorms across the landscape, and the age of modern radar-based weather forecasting began.

Original cavity magnetron as used to develop radar.
Mrjohncummings, CC BY-SA

At the heart of radar technology is the “magnetron,” the device that produces the radio waves. During World War II, the American military couldn’t get enough magnetrons to satisfy their radar needs. So Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon, was tasked with ramping up magnetron production. He soon redesigned the magnetron so that its components could be punched out from sheet metal – like sugar cookies are cut from dough – rather than each part needing to be individually machined. This allowed mass production of magnetrons, raising wartime production from just 17 to 2,600 per day.

One day, while Spencer was working with a live magnetron, he noticed that a candy bar in his pocket had started to melt. Suspecting that the radio waves from the magnetron were the cause, he decided to try an experiment with an egg. He took a raw egg and pointed the radar beam at it. The egg exploded from rapid heating. Another experiment with corn kernels showed that radio waves could quickly make popcorn. This was a remarkably lucky find. Raytheon soon filed for a patent on the use of radar technology for cooking, and the Radarange was born.

Amana Radarange commercial from 1976.

As time passed and other companies got into the business, the trademarked Radarange gave way to more generic terminology and people started calling them “microwave ovens,” or even just “microwaves.” Why microwaves? Because the radio waves that are used for cooking have relatively short wavelengths. While the radio waves used for telecommunications can be as long as a football field, the ovens rely on radio waves with wavelengths measured in inches (or centimeters); so they are considered “micro” (Latin for small), as far as radio waves go.

Microwaves are able to heat food but not the paper plate holding it because the frequency of the microwaves is set such that they specifically agitate water molecules, causing them to vibrate rapidly. It is this vibration that causes the heat production. No water, no heat. So objects that don’t contain water, like a paper plate or ceramic dish, are not heated by microwaves. All the heating takes place in the food itself, not its container.

Microwaves have never completely replaced conventional ovens, despite their rapid speed of cooking, nor will they ever. Fast heating is not useful for certain types of cooking like bread-baking, where slow heating is required for the yeast to make the dough rise; and a microwaved steak is no taste match for a broiled one. Nevertheless, as the fast-paced American lifestyle becomes increasingly dependent upon processed foods, reheating is sometimes the only “cooking” that’s required to make a meal. Microwave ovens’ uniform and rapid heating make them ideal for this purpose.

Over the years, there have been many myths associated with microwave cooking. But the truth is that, no, they don’t destroy the food’s nutrients. And, as I explain in my book “Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation,” you don’t get cancer from either cooking with a microwave oven or eating microwaved food. In fact, the leakage standards for modern microwave ovens are so stringent that your candy bar is safe from melting, even if you tape it to the outside of the oven’s door.

What’s the deal with metal in the microwave?

Nevertheless, you should be careful about microwaving food in plastic containers, because some chemicals from the plastic can leach into the food. And, yes, you shouldn’t put any metal in the microwave, because metallic objects with pointed edges can interact with the microwaves from the magnetron in a way that can cause electrical sparking (arcing) and consequently damage the oven or cause a fire.

The microwave oven has definitely transformed the way most of us cook. So let’s all celebrate the 50th anniversary of the home microwave and the many hours of kitchen drudgery it has saved us from. But if you want to mark the date with an anniversary cake, best not to cook it in your microwave – you’d likely end up with just a very hot and unappetizing bowl of sweet mush.

Timothy J. Jorgensen, Director of the Health Physics and Radiation Protection Graduate Program and Associate Professor of Radiation Medicine, Georgetown University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Top image; 1967 promotional image for the Amana Radarange

Does gluten prevent type 2 diabetes? Probably not

A recent analysis of a massive study observing the effect of food on the health of nearly 200,000 American health professionals suggested eating more gluten was associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The Conversation

But is it really this simple?

Can gluten be linked to diabetes?

A considerable amount of published research has looked at the potential links between coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes (a chronic condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin). This has led to the discovery that they often share similar genetic markers linked to the immune system.

Another recent study found that although coeliac disease was more common in people with type 1 diabetes there were no more cases of coeliac disease in people with type 2 diabetes (which usually presents in adulthood, and is typically associated with lifestyle factors) than the general population.

However, while studies in animals suggest gluten may increase risk of developing type 1 diabetes, human studies do not. A large review investigating when infants are first given gluten and their risk of developing type 1 diabetes found no link, unless infants were fed solids in their first three months, which is much younger than the six months recommended by the World Health Organisation.

And in animal studies of type 2 diabetes, it has been suggested gluten may increase the risk of developing diabetes.

How reliable are the study results?

Mice studies are interesting, but we need to look at data from people. This is typically done in either clinical trials, which can assess causality (that one thing caused the other), or by observing groups, which identify associations only (two things happened together, but one didn’t necessarily cause the other).

This new study fits into the latter. The study looked at data from three big studies that started 40 years ago with the Nurses’ Health Study, and continued with Nurses’ Health Study II (1989) and Health Professionals Follow Up Study (1986). These looked at the effect of nutrition on long-term health.

The latest news, suggesting gluten may lower risk of type 2 diabetes, was reported at an American Heart Association conference last week. The full research paper is not readily available, so we have to rely on a press release from the AHA.

This reported that the 20% of people with the highest intake of gluten had a 13% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those eating less than 4g a day (which is equivalent to less than two slices of bread).

Foods that contain gluten often also contain other good things.
from www.shutterstock.com

So, it could seem that gluten intake is protective against developing type 2 diabetes.

However, a more likely explanation could be that this is an effect of other things in foods that also contain gluten. Perhaps, eating wholegrains – including wheat, barley and rye could be responsible for the reported results. They are key dietary sources of gluten and are rich in fibre and a number of vitamins (such as vitamin E) and minerals (such as magnesium).

Evidence of this can be seen in an earlier analysis of the same data, which found that those consuming the most wholegrain had a 27% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

It’s also plausible that the foods people were eating that didn’t contain gluten were more likely to be discretionary foods, such as French fries, and that could be a factor. This was also seen in another analysis of this data, which found the highest consumers of French fries had a 21% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Avoiding gluten can mean losing important nutrients

So, any conclusions regarding effects of gluten in prevention of type 2 diabetes cannot be drawn from this study. The authors acknowledge this in the conference media release. The observed effect is likely to be related to other factors in foods consumed or not consumed.

The study also suggests that for people who do not have a clinical reason to avoid gluten (such as coeliac disease, wheat allergy or other gluten sensitivities), restricting the intake of foods that could have other benefits can be harmful. They need to look for replacement sources of fibre and other nutrients.

Avoiding gluten is an increasing trend, possibly linked to media attention associated with popular alternative dietary messages such as “paleo”, or following the latest fad diets observed in celebrities and athletes. This may not be a problem if nutrients are replaced by other foods. But that can be challenging, particularly if there are diet or food restrictions in such plans.

To get the best out of this way of eating, it’s important to have a comprehensive understanding of diet and nutrition, which may require a visit to a dietitian or other healthcare professional.

Including foods containing gluten, unless you have a medical reason to exclude them, can be the simplest way to benefit from the fibre and other nutrients they contain. If you wish to remove gluten from your diet, you should look to include healthy, naturally gluten-free grains such as quinoa or buckwheat.

Although this study is interesting, it’s important to remember that without a medical reason, going gluten free is unlikely to result in any therapeutic benefits. But if you do, you need to ensure you don’t replace these foods with discretionary foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

Duane Mellor, Associate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Canberra and Cathy Knight-Agarwal, Clinical Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Organic farming matters – just not in the way you think

Is organic agriculture the solution to our global food system challenges? That’s been the premise and promise of the organic movement since its origins in the 1920s: farming that’s healthy, ecological, and socially just. The Conversation

Many people – from consumers and farmers to scientists and international organisations – believe that organic agriculture can produce enough nutritious food to feed the world without destroying the environment, while being more resilient to climate change and improving the livelihoods of farmers.

But as with many important issues of our time, there are more passionate opinions about organic agriculture than there is scientific evidence to support them. And there’s nothing black or white about organic agriculture.

For a paper published today in the journal Science Advances, we systematically and rigorously evaluated the performance of organic versus conventional agriculture on three key fronts – environmental impact, producer and consumer benefits. As much as possible, we based our review on previous quantitative synthesis of the scientific literature – so-called meta-analyses. We also examined whether those studies agree or disagree in their verdicts.

We discovered that organic farming does matter – just not in the way most people think.

Environmental impacts

Compared to a neighbouring conventional farm, an organic farm at first appears to be better for the environment. But that’s not the whole story. Here’s how it breaks down.

What’s good: Organic farms provide higher biodiversity, hosting more bees, birds and butterflies. They also have higher soil and water quality and emit fewer greenhouse gases.

What’s not-so-good: Organic farming typically yields less product – about 19-25% less. Once we account for that efficiency difference and examine environmental performance per amount of food produced, the organic advantage becomes less certain (few studies have examined this question). Indeed, on some variables, such as water quality and greenhouse gas emissions, organic farms may perform worse than conventional farms, because lower yields per hectare can translate into more environmentally damaging land-clearing.

Consumer benefits

The jury’s still out on whether the comsumer is better off, too.

What’s good: For consumers in countries with weak pesticide regulations, like India, organic food reduces pesticide exposure. Organic ingredients also most likely have slightly higher levels of some vitamins and secondary metabolites.

What’s not-so-good: Scientists can’t confirm whether these minor micronutrient differences actually matter for our health. Because the difference in the nutritional value of organic and conventional food is so small, you’d do better just eating an extra apple every day, whether it’s organic or not. Organic food is also more expensive than conventional food at present and therefore inaccessible to poor consumers.

Pricy organic ingredients don’t fall within many consumers’ budgets.
Phil Roeder/flickr, CC BY

Producer benefits

Organic methods bring certain benefits for farmers, some costs and many unknowns.

What’s good: Organic agriculture is typically more profitable – up to 35% more, according to a meta-analysis of studies across North America, Europe and India – than conventional farming. Organic also provides more rural employment opportunities because organic management is more labour-intensive than conventional practices. For workers, though, the biggest advantage is that organic decreases their exposure to toxic agrochemicals.

What’s not-so-good: We still don’t know whether organic farms pay higher wages or offer better working conditions than conventional farms. Organic farm workers are most likely exploited in similar ways as those tilling the fields on conventional farms.

The takeaway

In short, we cannot determine yet whether organic agriculture could feed the world and reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture while providing decent jobs and giving consumers affordable, nutritious food.

It’s a lot to ask of one industry, and there are still just too many unanswered questions. Some of these questions relate to agriculture, such as whether organic farms can eventually close the yield gap with conventional farms and whether there are enough organic fertilisers to produce all the world’s food organically.

But some questions are also about humanity’s collective future. Can people in the rich world learn to change our diet and reduce food waste to avoid having to increase food production as the global population grows? And are enough people willing to work in agriculture to meet the needs of labour-intensive organic farms?

A more useful question is whether we should continue to eat organic food and expand investment in organic farming. Here the answer is a definitive yes.

Organic agriculture shows significant promises in many areas. We would be foolish not to consider it an important tool in developing more sustainable global agriculture.

Only 1% of agricultural land is organically farmed worldwide. If organic land continues to expand at the same rate that it has over the past decade, it will take another century for all agriculture to be organic.

But organic farming’s influence goes far beyond that 1% acreage. Over the past 50 years, organic farms have provided conventional agriculture with examples of new ways to farm and acted as a testing ground for a different set of management practices, from diversifying crop rotations and composting to using cover crops and conservation tillage. Conventional agriculture has neglected these sustainable practices for too long.

So yes, you should identify and support those organic farms that are doing a great job of producing environmentally friendly, economically viable, and socially just food. Conscientious consumers can also push to improve organic farming where it is not doing so well – for example on yields and worker rights.

As scientists, we must close some of the critical knowledge gaps about this farming system to better understand its achievements and help address its challenges.

But in the meantime, everyone can learn from successful organic farms and help improve the other 99% of agriculture that’s feeding the world today.

Verena Seufert, Postdoctoral fellow, Liu Institute for Global Issues, University of British Columbia and Navin Ramankutty, Professor, University of British Columbia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ECM software helps keep the hot pies coming

For generations, Australians and New Zealanders have known Mrs. Mac’s for the top quality pies it serves daily. However, as business evolves, so must the processes that support it. The company’s accounts payable (AP) department was no exception. Mrs. Mac’s needed a solution that would not only eliminate paper-based processing but simplify invoice approvals as well.

The company found its answer in OnBase by Hyland.

Mrs. Mac’s originally implemented OnBase in 2009 to transform AP processes. Based on its success, the company then leveraged the platform into other back office departments like accounts receivable (AR) and human resources (HR) to further streamline processes.

Before OnBase, approving invoices, around 30,000 annually, was laborious and manually intensive. Internal mail was only delivered once a day, which, as a result, meant staff waited at least a day as an invoice was passed from one approver to the next.

OnBase eliminates the wait, speeding up the approval process to mere minutes.

“It’s like night and day for us,” said Josh Pierre, Analyst at Mrs. Mac’s. “Now, we tie everything in with our ERP, Pronto, and can reference everything by purchase order number. So, if something is marked that the goods have been received and the invoice amounts match, it’s automatically approved for payment by AP.”

Ensures data accuracy, keeping processes moving forward

Prior to implementing OnBase, ensuring invoice accuracy was also a challenge. Staff were required to track the delivery of invoices and verify against monthly statements. However, staff knew invoices did not match monthly statements but had no way of reconciling in a timely manner as the statement report was about 200 pages long.

OnBase transformed this process, adding speed and accuracy to areas the department needed.

“With OnBase we can look things up in real-time, which is brilliant,” Pierre said. “And we can make immediate decisions based on what we see. It’s no longer a manual process – everything is automated.”

Adds visibility into credit application processing

 In AR, OnBase further transformed processes, providing increased process visibility. When a customer submits a credit application, everything now goes through OnBase. Staff scan the application and OnBase automatically routes it for staff to enter all supporting information – such as customer references and Australian Business Numbers (ABNs). It’s then sent to the customer services department for account set up and then back to AR for final approval.

Digitising the process with OnBase improved how work gets done.

“OnBase stops lost paperwork and makes it easy to find the status of where something is in the process,” Pierre said. “Previously, staff would say, ‘I gave this to so- and-so and I’m not sure what happened to it.’ Now, we’re tracking things in real-time. So, if it’s been too long since a customer applied for credit terms and the account’s not active, we can now ask, ‘Where are our bottlenecks?’ find the answer and fix the problem immediately

The Difference

Using OnBase, AP staff no longer manually key in invoice data. It automatically extracts information from invoices and posts to Pronto for immediate access.  In addition, with the OnBase Integration for Microsoft Outlook, staff can kick-off workflows directly from their email interface. This speeds up processes while allowing staff to continue working in their familiar email environment.

“OnBase has really been a ‘set and forget’ product for us.  Support has been very easy – it’s a very stable product.  At the same time, it’s so easy to use.  Users are familiar with the interface – it’s just like a Microsoft Office application,” said Pierre.

Why gluten-free food is not the healthy option

It’s hard not to notice that the range of gluten-free foods available in supermarkets has increased massively in recent years. This is partly because the rise in the number of people diagnosed with coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity, and partly because celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Miley Cyrus and Victoria Beckham have praised gluten-free diets. What used to be prescription-only food is now a global health fad. But for how much longer? New research from Harvard University has found a link between gluten-free diets and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The Conversation

Gluten is a protein found in cereals such as wheat, rye and barley. It is particularly useful in food production. For example, it gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and keep its shape, and providing a chewy texture. Many types of foods contain gluten, including less obvious ones such as salad dressing, soup and beer.

Gluten gives dough its elasticity.
Marko Poplasen/Shutterstock.com

The same protein that is so useful in food production is a nightmare for people with coeliac disease. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly reacts to gluten as if it were a threat to the body. The condition is quite common, affecting one in 100 people, but only a quarter of those who have the disease have been diagnosed.

There is evidence that the popularity of gluten-free diets has surged, even though the incidence of coeliac disease has remained stable. This is potentially due to increasing numbers of people with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. In these cases, people exhibit some of the symptoms of coelaic disease but without having an immune response. In either case, avoiding gluten in foods is the only reliable way to control symptoms, which may include diarrhoea, abdominal pain and bloating.

Without any evidence for beneficial effects, many people without coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity are now turning to gluten-free diets as a “healthy” alternative to a normal diet. Supermarkets have reacted to meet this need by stocking ever growing “free from” ranges. The findings of this recent study, however, suggest that there could be a significant drawback to adopting a gluten-free diet that was not previously known.

Inverse association

What the Harvard group behind this study have reported is that there is an inverse association between gluten intake and type 2 diabetes risk. This means that the less gluten found in a diet the higher the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The data for this exciting finding comes from three separate, large studies which collectively included almost 200,000 people. Of those 200,000 people, 15,947 cases of type 2 diabetes were confirmed during the follow-up period. Analysis showed that those who had the highest intake of gluten had an 80% lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who had the lowest levels of gluten intake.

This study has important implications for those who either have to avoid or choose to avoid gluten in their diet. Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that affects more than 400m people worldwide – a number which is certain to increase for many years to come.

Collectively, diabetes is responsible for around 10% of the entire NHS budget and drugs to treat diabetes alone cost almost £1 billion annually. There is no cure for type 2 diabetes and remission is extremely rare. This means that once diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it is almost impossible to revert back to being healthy.

It is important to note that the data for this study was retrospectively gathered. This allows for very large numbers to be included but relies on food-frequency questionnaires collected every two to four years and the honesty of those recruited to the study. This type of study design is rarely as good as a prospective study where you follow groups of people randomly assigned to either have low- or high-gluten diets over many years. However, prospective studies are expensive to run and it’s difficult to find enough people willing to take part in them.

While there is some evidence for a link between coeliac disease and type 1 diabetes, this is the first study to show a link between gluten consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes. This is an important finding. For those who choose a gluten-free diet because they believe it to be healthy, it may be time to reconsider your food choices.

James Brown, Lecturer in Biology and Biomedical Science, Aston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Top image: Teri Virbickis/Shutterstock.com

 

Beverage company streamlines logistics with InfoMotion

Established in 1998, Metro Beverage Company is Australia’s largest independent drinks distributor. Serving more than 10,000 business customers, the company has close working relationships with a range of manufacturers including Unilever, Nu Pure Beverages and Red Bull.

Headquartered in Victoria, MBC operates three warehouses in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. With just under 100 staff and a fleet of more than 35 delivery vehicles, the firm continues to enjoy strong growth.

The challenge

Soon after opening its doors as a new business, MBC deployed Attache ERP software to support its day-to-day operations. The software was used for everything from stock control and warehousing to accounting and report generation.

MBC Managing Director Aleksandar Velkovski says that, while this worked well for a number of years, continuing growth meant the software struggled to keep up. “It reached the stage where, as a company, we had outgrown our core software,” he says. “It did not have the ability to be extended and was becoming an impediment to operations.”

Velkovski says that, because of the important role the software played, there was some reluctance to change. However, with customer numbers continuing to grow, senior managers came to the realisation that an alternative needed to be found.

The solution

The MBC IT team undertook a comprehensive review of alternative ERP solutions on the market. This process involved demonstrations from a number of vendors and visits to other sites to see different products in action. After careful evaluation of a shortlist of contenders, a decision was made in late 2015 to deploy icsLOGISTICS from InfoMotion.

“We could clearly see that the InfoMotion software was best suited to our requirements,” says Velkovski. “The interface was very user friendly and we also liked the ability we had to customise the software to match our particular requirements.”

Working closely with InfoMotion, MBC initially rolled out the new software in its Melbourne warehouse, followed by Adelaide in late 2016. The Perth warehouse is due to go live in March.

“The migration process from our legacy system to the new platform was seamless and very impressive,” says Velkovski. “I had never experienced a software deployment of this nature where there have not been issues. It could not have gone better.”

The benefits

The icsLOGISTICS software now underpins all aspects of business operation. As well as sales, warehousing and stock management, it also supports back-office functions such as finance and administration.

“It is at the very core of our business,” says Velkovski. “It has removed a range of manual processes and streamlined workflows. We have noticed a significant improvement in accuracy and the time to fill orders has been reduced. The scan-to-load capability we now have means cartons can be scanned onto each vehicle against predetermined orders and runs, speeding operations considerably.”

Velkovski says a particular benefit has been the improved ability to handle stock promotions. Where previously this would have to be managed manually, all customer requests and fulfilments are captured by the software automatically.

“Our dispatch planning process has also been significantly upgraded,” he says. “Where it had been taking one staff member a full day to draw up schedules, this can now be completed in less than half that time.”

With the core software now operational, attention has shifted to deploying PTV Smartour, provided by InfoMotion. This software will improve the efficiency of delivery runs by automatically creating the most efficient routes based on multiple delivery destinations.

“This process is currently done manually and makes use of the judgement of individual drivers. While this works to a degree, being able to automate it will reduce the number of kilometres that need to be completed on each run.”

Velkovski says MBC will continue to work closely with InfoMotion to ensure the software adds as much value as possible to operations.

“They have worked hard to understand our business and to configure the software to match our requirements. It’s given us the robust and scalable platform we need to support our future growth.”

 

 

We don’t need to double world food production by 2050 – here’s why

For decades, American agriculture has been a paragon of productivity, churning out record crops at a steady clip. We have exported both our farm products and our way of farming around the world, and global production has risen relentlessly. The Conversation

Yet now there is concern that even this is not enough. The United Nations projects that the global population will increase from 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9.7 billion in 2050. This growth will be concentrated in the world’s poorest countries, where standards of living are set to rise rapidly, increasing demand for resource-intensive meat and dairy products. Together, these trends are heightening fears that the world’s cupboards may run bare in the coming decades.

Food availability is higher in wealthy countries than in developing nations. The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization considers 2700 kcal/capita/day a satisfactory level of food supply.
Masaqui/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

This scenario leads to the nearly ubiquitous assertion that we must double world food production by 2050, which is widely repeated by agribusinesses and scholars alike. This claim is often coupled with calls to reduce impacts on the environment even as food production ramps up. The common prescription is for a “sustainable intensification” of agriculture that both increases yields and reduces the harmful side effects of tilling and fertilizing billions of acres of land.

But do we really need to double food production? And what will it take for agriculture to be sustainable?

In an analysis published in BioScience, my coauthors and I offer a recalibrated vision of sustainable intensification. We conclude that food production does not need to double by 2050, which would require unprecedented growth, but instead needs to continue increasing at roughly historical rates. We also highlight quantitative goals that indicate the scope of agriculture’s environmental challenges.

Lower food production targets

Our analysis updates the two most widely cited projections of food demand, one by U.S. scholars and the other from the United Nations, using the most recent available data. Both of these studies used a baseline year around 2005, which made sense at the time they were published, but global cereal production jumped 24 percent between 2005 and 2014. So, we updated the baseline to 2014. We also factored in the most recent U.N. population estimate for 2050, which is higher than the estimates used in the original studies.

Based on our projections, the world will need only 25 percent to 70 percent more crop output in 2050 than was produced in 2014. This includes grain used to feed livestock and, to some extent, grain used for ethanol production.

Strips of corn and soybeans on a northwest Iowa farm.
Lynn Betts, USDA

We did not question the approaches of the original studies. Indeed, the differences between the two studies’ approaches reflect some of the main uncertainties inherent to these long-term projections, including different scenarios of future economic growth and different assumptions about how growing wealth will affect human diets.

Food production will still need to keep growing to meet our updated goal of a 25 percent to 70 percent increase, but at an annual rate that is closer to the historical average. Hitting these lower targets will put much less strain on the global agriculture system – and the land, water and air that supports it – than doubling production. To double output, we would have to boost food production more rapidly than ever before, driving increases in soil tillage, fertilizer and pesticide use, and water withdrawals for irrigation.

New focus on environmental goals

This additional breathing room may be critical, because our analysis also shows that agriculture’s environmental footprint must shrink drastically to safeguard the ecosystems that humans rely on. We reviewed quantitative goals for agriculture’s environmental performance that are tied to specific outcomes for ecosystem function.

For instance, worldwide greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are crawling steadily upward. Scientists have called for reducing these emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 to avoid temperature increases greater than 2 degrees Celsius.

Nutrient pollution, mainly from farms, forms a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico every summer.

Similarly, nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River Basin creates a massive dead zone every year in the Gulf of Mexico, suffocating aquatic life and impacting commercial and recreational fishing. Reducing the dead zone will require cutting this pollution – which predominantly comes from agriculture – to about half of its historical baseline. Despite decades of effort by farmers and conservationists, annual nutrient loads remain stubbornly high.

Given these challenges, it is good news that the world’s appetite in 2050 may not be as voracious as some estimates have indicated.

The path forward

Our revised food production and environmental goals are just the beginning of a new approach to sustainable intensification in agriculture.

More research is needed to refine the projections of food demand in 2050 and identify options for flattening the demand curve while enhancing human health. Regional studies are also needed, so that areas poised for rapid population growth can plan for their future food needs. And new research can draw clearer links between environmental impacts and ecosystem outcomes, so that farmers and the public can make informed decisions about the costs and benefits of different ways of farming.

Meeting both production and environmental goals will be a monumental task, especially in the face of new challenges such as water shortages, pesticide resistance and the changing climate. However, clear targets may help farmers, researchers and policymakers focus on the right long-term challenges.

Congress has just begun hearings on the 2018 farm bill, which will set policy for five years of agricultural production, conservation and research. The new bill can support research efforts aimed at refining and achieving agriculture’s long-term goals. Just as important, it can begin transforming farm subsidy, crop insurance and conservation programs to help farmers make changes on the ground.

With our lower food demand projections in mind, there is an opportunity to start providing incentives for farming practices that keep soils covered with living plants year-round, store more carbon in the soil and prevent nutrients from entering waterways. More broadly, these lower targets create space for a new conversation, one focused not on doubling production, but on developing a new food system that keeps people fed while focusing just as much on keeping ecosystems healthy.

Mitch Hunter, Ph.D. Candidate in Agronomy, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Do smaller plates make you eat less?

Dependent on how you spend your Monday evenings you may have caught Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped on TV. The programme covered two topics of interest to me; portion sizes and plate sizes. The Conversation

There is evidence that portion sizes of commercially provided foods have increased over time and the programme covered this story. One of the main reasons this is of relevance to public health is because there is also now compelling evidence that the amount of food you are served or provided with reliably affects how much you eat – and that larger portions appear to cause most people to eat more. Our modern day “obesity epidemic” is thought to have been caused primarily by an increase in how much we are eating. So this is important stuff.

The other topic covered by Food Unwrapped, however, is a pet hate of mine: plate size. There is a commonly held belief that using smaller plates reduces the amount of food that people eat. It sounds plausible; when you use a smaller plate, you serve yourself less and because of this you end up eating less. Right?

Wrong.

Small vs big.
Shutterstock

I became interested in the magic of smaller plates after reading an article that discussed some of the research on smaller plates but neglected to mention a number of studies that had found that smaller plates did not reduce how much people ate. Not long after that a team of us reviewed and analysed all available studies that addressed this question.

Our conclusion was that the evidence for the magic of smaller plates was very unconvincing. There were more studies that had found no benefit on calorie consumption of dining with smaller plates than there were studies that supported the smaller plates equals eat less hypothesis. Also, the studies that did support the smaller plate idea all came from the same research group and we noted a number of important limitations in some of those studies’ methodologies. It just so happens that it was the same research group that has recently come under fire for questionable research practices.

We next conducted our own study to examine if giving participants smaller bowls to serve themselves with popcorn reduced the amount of popcorn that they ate. We did not find that using a smaller bowl reduced how much participants ate – if anything participants ate more when using a smaller bowl, as opposed to a larger bowl. Likewise, a further study in 2016 from another research group found no evidence that smaller plates promoted reduced food consumption.

Now back to Food Unwrapped. The programme tried a similar experiment to the one that we did and what did they find? Again, like us they found no evidence to suggest that giving people smaller plates reduced how much they ate – instead they appeared to find the opposite – participants ate about twice as much when dining with smaller as opposed to larger plates.

Why might smaller plates not reduce how much people eat? One good guess is because if you are using a smaller plate you may initially serve yourself a little less but then go back for second helpings – you do have a small plate after all.

Rather worryingly though, at the end of the episode we were reassured that there is still clear evidence that smaller plates do make people eat less and Food Unwrapped’s experiment must have been a fluke.

The idea that simply giving people smaller plates to eat from will magically reduce how much they eat is an idea that may never die (indeed the Food Unwrapped programme was a repeat of an episode first shown in 2016). But it should do. This is because we need to make sure that we are taking aim at the types of environmental factors that can reliably help people eat more healthily.

So what should we be sizing up? There is now accumulating evidence that if the food industry made substantial reductions to the number of calories in popular food and drink products then we would be eating less as a nation. Making this kind of change happen will of course be more difficult than simply telling the general public to eat from miniature plates, but if we are to tackle obesity effectively then it is a change that must happen.

Eric Robinson, Senior Lecturer, University of Liverpool

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Top Image: Shutterstock

Reducing food waste great for companies’ bottom lines

New research on behalf of Champions 12.3 has found that for every dollar companies invested to reduce food loss and waste, they saved $14 in operating costs. The report finds that household savings could be much greater.

In a first-of-its kind analysis, The Business Case for Reducing Food Loss and Waste evaluated financial cost and benefit data for 1,200 sites across 700 companies in 17 countries, finding that nearly every site realized a positive return on its investment to reduce food waste. The types of investments companies made include: quantifying and monitoring food loss and waste, training staff on practices to reduce waste, changing food storage and handling processes, changing packaging to extend shelf-life, changing date labels, and other staff and technology investments.

The 14:1 return on investment comes from not buying food that would have been lost or wasted, increasing the share of food that is sold to customers, introducing new product lines made from food that otherwise would have been lost or wasted, reducing waste management costs and other savings.

“A third of the world’s food is wasted – and yet almost a billion people go to bed hungry each night. That simply cannot be right. But even if the moral imperative doesn’t move us, the clear business case should swing people to act. What this research shows is that there’s now no social, environmental or economic reason why we should not come together and take action to reduce food waste,” said Dave Lewis, Group Chief Executive of Tesco and Chair of Champions 12.3.

Government Action Saves Consumers Significant Money

The research also finds that savings for consumers could be enormous. From 2007 to 2012, the United Kingdom ran a nationwide initiative to reduce household food waste. This included consumer education through the “Love Food Hate Waste” campaign via in-store messaging on proper food storage and preparation and use of leftovers; product innovations like re-sealable salad bags, changes to pack size and formats and date labelling; and financing to establish baseline data on food waste and monitor progress on reduction.

During this period, for every £1 the government, companies and the non-profit organization WRAP invested in these efforts to curb household food waste, consumers and local government saved £250. Over the first five years of this initiative, avoidable household food waste was reduced 21 percent. Figures released for 2012-2015 show that progress has stalled, which emphasises the need to regularly evaluate, review and adjust approaches to food waste reduction.

At a time of economic strain for many families, throwing away less food is a valuable way to put money back in people’s pockets. In the UK, the average household with children discards approximately £700 of edible food each year. In the United States, the average family of four wastes roughly $1,500 annually on food that goes into the garbage.

“Our experience suggests that there are two main barriers to food waste reduction: a lack of awareness of the scale of food waste in the business and the home and the business case for change,” said Marcus Gover, Chief Executive of WRAP. “This groundbreaking report we wrote with WRI shows there is a clear business case for tackling food waste for businesses, municipalities and governments. Given this analysis, our message is simple; target, measure and act.  Above all act.  It makes sense socially, environmentally and above all economically.”

City Investments in Curbing Food Waste Pay Off

In 2012, six London boroughs piloted a local-level Love Food Hate Waste campaign led by WRAP, ultimately saving local authorities £8 in avoided waste disposal costs for every £1 invested, and an average of £84 for households participating. After just six months, households had reduced their waste by 15 percent. London’s experience indicates great potential for other cities to save money and food by taking action to reduce food loss and waste. Other cities that are starting to tackle food waste, starting with measuring the problem, include Denver, Nashville, New York, and Jeddah (Saudi Arabia).

“The success we saw in the United Kingdom proves that it’s possible to make real inroads in reducing food waste,” said Liz Goodwin, Senior Fellow and Director of Food Loss and Waste at World Resources Institute and the new Chair of the London Waste and Recycling Board. “The challenge now is to get every country, major city and company to realise that reducing food loss and waste is a win-win. There are far too many tough, intractable problems in the world – food loss and waste doesn’t have to be one of them.”

In the study, government and business leaders also noted other reasons they find reducing food loss and waste beneficial, including better relationships with customers and suppliers, increasing food security, adhering to waste regulations, upholding a sense of ethical responsibility and promoting environmental sustainability. Since food loss and waste is responsible for an estimated 8 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, tackling this challenge can help lower emissions and meet commitments to the Paris Agreement.

The report recommends leaders take a “target, measure, act” approach to reduce the amount of food lost and wasted. First, every government and company should set a target to halve food loss and waste, in line with Target 12.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Second, governments and companies need to start measuring food loss and waste so they can identify hotspots and monitor progress over time. The recently launched Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard can help them do this. Third, leaders need to act, implementing programs and practices for reducing food loss and waste.

We’ve calculated the environmental cost of a loaf of bread – and what to do about it

What does a staple food such as bread have to do with global warming? For a start, to make loaves on an industrial scale, you’ll need powerful milling and kneading machines and a huge oven, heated to 230℃ or more. This uses a lot of energy. The flour, yeast and salt must also be shipped in and, finally, the finished loaves are delivered to stores – all in trucks powered by petrol. The Conversation

But it isn’t milling or baking or transport that accounts for most of the environmental impact of bread. In a new a study published in the journal Nature Plants, colleagues and I looked at the entire supply chain of a regular loaf – from seed to sandwich, via mill and bakery. We found that more than half its environmental impact arises not from food processing but from the production of the raw material, the wheat grain.

Food causes about a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. Yet the supply chains can be so complex that it is difficult to determine what part of the process is responsible – and without this information neither the industry nor consumers will know what to do about it.

Thanks to a collaboration with a bread manufacturer we had accurate “primary” data for every stage of their particular brand of 800g loaf. We found that ammonium nitrate fertiliser alone accounts for 43% of all the greenhouse gas emissions, dwarfing all other processes in the supply chain including baking and milling. These emissions arise from the large amounts of energy and natural gas needed to produce fertiliser, and from the nitrous oxide released when it is degraded in the soil.

For crops to grow big and fast, they need nitrogen, usually through fertiliser. It is the key ingredient of intensive agriculture. Without fertiliser, either we produce less food or we use much more land to produce the same amount, at greater economic and environmental cost. That is the fix we are in.

Fertiliser-free bread?

We could reduce the use of fertiliser by recycling agricultural and human waste as manure, in order to retain the nitrogen in the same cycle. We could also harness the best of organic farming by, for example, using “green manures” or rotating crops with legumes that “fix” nitrogen in the soil. Precision agriculture can be used to only apply fertiliser where and when it is needed, using new sensor technologies including drones to monitor the nutritional status of soils and plants.

And we can even develop new varieties of crops that are able to use nitrogen more efficiently by, for instance, harnessing fungi in the soil or getting soil microbes to release less nitrous oxide.

We use more than 100 million tonnes of fertiliser each year.
oticki / shutterstock

But technology isn’t the only solution – we could also change our diets. Meat, in particular, is a very inefficient use of nitrogen, as cows or chickens use up energy and nutrients simply staying alive before being slaughtered.

Cereal crops such as wheat are a much more efficient way of converting nitrogenous fertiliser into nitrogen in food protein. Studies show emphatically that low-meat diets are also good for the environment.

There is no incentive to ditch fertiliser

But whose responsibility is it to reduce fertiliser use? After all, fingers could be pointed at the fertiliser manufacturer, the farmer, or even the retailers and consumers who demand cheap bread.

With goods like electronics or car tyres there is a growing recognition for a notion of extended producer responsibility where manufacturers are held responsible for the continuing impact of their products, often including disposal. This could be extended to fertilisers too.

Consumers could pay more for “greener bread” or apply pressure to use less fertiliser. But things can be confusing as people are usually entirely unaware of the environmental impacts embodied in the products they consume. This is particularly the case for food, where the mains concerns are over human health or animal welfare – not emissions. Many will be surprised that wheat cultivation has a greater environmental impact than baking or milling.

This highlights one of the key conflicts in the food security challenge. The agriculture industry’s primary purpose is to make money, not to provide sustainable food for the whole world. Profits for farmers and retailers rely on highly productive crops – which require lots of relatively cheap fertiliser. However the environmental impact of this fertiliser is not costed within the system and so there are currently no real incentives to fix things.

Feeding seven billion people fairly and sustainably is therefore not only a question of technology but also one of political economy. We need incentives to use less fertiliser – and we could start with bread.

Peter Horton, Chief Research Advisor, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.