Working with whisky: Q&A with Sullivans Cove

Bert Cason, sales and marketing manager at Sullivans Cove Single Malt Whisky, tells us about Australians' growing appetite for whisky, and what makes his brand stand out from the crowd.

 

Can you please give us a brief run-through of your career and your current position?
I spent 7 years in London in publishing, the latter four of those as the Group Commercial Manager at Union Press where I oversaw The Drinks Business and The Spirits Business magazines, the Spirits Masters Series of blind tasting competitions and a range of events. I moved to Tasmania in 2011 with my wife (who is Tasmanian) and took up the position of Sales and Marketing Manager at Sullivans Cove in 2012.

The main focus of my job is to grow the generic Tasmanian whisky brand, because the biggest growth potential for us lies in Australians choosing local whisky over imported whisky.

Tell us about Sullivans Cove Whisky.
Sullivans Cove is Tasmania's second oldest whisky, established in 1994. It is the biggest selling Tassie and Australian whisky and is also the most awarded brand. Sullivans Cove currently holds the record as the highest scoring Australian whisky in leading whisky critic Jim Murray's 2013 Whisky Bible with 96.5/100 and was voted Best Australian Single Malt by Whisky Magazine's World Whisky Awards in 2013.

Sullivans Cove is made using only Tasmanian water and barley, is non-chill filtered and is bottled as single cask expression, meaning that every barrel is bottled individually to capture the unique flavours from each barrel. This makes every bottle a unique experience, in the truest sense of the word.

 

What do you think has driven Australian consumers’ growing appetite for whisky at the moment?
Australians' appetite for whisky follows a global trend that started in the mid-2000s. Single malt whisky has shown the greatest and most consistent growth of all spirits categories over the past 10 years.

 

Could you tell us about the different casks that you use during the maturation process and what kind flavour profiles they deliver?
We use French oak ex-port casks from Mcwilliam's in NSW. These are 300L barrels and we mature our whisky in them for about 12 to 13 years. These barrels create our most popular whisky for the Australian market and deliver a wonderful, big, oily, rounded malt full of raisin, dark chocolate, burned cherry and even star anise flavours.

We also use American oak ex-bourbon casks from Jim Beam in the USA. These are 200L barrels and again we mature our whisky in them for about 12 to 13 years. These barrels create a beautiful whisky that is very popular in Europe, but less so in Australia. Again we have a big, oily, rounded malt, but this time the flavours are sweeter with caramel, vanilla, spices and citrus notes.

 

Can you tell us about the still that you use to create your single malt whisky? What unique flavours does it bring to the spirit?
We use a 2500L copper pot still that will be coming up to its 20th birthday soon. We had to get the boilermaker in a few months ago because she stared leaking a bit. The copper reacts with the liquid and wears down over time, resulting in some thin areas that become little holes after a while, but she's all good now. It is very hard to tell what effect the still has on the whisky because ultimately, and as the saying goes; "the wood makes the whisky."

 

Which of the Sullivan Cove whiskies is your personal favourite and why?
I am currently torn between French Oak barrel 525 and American Oak barrel 211. The American barrel is like drinking salty fudge, it's beautiful. Generally though I would say I prefer the French Oak for the overall composition of flavour.

 

Will any new batches or expressions be released in the near future?
Yes, look out for the Ballbreaker series! These are one-off cask strength (bottled straight from the barrel no water added, can be up to 73%ABV) expressions done on an ad-hoc basis as the right barrel presents itself.


Sullivan Cove now has an impressive collection of international awards. Which award are you most proud of?
96.5/100 in Jim Murray's 2013 Whisky Bible. He rated us as one of his top six whiskies of the year after tasting some 1300 whiskies, an incredible compliment.


Was it initially hard to get Sullivan Cove whisky recognised internationally considering such tough competition from long-established single malt distilleries?
It was harder to get local recognition, but having said that, it was still hard to get international recognition. They started to take more notice as the awards piled up over the years and Australia only really joined the party about a year or so ago. I think the international acceptance went a long way to convince locals that local whisky was up there with the imports.


What is the biggest challenge of being a boutique, small batch whisky producer in Australia?
Cashflow and scaling up. The product cycle is very long, from five to 12 years. That is a long time to be sitting around waiting for whisky to mature before you can sell it. The accountants and bank managers hate it, but we have managed this far and it is getting a lot easier now that we have sufficient mature stock on had to sustain growth.

 

Creating a social currency: marketing today’s food brands

Consumers are bombarded with marketing messages 24/7, so for today’s food brands and manufacturers, the creation of successful advertising campaigns has become very challenging.

Consumers are more immune to traditional forms of advertising than ever before, and with the rise of all things digital, they now have the ability to publicise their views on your marketing message.

Love it or hate it, this is where social media – the ultimate word of mouth marketing medium – can make or break you.

In today’s digital age, the importance of advertising through social media cannot be denied. Data is collected from users via their listed interests, enabling marketers to more easily access their target audience. And consumers willingly, and regularly, expose themselves to the varying marketing message, whether it be it via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever else tickles their fancy.  

However, targeted advertising through social media with ‘suggested posts’ can be completely transparent – not to mention downright annoying – and risks becoming what marketers refer to as ‘noise’; confusion caused by too many marketing messages delivered at the same time.

So how do marketers cut through the noise and launch campaigns that make lasting impressions, encourage word of mouth and are more likely to convert messages into dollars? One way it through effective experiential marketing combined with social media activity.

Now not everyone out there will be familiar with the term ‘experiential marketing’.. Experiential marketing is the combination of experiencing and experimenting – essentially the creation of a campaign that encourages consumers to become active participants in a marketing effort.

Experiential marketing may include ‘touch and feel’ techniques such as unique product sampling efforts, or impromptu events that attract attention in high traffic areas such as the use of a celebrity to endorse a product. The more creatively marketers think outside the box, the more likely they are to encourage consumer participation through organic social media posts – the only thing is, the campaign has to be good enough for people to want to talk (and tweet) about it.

Who’s doing what?

A key part of launching a new food or beverage product is of course getting people to try it. In-store demonstrations can be effective if done properly, but can often be quite disengaging and stale – tending to attract no one other than ‘seagulls’ that feast on the free delights but have no intention of committing to a purchase.

Some recent notable campaigns have come from key players in the industry: Kellogg’s Special K, Unilever’s Magnum, and new entrants to the Aussie scene: Wonderful Pistachios and Thankyou.

Kellogg’s launched Australia’s first ‘social currency shop’ – The Special K Post Office in mid-August this year.

Open over four days in Westfield Sydney, the Post Office offered consumers the opportunity to try the brand’s debut into the salty snacks category – Special K Cracker Crisps – in exchange for a post on social media.

The Post Office featured traditional red post office boxes, fake grass, a barbeque, a bed of fresh chives and an outdoor seating arrangement – an environment which complementedthe Cracker Crisp flavours: Honey Barbeque and Sour Cream & Chives, as well as tapping into Australian consumers’ love for an outdoor lifestyle.

“The Special K Post Office was Australia’s first shop where shoppers didn’t pay, they posted – it’s where they came in and took away a crunchy, new savoury snack simply by posting a picture, comment or by checking-in on social media,” said Nik Scotcher, market manager, snacks, at Kellogg’s.

Scotcher said that the brand was extremely pleased with the customers’ response to the campaign.

“We were hoping to exceed 200,000 in terms of social reach, that was kind of the benchmark that we set ourselves based on the UK and Canadian success,” he said.

“We’ve been able to exceed expectations as far as social reach … We have reached just under a quarter of a million in Australia alone,” he said. “From a reach point of view, we are very pleased with that.”

Consumers like being in control

Although the ever-rising popularity of convenience foods may lead marketers to assume that consumers simply want food manufacturers to do the thinking for them, they should think again.

The pop-up Magnum Pleasure Store gave consumers the opportunity to make their own ice cream by selecting the type of chocolate coating they wanted, along with a wide selection of toppings. The concept engaged consumers by appealing to their individual tastes and creativity, which employing social media as the main vehicle for promotion.

Having successfully been launched in Paris, London, New York, Toronto, Milan and Shanghai, Sydneysiders embraced the concept with salivating taste buds and rampant Instagram posts.

The Pleasure Store created a buzz in Westfield Sydney for six weeks straight. The wait in line was rarely shorter than an hour long, and with ice creams retailing at  $7 a pop – double the recommended retail price – you can safely say this promotion was a  success.

“The Magnum Pleasure Store has proven to be a greatly successful concept, which is adaptable to different markets and opportunities around the globe,” said Cassandra Drougas assistant brand manager, Magnum.

“Ultimately, the key to the success of the launch is that people love the unique opportunity to customise a product they love.”

In addition to a unique concept, organic social posts were a leading contributor to the store’s popularity and on-going success throughout the activation period.

“Australia has the second largest uptake of smart phones and Facebook in the world, so organically, people were photographing their customised Magnums and sharing the photos online through social media. For those without smart phones, we had tablets set-up in-store with hashtag signage to facilitate any customer wishing to share their creation,” said Drougas.

“People were telling the staff that the reason they came to the store was because they saw their friends posting images online; the store is self-generating its own PR, which is a testament to the fact that customising your own Magnum is simply a winning concept.”

What about new market entrants?

Californian-based nut company, Wonderful Pistachios, burst onto the Aussie market in early 2012. Having developed a solid reputation in the US and abroad, Wonderful secured a distribution deal with Australia’s leading grocery giants, Coles and Woolworths, and launched the brand’s popular ‘Get Crackin’ campaign.

The campaign featured television commercials with well known cartoon characters such as The Simpsons family, Peanuts and Angry Birds as well as a host of experiential sampling techniques including one outside Sydney’s Town Hall which featured an impersonator of the Korean pop star, Psy.

Wonderful’s loud approach to marketing attracts attention. Whether it’s from passers-by in high traffic pedestrian areas due to innovative gorilla marketing techniques, or through well devised above the line campaigns – their approach is extremely effective as it gains organic traction through social media and has a tendency to go viral.

The brand employed Psy of Gangnam Style fame (the real one this time) to star in the brand’s first-ever Super Bowl spot which was announced via a flash mob in New Orleans.

"The Super Bowl is the most widely watched sporting event of the year, 'Gangnam Style' is the most-watched YouTube video, and Wonderful Pistachios is the top-selling snack nut item on the market," said Marc Seguin, Paramount Farms vice president of marketing. "It's a powerhouse combination."  

Taking a slightly different approach was Thankyou, the social enterprise behind Thankyou Water. The brand engaged in a host of experiential activities via a multi-layered marketing campaign with the aim of attracting attention from the supermarket giants, Coles and Woolworths.

The campaign gained a momentous amount of exposure via social media and included flying two helicopters over Coles’ Melbourne headquarters in Hawthorn, and Woolworths’ Sydney headquarters in Bella Vista. Each helicopter carried a 10,000 square foot banner with messages asking the retailers to “change the world” by stocking their products.

The two week campaign included a mix of traditional advertising, celebrity endorsements and of course an extensive social media presence which included creative videos and thousands of posts by Thankyou fans on both the Coles and Woolworths’ Facebook pages.

The campaign is estimated to have reached over 13 million people.

“It’s been amazing to see thousands of Australians post on both Coles and Woolworths’ Facebook pages in support of the Thankyou range. We’ve been blown away by the level of support,” said Daniel Flynn, co-founder and managing director of Thankyou.“We set a goal to reach 10,000 views of the campaign video by the end of the campaign and we hit that number within the first day.”

Although money helps, of course, and is often a key driver, a brand doesn’t necessarily need a hefty advertising budget to run a successful marketing campaign. Social networking tools are among the most powerful media vehicles, with the potential to connect brands with countless consumers from around the globe. All you need is a good concept and a bit of creativity.

 

The ultimate iron chef – when 3D printers invade the kitchen

Printing food seems more like an idea based in Star Trek rather than in the average home. But recent advances in 3D printing (known formally as additive manufacturing) are driving the concept closer to reality. With everything from printed metal airplane wings to replacement organs on the horizon, could printed food be next? And how will we feel when it’s served at the table?

From sundaes to space food

In some ways we have “printed” food for decades. Think of making a sundae using a self-dispensing ice-cream machine. Building by extruding material through a nozzle is quite similar to how certain 3D printers, called fused deposition modellers (FDM) work today. While FDM is primarily used for prototyping plastics, the technology has been applied in culinary arts for years.

Researchers at Cornell pioneered some of this work, adapting an open source extrusion printer, called the Fab@Home Lab, to work with food in 2007. They’ve gone so far as partnering with the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan to print personalised chocolate and cheese, cookies, cubes of pureed turkey and celery paste, and even tiny spaceships made of deep fried scallops.

Novelty food suppliers have become early adopters of similar technology. Various chocolate printers are on the market, and for Valentine’s Day in Japan this year you could order chocolate made from a 3D scan of your face. Further examples include a Burritobot on Kickstarter last year and Google serving 3D printed pasta.

Other 3D printing technologies have been investigated for use with food. In 2007, Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories introduced the CandyFab 4000, a DIY printer based on a modified selective laser sintering technique. The method utilised a focused heat source moving over a bed of sugar to fuse large 3D sugar sculptures. And just a few months ago, a team of students from the University of Waterloo was able to sinter chocolate using a custom built machine.

Established market players in Additive Manufacturing have taken notice as well. In September, 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) acquired The Sugar Lab, a startup producing edible 3D sugar confections. The Sugar Lab had adapted 3D Systems' Color Jet Printing (CJP) technology to print flavoured edible binders on a sugar bed to fabricate solid structures.

                              The Sugar Lab

Beyond novelty, printed food could provide serious medical benefits. The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) announced they’ll build printers to reassemble pureed food to look like the original – think 3D printed broccoli florets from pureed broccoli. TNO has targeted printers for nursing homes in order to help elderly people who have chewing and swallowing problems. Beyond medical conditions, TNO has proposed printing customised meals with varied levels of the basic food components like carbs, protein, and fat, for everyone from seniors, to athletes, to expectant mothers.

And NASA sees 3D-printed food as a revolutionary way to make personalised meals for astronauts. They are funding development of a 3D printer that premixes basic food components before spraying the mix on baking tray. Their ultimate goal would be to print a pizza. Beyond providing cosmic delivery, food would also be tailored for astronauts' daily activities.

The ethics of printed meat

Will printed food go beyond novelty value? Should it replace other foods or supplement the nutritional value of existing foods? In this area, one of the most interesting and perhaps controversial areas is the debate about printing meat.

Some suggest 3D printed meat could provide high quality protein for a growing global population without increasing stress on arable land or continually depleting the oceans. It could also answer the problem of methane emissions from agriculture.

In 2011 Modern Meadow took up the challenge, setting out to make ecological and economical leather and meat from bioprinters. They cultured biopsied bovine cells to produce sheets of tissue, eventually forming either meat or hide. They predict cultured leather will be on the market in five years.

Modern Meadow’s CEO Andras Forgacs is a pioneer in the bioprinting field cofounding the tissue printing company Organovo (NYSE:ONVO) with his father Gabor Forgacs. In 2011, Gabor – the Chief Scientific Officer at Modern Meadow, cooked and ate cultured pork live at a TEDMED conference.

Currently, it is very expensive to produce tiny volumes of printed meat, with estimates of thousands of dollars to make a pound of meat in the lab. But could the process be scaled up, and cell cultures made cheaper?

Biopsies aren’t the only sources for culture. The process could potentially use stem cells. Industrial scale printing of meat could additionally use cells grown in an algae-based cell culture and powered by novel processes such as photosynthesis-mimicking solar energy systems.

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In the lab with Fab@Home

For vegetarians, printed meat somewhat circumvents concerns about harmful or destructive use of animals for food. Live animals are used only to provide cells from which cell lines can be grown (though the blood of unborn cows is needed to culture most cells).

Ethical vegans may still object at the use of non-human animals for human purposes; while non-destructive, it is still exploitative.

It isn’t clear whether 3D printed meat is halal or kosher. There may not be an issue if there is no animal slaughter involved.

Will we stomach it?

While we typically “eat with our eyes”, and printed meat could be made in familiar shapes and textures, our palette will be the dominating factor. That is, if printed meat could be proven safe.

Printed meat may result in a debate akin to that on GMO foods. Certainly the public will want to know whether printed foods are safe for human consumption.

Consumers will most likely demand adequate protections to ensure the development of printed foods does not limit their access to or contaminate organic foods. It is reasonable to assume most will want to decide whether they eat “real” meat or try printed meats, so labelling regulation will be important.

Farming communities and those in agricultural food production will also want a voice about if, when and how their industry will be transformed by industrialised printed meat.

Early identification or those affected, and extensive engagement with the range of community concerns about printed foods, is warranted. While no specific printed food exploration exists yet, similar forms of community engagement have been developed in Australia through the Science and Technology Engagement Pathways framework (STEP). They work with communities on a wide range of issues, including synthetic biology and bionic implants.

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Finally, a way to print chocolate.

STEP has supported researchers in the ethics program at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, who are identifying effective public engagement and deliberative democratic processes for uncovering and articulating community concerns about emerging technologies. Other entities like RiAus, an Australian non-profit, has been active in stimulating community debate specifically about synthetic meat.

The proof is in the print

With no slow-down in 3D printing developments, there will certainly be new advances in printed food. Whether the technology can truly move from the novelty sector will most likely depend on the ability to process a wider range of foods requiring influence from both the kitchen and from printer developers.

It is also debatable whether 3D printed food can integrate in the global supply chain, particularly if printed meat can be made economically viable and if consumers will accept it. However, the benefits of 3D printed food could be monumental. Time will tell if the next fad will be the 3D printed diet. Until then, the community should be involved in the discussion of printed food.

Dr. Robert Gorkin is a Strategic Development Officer at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES). He receives funding from the ARC

Susan Dodds receives funding from the Australian Research Council and is a Chief Investigator and Ethics Program Director for the Australian Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES). In 2012 she was the Chair of the National Enabling Technologies Strategy Stakeholder Advisory Council.

The Conversation

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

 

Addressing packaging education in Africa

A recent trip to Nigeria showed our AIP columnist that there is so much Australia can teach the developing world when it comes to effective packaging.

Lagos, Nigeria. The destination conjures up a varietyof imaginations. I grew up in South Africa but nothing could have prepared me for the highly populated, super-resourced, bustling West African nation. A quarter of Africa's population lives in Nigeria. It is the seventh most populous country (an estimated 200 million people) in the world with 42 percent of its population zero to 14 years of age. It is the world's eighth largest exporter of petroleum.  It is a country of huge extremes and I feel privileged to have been asked to participate recently in a five day residential training program (RTP) focusing on Packaging Technology education.

The World Packaging Organisation (WPO) approached the AIP to deliver this week long training program. Thirty-four students from Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya and South Africa attended; all with a strong desire to learn more in the field of the science and technology of packaging. The majority of the attendees were graduates including some with Masters qualifications and two with PhDs. But Packaging Technology is what they were hungry to learn about. No small wonder when one considers that more than 50 percent of Africa's food supply is lost through poor/ineffective/insufficient packaging. All participants keenly absorbed information and their eagerness to improve their knowledge in this field was most evident in their final project presentation on the fifth day.

This West African RTP initiative will be the first of more to come. Already the African Packaging Organisation (APO) is planning similar programs in 2014 in Accra and another in Lagos; the latter focusing on pharmaceutical packaging. Although this recent RTP covered the entire spectrum of packaging technology, what drove the students and which was evident in their questions, was how one can improve packaging and reduce costs. Participants wanted to know what their packaging counterparts were doing in developed countries and how they can improve, particularly the packaging of foodstuffs to reduce wastage.

In this region much fresh produce is sold on the ‘open markets’, where  better knowledge of material selection coupled with  more effective storage would greatly reduce the loss of fresh fruit and vegetables. Subsistence farming is the order of the day in Nigeria where the farmer brings a few baskets of produce to the market and transfers the contents to another basket belonging to the open market vendor. Fresh produce is exposed to the elements during display and sales resulting in a very limited shelf life.

There is significant evidence of informal packaging happening throughout Africa. This is where vendors buy in bulk and repack into small pack sizes for ‘open market’ sales which better suits the consumer owing to low income and poor storage facilities at home. Affordability also drives daily supply of household, hygiene items such as toothpaste where 15ml (one day dose) sachets are by far the biggest seller of toothpaste units. It is in this area of small dose packaging that most support, knowledge and advice is required.

This recent RTP has been a good start. Ongoing education is required at all levels of the packaging spectrum. The AIP, in collaboration with WPO, has the knowledge, the resources, the first world experience and the ability to share information and expertise. In fact, we have an obligation to help those in developing countries. The APO and WPO are to be commended for taking the initiative to begin addressing this most serious need in Africa. The road ahead is long and it is wide but the journey has commenced. The destination is not necessarily in sight but the rewards along the way for all involved will be big and long lasting.

Pierre Pienaar is an education coordinator at the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP)

 

Want a better world? You can’t look at GMOs in isolation

The Philippines (also known as the rice-bowl of Southeast Asia) has become a test bed for genetically modified (GM) crops. Proponents argue GM grains and vegetables can improve the life of farmers and malnourished locals.

But is this technical approach the right one? Does it take account of the bigger picture, of a socio-political model that keeps many people in poverty?

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the Philippines. The Philippines’ Court of Appeals struck a blow to proponents of genetically modified crops on May 17 this year, ruling that field trials for genetically modified, pest-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) talong (eggplant) have not yet proved the plants safe for humans and the environment and must stop.

Following the Court of Appeals’ decision, organic farming advocates are also calling for a ban on a genetically modified breed of rice known as Golden Rice.

Golden Rice and Vitamin A deficiency

The force behind Golden Rice is the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which has created a “Humanitarian Board” comprising scientists, food security specialists, and representatives from industry, USAID, US Department of Agriculture and the Rockefeller Foundation.

According to IRRI, malnutrition is common in white rice-eating populations and the Golden Rice Project could constitute a major contribution towards sustainable vitamin A delivery. This vitamin is essential for eye health and the proper functioning of the immune system.

A World Health Organisation report titled Global prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency in populations at risk 1995–2005 suggests that worldwide nearly 190 million children are at risk for diseases related to Vitamin A deficiency. Some 5.2 million preschool age children suffer from eye damage (xerophthalmia).

 

A 12-year-old girl who has corneal blindness as a result of suffering from vitamin A deficiency. Community Eye Health

Rice produces beta-carotene in leaves but not in the grain, where the biosynthetic pathway is turned off during plant development. Beta-carotene is important as it’s changed into vitamin A (retinol) in the human body.

In Golden Rice, two genes inserted into the rice genome by genetic engineering restart the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway leading to the production and accumulation of beta-carotene in the grains.

Scientists speak out

As the emotions about the introduction of GMO into rice production run high, a group of activists destroyed a trial GM rice crop in the Philippines on August 8 this year, prompting a strong condemnation from scientists and proponents of GMO.

The authors of an editorial published in the journal Science on September 20 claimed:

protests like this are anti-science; the anti-GMO fever still burns brightly, fanned by electronic gossip and well-organized fear-mongering that profits some individuals and organizations.

And in a letter written to the editor of the Daily Mail, London on February 20 2009 in support of Golden Rice, seven scientists claimed:

the best available evidence supports the conclusion that GM crops are as safe as, or safer than conventional and organic crops. At a time of increasing poverty globally, and reduced food security generally, all possible technologies capable of improving the quantity and quality of food should be embraced.

So, should we believe that one food staple – genetically modified – could resolve Vitamin A deficiency and address development problems?

Creating a bigger problem for farmers

IRRI says Golden Rice seeds will be freely available to poor farmers in the Philippines.

This assertion brings to mind the stories of many small farmers in Africa and South America whose livelihood and independence have been shattered by the harsh conditions imposed by GM seeds suppliers.

 

Golden Rice grains compared to white rice grains. IRRI Images

Seed companies require farmers to sign contracts that aggressively protect the biotechnology company’s rights to the seeds, significantly limiting the farmers' rights to the purchased seeds. The contracts generally contain a “no saved seed” provision so farmers cannot save or reuse seed from GM crops.

It is company policy for Monsanto, which describes itself as a “sustainable agriculture company”, to sue farmers who breach this provision. In effect, the provision requires growers of GM crops to make an annual purchase of GM seeds.

While the farmers struggle, corporations supplying the GM seeds – and their consultants – are making handsome profits.

What started as a humanitarian endeavour has turned into exploitation.

Not everyone accepts the benefits

Some are sceptical about GMO proponents' claims.

In a recent televised Q&A debate in Australia, Professor David Suzuki told a live audience that “scientists in genetics are no longer open to the possibility of harmful effects – and it is far too early to say what the effects of GMO will be with certainty”.

Like Suzuki, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), based in Ithaca, New York, does not share the view that GMOs are entirely safe.

In a report titled The Intellectual and Technical Property Components of pro-Vitamin A Rice, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and published in 2000, the organisation stated that:

Given the ever-changing biotechnology and IP environment in which every plant breeding and biotechnology institution operates today, virtually no transfer of germplasm or research is without some degree of risk. As transgenic strategies begin to dominate crop improvement practices, both the risks and rewards of transferring and releasing products by national programs can be expected to rise.

And in contradiction with its early claims, IRRI issued a statement on February 21 2013 clarifying that:

it has not yet been determined whether daily consumption of Golden Rice – genetically-modified rice – does improve the vitamin A status of people who are vitamin A deficient and could therefore reduce related conditions such as night blindness.

Science doesn’t exist in a vacuum

Malnutrition is not merely a health problem; it is also a social problem. It reflects an overall impact of multiple causative factors, and these are also experienced in other developing countries where rice is not a major staple.

Nutritive deficiencies and malnutrition occur because of poverty and lack of purchasing power. Lack of adequate public health systems and education, environmental degradation, social disparity, depletion of fish stocks by large foreign trawlers (operating often illegally with impunity), corruption among local officials and conflicts are some of the underlying reasons.

The already considerable gap between the rich and the poor is rapidly growing. So is the highly unequal distribution of resources, especially in rural areas where the poorest live.

Golden Rice and other GMOs can never fully resolve these underlying issues.

As a human rights advocate – with extensive experience in the area – I can’t help but wonder what future awaits those less fortunate people in the Philippines whose health could now be turned over to the hands of an international scientific community eager to medicate them at the source with genetically modified products.

This is in a country where the church is still denying these same people access to basic contraception. World population and consumption are still growing and some central issues in this discourse are ignored.

Suggesting that GMO will change all people’s lives for the better merely shows how disconnected the proponents of GMO are from the realities on the ground and the needs of the population. What is lacking is the political will and determination to address these socio-political issues, on a local level and internationally.

Jonathan Bogais does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

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

 

Australian agriculture’s biggest threat needs a global approach

Australia has been free of foot and mouth disease since 1872, but it is still considered the most serious biosecurity threat to Australia’s agricultural industries. A widespread outbreak could cost the economy more than A$16 billion in the first 12 months.

Can foot and mouth disease actually be controlled? We think so, and we can learn a lot from how rinderpest – a highly virulent cattle plague – was eradicated.

A model for eradication

Even before the 2011 global declaration of freedom from rinderpest by the United Nations, many were asking what animal disease we could focus on next. Rinderpest was only the second virus to be globally eradicated, after smallpox.

For centuries, rinderpest devastated cattle and buffalo populations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It led to the downfall of armies, caused rural famine and created inestimable hardship.

The disease was not restricted by national borders: international coordination was fundamental for managing, controlling and finally ridding the planet of the virus.

Rinderpest’s reintroduction into Europe led to the establishment of a coordinating authority, the World Organisation for Animal Health, in 1924. When the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations was created in 1945, their charter to improve food and nutrition across the globe could only be realised by fighting devastating livestock diseases such as rinderpest and foot and mouth disease.

After decades of research and significant investment, rinderpest was isolated to only a handful of geographical areas by the late 1990s. The last outbreak was reported in 2001.

The rinderpest success story makes it clear there are three things needed if you are to eradicate an animal disease. You need political will, veterinary and local knowledge about how the disease spreads, and adequate tools (such as diagnostic assays and quality vaccines) for intervention.

These factors apply to many animal diseases, so control does not need to focus on one disease alone. Investment in improved veterinary services, for example, doesn’t just apply to disease elimination; it benefits animal health, community livelihoods and a country’s whole economy.

The tools for managing foot and mouth disease can be used to bring other benefits. CSIRO

Can we control and eliminate foot and mouth disease?

As with rinderpest, tackling foot and mouth disease needs a global approach. Recent outbreaks in previously disease-free countries show that a piecemeal approach isn’t working: we must control the disease at source, in the places where the virus is endemic.

But disease-free countries also have to invest in their neighbours’ efforts to control and eliminate the disease. Australia is investing in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, helping them with control strategies, laboratory facilities, and staff training through CSIRO and AusAID. Those countries are now free of foot and mouth disease.

Once a country is free of foot and mouth disease it can take advantage of lucrative trade with other disease-free countries. This trade isn’t just in animals, milk and meat, but also in genetics. But it takes millions of dollars to maintain freedom from foot and mouth disease, and to keep those market opportunities – worth billions – open.

Meanwhile, resource-poor countries are devastated by the effects of foot and mouth disease: reduced milk quantity and quality, weight loss and severe lameness. They are further crippled by unploughed fields, inability to transport produce to market for sale and loss of available food and quality nutrients for humans.

Unfortunately, countries where such debilitating diseases are circulating usually also have competing priorities in other sectors such as human health, education, governance and maintaining civil and political stability.

We know we have the tools, the diagnostic ability and enough knowledge about disease transmission to take on foot and mouth disease. So, globally, can we tackle the threat in endemic settings head on?

Improving practises at farm level is a good first step

There is much work to be done. But rather than focusing specifically on eradicating foot and mouth disease, countries where the disease exists could start by improving on-farm biosecurity generally.

They should improve production practises and hygiene, thereby increasing efficiency in milk and meat production, and improving the way they manage natural resources.

This can spread benefits to other areas: child and maternal care, nutrition and hygiene for the farmers and communities around the world. Boosting veterinary services and information sharing provides better health care and builds trust with trading partners.

If we took this approach, we would certainly reduce the effect of production and trade-related diseases, as well as a multitude of diseases humans can get from animals and food. Such a holistic strategy would also increase access to quality drugs and veterinary vaccines across the myriad of microbial threats, and improve the availability of high quality nutritious foods.

It is therefore not possible to focus on only one disease when embarking on disease eradication or control. We need a global approach – targeted and tailored to the prevailing social and economic conditions – against those diseases that affect livelihoods, human health and global-to-local trade opportunities.

With significant effort and investment, control and eradication are possible – not just of foot and mouth disease, but of all high-impact diseases that threaten today’s and tomorrow’s world.

This article was co-authored by Dr Juan Lubroth, Chief Veterinary Officer, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Wilna Vosloo does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Health Check: the low-down on eating vs juicing fruit and veg

 

Eating more fruits and vegetables is the foundation stone of any healthy diet, with the national dietary guidelines recommending adults eat two pieces of fruit and five to six serves of veggies and legumes a day.

Juices can be a convenient and tasty way to get some of the health benefits of these foods – but how do they compare nutritionally?

The one clear downside from drinking rather than eating fruits and vegetables is the loss of fibre and other nutrients found in the skin and pulp. But juicing is certainly better than not eating them at all.

Unless you are eating the pulp leftover in the juicing machine, the amount of fibre in a glass of juice is tiny – less than half a gram. Compare that to the roughly two to three grams of fibre in every serve of fruit or vegetable that went into making the juice in the first place.

And because there is always some liquid left with the pulp, there is a small loss of around 10% of the vitamins and minerals that were in the whole food to start with.

Fruits and vegetables also contain lots of natural plant pigments called flavonoids, which have been linked to many health benefits such as cancer prevention and reducing the risk of heart disease. Flavonoids can be found in the skin and pulp of fruit and vegetables, so juicing means that some of these will be lost as well.

In the case of citruses, the whole fruit can contain five times as many flavonoids as an equivalent glass of orange juice.

One other potential downside is that juice is not as filling as eating solid food. And it’s easier to drink the equivalent of many pieces of fruit in a few seconds when eating the same amount would take a lot longer, meaning there is more chance of over-consuming unneeded kilojoules.

To see if juices can lead to differences in appetite and later food consumption compared to solid food, 34 healthy lean and overweight people took part in a 21-week study. At different stages of the study, each person consumed a similar amount of fruits and vegetables (1680 kJ in total) daily in either solid (raw) form or as juices. No other changes to the participants’ diets were made.

When tested in a food laboratory, people who were overweight reported being significantly hungrier after a standard meal when consuming the juice in the lead up to it, compared to when they ate whole fruit. The post-meal hunger feelings of people of a healthy body weight where unaffected by the form of the fruit they consumed.

Having fruit in either solid or juice form before a meal though did mean less of the following meal was eaten, which is to be expected.

Where it gets interesting, though, is that the people who ate solid fruit before the test meal ate significantly less food than those who drank the juice. Looking at how much food was eaten over the entire day, people who were obese ate significantly more food overall when they were drinking juice compared to eating solid fruit.

Each piece of fruit and veg contains two to three grams of fibre but a glass of juice contains just half a gram. Will Merydith

So, while the overall effects of juice compared to solid foods on feelings of hunger and fullness were small over all, the key aspect was this was magnified in people who were overweight.

Eating whole fruits and vegetables helps keep appetite in check by making you feel full. These same foods are also nutrient powerhouses, and on a weight-by-weight comparison, have much fewer kilojoules per gram than most other foods commonly eaten.

It’s no surprise that people who eat lots of fruit and vegetables are more likely to have a healthy body weight.

For someone who is battling to keep their weight in check, then two simple positive changes to make are to eat more fruit and vegetables, and to eat them from a plate, not a glass.

Tim Crowe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Image 1: Juicing vegetables is certainly better than not eating them at all. Will Power Studios

 

For GM food and vaccinations, the panic virus is a deadly disease

Most readers are aware of the benefits of using vaccines to boost the immune system and prevent infectious disease. Many readers will not be aware of a very different disease prevention tool: supplementing vitamins in crops through genetic modification (GM).

Anti-science opposition to both is rife; to save lives, that opposition has to stop.

The disease-prevention benefits of supplemental vitamin A were accidentally discovered in 1986 by public health scientists. They were working to improve nutrition in the villages of Aceh, Indonesia, where families are heavily dependent on rice as their main source of nutrition.

These scientists discovered that simple supplementation of infant diets with capsules containing beta-carotene (a natural source of vitamin A) reduced childhood death rates by 24%.

White rice is a very poor source of vitamin A, so the people of Aceh (like millions of poorer people in large regions of the world) suffered from vitamin A deficiency. This impaired proper development of their biological defences against infection.

We now better understand vitamin A deficiency as a disease of poverty and poor diet, responsible for near two million preventable deaths annually. It is mostly children under the age of five and women who are affected.

Many other studies carried out in several Asian, African and Latin American countries reveal the health benefits of beta-carotene supplementation in the diets of people subsisting on vitamin A-deficient staple foods.

 

Global map showing regions with vitamin A deficiency. Wikimedia Commons

Rejecting science

Small wonder then that scientists internationally were outraged at the recent wanton sabotage of field trials to evaluate new varieties of rice called Golden Rice. This rice is genetically modified to contain nutritionally beneficial levels of beta-carotene.

In an editorial in the journal Science last week, prominent scientific leaders, including three Nobel prize winners, expressed their dismay and outrage at unethical anti-scientific efforts to prevent introduction of Golden Rice to smallholder farmers in the Philippines:

If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.

Trenchant opposition to vaccines, and opposition to genetically modified crops, are examples of the disturbing and strong anti-scientific sentiment in many modern countries. They share some common features.

Both movements flourish among those who reject mainstream science. They rest on misuse and misinterpretation of badly designed experiments, such as those taken to falsely indicate that mercury preservatives in vaccines cause autism.

They include false detection of proteins from GM plants in tissues of pregnant women using invalid protein measurements.

They flourish in news media, which report ill-founded comments. Examples include British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield’s disastrous 1998 press conference about the measles vaccine, and the anti-GM Safe Food Foundation’s press releases about CSIRO’s genetically modified wheat.

These would not pass muster in the professional scientific literature.

 

Golden rice can save lives. IRRI Images

 

Selective ‘evidence’

Conspiracy theory abounds in both movements. Anti-GM extremists think support for GM crops results from money by Monsanto. Anti-vaccine true believers say support for vaccines among public health professionals is fuelled by money from manufacturer Merck.

In that sense, both the anti-vaccine and anti-GM extremists are anti-science. Where they part company is in the willingness of anti-GM extremists to actively sabotage and destroy legal scientific experiments designed to address exactly the questions to which activists demand answers.

Even anti-GM activists who profess to respect the scientific method pick and choose which scientific-sounding claims to accept, depending on whether they are compatible with their own personal cultural beliefs and social affiliations.

The hundreds of studies unpinning GM crop safety are ignored. The few studies raising questions about GM crops, almost invariably of questionable quality, are the sole focus of activist attention.

Jessa Latona, the young woman convicted of sabotaging the CSIRO GM wheat trials said that she is

a huge fan of what the CSIRO does in many areas, and particularly on climate change and … yes … but I believe that not all science is equal.

This cultural bias about which science is acceptable is at the root of now considerable harm being caused by unscientific rejection of GM crops and vaccines. Nutrient fortified crops and vaccines can save lives if they are given a fair opportunity.

 

Some clinics, such as this one in Haiti, provide vitamin A capsules to children, but they can’t cater to the whole developing world. Bread for the World

 

Long-term effects

Anti-scientific opposition to vaccines is promoting the re-emergence of diseases such as measles and whooping cough in developed countries such as the USA and United Kingdom, but anti-scientific opposition to GM crops is largely hurting developing countries.

It is denying them much needed opportunities for improvements in health and human welfare, including by reducing risky pesticide use.

Some may say that the movements cause little harm, and that a precautionary approach is needed to prevent harm.

But the history of the anti-vaccine movement, spelt out marvellously in several books by paediatrician Paul Offit and journalist Seth Mnookin, underlies the fallacy of this attitude.

As Paul Offit says in relation to people against vaccination:

doing nothing is doing something.

Doing nothing about vitamin and micronutrient-fortified staple foods in the face of widespread deficiencies in the staple diets of many developing countries is condemning many people to disease-impoverished and tragically shortened lives.

David Tribe participates in agricultural projects funded by Australian government agencies. He has no relevant affiliations that might entail a conflict of interest in scientific analysis.

More than 10 years ago, Richard Roush was part of a team that was given $20,000 in total from Monsanto and Bayer in partial support (about 20% of the research budget) for a project on pollen flow in canola. He currently has a grant from the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation (which is part funded by the Australian government) for risk assessment for GM canola. The GRDC is not opposed to GM crops per se.

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Why embracing free trade may be more complicated than it looks

If headlines are to be believed, the new Coalition government is set to “embrace free trade” in its first term in office.

In announcing his new Ministry last week, Tony Abbott has made significant changes to the Trade portfolio. Trade responsibilities have now been combined with foreign investment, for the first time uniting the two major branches of foreign economic policy. In an equally dramatic move, the Liberals’ Andrew Robb has been appointed the new Minister for Trade and Investment. This is the first time since 1956 that a Coalition government has not placed a Nationals member in the trade post.

The ostensible rationale is to put free trade and foreign investment at the centre of the Coalition’s economic agenda. The Coalition has promised a rapid trade push to spur exports, foreign investment and employment, and Andrew Robb has been designated Australia’s “ambassador for jobs”.

High on the new Minister’s agenda will be the advancement of Australia’s free trade agreements (FTAs) with partners in Asia. Tony Abbott has indicated Robb’s first task will be to conclude a series of deals that were marked by a “disappointing lack of progress under the former government”. The Chinese, Japanese and South Korean FTA negotiations will be immediately prioritised.

But what are the prospects the new Minister can deliver on this promise? The difficulties facing Australia’s current FTAs suggest the task will be a considerable challenge.

Australia’s bilateral free trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific

The Australian government has proved highly capable at launching FTA negotiations. Consistent with a global trend towards ‘trade bilateralism’, Australia has opened bilateral trade talks with twelve countries since the year 2000. All but one of these initiatives have been in the Asia-Pacific region, and include important partners such as the US, China and Japan.

 

 

However, its record in completing these deals is decidedly lacking. Only five have so far been finalised, the majority of which are with small (and relatively less important) partners such as Singapore, Thailand and Chile. Conversely, FTA talks with major trade partners – in particular China, Japan, Korea – have been running for many years with no concrete outputs. As these three Northeast Asian countries accounted for 57% of merchandise exports in 2012, finalising these deals would be of major significance to Australian exporters.

However, the prospects for concluding any of these deals in a speedy and impactful way are low. The previous ALP government indicated it would only sign FTAs which were “comprehensive”, and genuinely reduce barriers to trade in areas of interest to Australia, such as the agriculture and services sectors. Unfortunately, comprehensive deals are proving difficult to strike in Asia.

FTA negotiations with Japan are a case in point. Japan maintains some of the highest rates of agricultural protection in the world, with a complex quota system and an 800 per cent tariff on rice imports. One of Australia’s main FTAs goals has been to negotiate reductions in these forms of protection, particularly for the beef industry. However, the Japanese government remains wedded to protectionism due to domestic political pressure from rural constituencies, and has consistently resisted Australian requests to liberalise agricultural trade.

Negotiations with South Korea have also proven difficult. Despite claims from (then Foreign Minister) Kevin Rudd in 2009 that the talks were “near to conclusion”, the FTA remains incomplete in 2013. Australia is unwilling to agree to Korea’s demand for investor-state dispute settlement provisions, following its legal dispute over plain packaging with tobacco giant Philip Morris. In the meantime, Australian beef exporters stand to lose out, as the recently signed US-Korea FTA will give American competitors a tariff advantage that the industry has claimed will cost $1.4 billion over the next fifteen years.

Australia’s FTA negotiations with China have been even more fraught. Launched in 2005, the talks have now been through 19 rounds but are yet to even precisely define the scope of market access provisions. The sticking points are numerous, and include Chinese sensitivities about agriculture and service imports, and Australia’s reluctance to raise thresholds for Chinese investments assessed by the Foreign Investment Review Board. Negotiations with China have become so tortuous that Craig Emerson, the now-former Trade Minister, took the unprecedented step of saying that a comprehensive FTA was “just beyond both countries” in April this year.

The ‘trade-off’ dilemma in Australian FTA policy

How might the new government go about sorting out this complex mess of stalled talks? The Coalition arguably faces a dilemma in choosing between two FTA strategies, neither of which are particularly attractive.

The ‘pragmatic’ option would be to abandon the goal of signing “comprehensive” FTAs entirely. This could involve prioritising the interests of a few key sectors, rather than insisting on across-the-board liberalisation from partners. Indeed, former Ambassador to China Geoff Raby has recently argued Australia should drop its demands in the sugar, wool and banking sectors, in order to focus only on access for beef, lamb, dairy, and horticultural products into China.

Lowering expectations would reduce the costs of an FTA for trade partners, smoothing the way to quickly concluding the deals. However, it is also a diabolical trade-off, which involves sacrificing the interests of certain sectors for those of others. Whether government should even be “picking and choosing” between export industries in the first place is also an open question.

The “purist” option would be to maintain its current stance on comprehensive liberalisation and abandon bilateral FTAs entirely. Trade policy efforts could instead emphasise multilateral initiatives in the region. Australia is already involved in negotiations for two regional trade deals – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Given these are complex multilateral deals, it is less likely that the sectoral interests of certain countries will block negotiation entirely.

Nonetheless, Australia is a relatively small player in both the TPP and RCEP, and may not be able to press effectively for its key interests in agriculture and services. The prospects for these agreements are also hard to gauge. RCEP is a relatively new proposal whose details remain unclear, while China is yet to officially join the TPP. Betting the trade farm of these nascent regional deals would be a high risk strategy.

Thus, the Coalition government now faces the policy dilemma of either lowering its expectations from FTAs, or risking not signing any FTAs at all. How the new Trade Minister will respond to this trade-off between FTA purity and pragmatism remains to be seen, but “embracing free trade” will prove more challenging than initially thought.

Jeffrey Wilson does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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Why we made the switch to solar: Spiess Australia

Tony Klausner, managing director of Spiess Australia Smallgoods, explains why the company, which specialises in air-dried meat products,switched to solar power. 

A 100 kilowatt commercial solar energy system was installed in April by Sun Connect to power Spiess Australia’s 4000 square-metre, small goods production plant, an hour west of Sydney. 

Innovation and long-term sustainability are top priorities in the running of Spiess Australia. The installation of solar power to run our manufacturing plant ticked both of these boxes. 

Spiess Australia began its operation in 1996 under the supervision of our parent company Spiess Schiers AG in Switzerland – a company with over 105 years of experience in smallgoods production. We have remained at the forefront of smallgoods production through continuous investments in innovative manufacturing techniques. Switching to solar power and installing a 100 kilowatt commercial energy system to power our production plant here in Australia was in keeping with this. 

However, most importantly, our research in adopting solar energy showed it was worth the investment – foremost because it made economic sense – but also for many other reasons.

To begin, solar power has a tried and proven track record in manufacturing businesses overseas. Solar energy was already giving many international companies a competitive advantage. If large corporations, like IKEA and Toyota, install solar systems in much cloudier countries around the world, surely Australia is a more than appropriate candidate for utilising solar power. We have an abundance of sunlight here in Australia and with Spiess Australia being so reliant on refrigeration and electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the switch to using clean and abundant energy from the sun during the day made sense. 

The switch to solar power would also help to turn a profit for our prosciutto and smallgoods manufacturing. Our main impetus was to turn environmental and social responsibilities into a valuable asset to our business. The decision to embrace solar technology proved economically viable for the business’s bottom line. The cost benefit analysis showed a reduction in our electricity costs of about 22 percent and a depreciable asset in the balance sheet.  

Solar installation would also provide protection against electricity price hikes. Not only would Spiess Australia save many thousands of dollars in the future, it will reduce our exposure to future electricity price rises. 

Finally, there were also environmental benefits due to the reduction of greenhouse gases emitted from our manufacturing. It gives us a great deal of pride to own one of the largest private solar installations in NSW. The community and our customers recognise us as a sustainably-managed Small to Medium Enterprise (SME).

We don’t know of any other company that can offer its customers carbon neutral, Australian-made smallgoods.
Installing solar power is a long-term sustainable and profitable investment for us at Spiess Australia. I would recommend it to similar food manufacturing businesses that are reliant on steady electricity consumption, as the way forward.  

If you’re interested in making the switch to solar, the following tips should help:

  1. Own your building. A commercial solar installation adds value to your building by reducing your energy and running costs. A building with its own solar energy system is likely to fetch  higher re-sale or leasing prices. 
  2. Orientation of your building and sunlight makes a difference. It’s important that your building has no shade and that your rooftop has ample access to sunlight.
  3. Use all the electricity produced by your solar system for your own business. By not feeding electricity back into the grid, you do not depend on government policy and set tariffs. You know what you get and can calculate returns independent of government policy.
  4. Do your research and only used a reputable commercial energy company. We used the services of Sun Connect, a multi-award winning commercial-grade solar panel design and installation company.
  5. Price alone should not be a driver. The quality and longevity of the solar panels should be a priority. Installing a solar system should be a long-term proposition. A quality commercial-grade solar panel should last 25 years. Granted, you don't have to wait 25 years for a return, it should start returning you dividends from year one, but you want to receive a return for 25 years – so with that in mind, don't be fooled into looking at a cheap system, because you'll get a cheap return from that.
  6. Make the most of your solar energy system, it's a cost benefit and is good for your brand. And of course, Use electricity wisely to ensure you are conserving energy as well as generating your own energy. 

 

FactCheck: do many other countries restrict foreign investment in agricultural land?

“We often get criticised for trying to be protective. I actually look around the world and I see many, many countries being equally protective of their own core assets.” – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, third leaders' debate, 21 August.

In their final election debate at the Rooty Hill RSL Club, both leaders were asked about foreign investment of agricultural land in Australia.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott confirmed the Coalition’s plan to lower the threshold for Foreign Investment Review Board examination of foreign purchases of agricultural land from A$248 million down to A$15 million.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was “not quite as free market" as Abbott and that he preferred joint ventures between foreign-owned companies and Australian companies when it came to owning agricultural land. Rudd also made the above statement, which suggested that other nations were also concerned about foreign ownership of agricultural land.

So is the Prime Minister right?

Australia’s regulation of foreign investment is not strict by international standards. On a continuum from prohibition through to promotion (through subsidies or favourable tax arrangements, for instance), Australia tends toward minimal restriction in practice of foreign investment.

All proposed foreign government investment and private investment proposals worth more than A$248 million must be notified to the Foreign Investment Review Board within Treasury. Investment from the United States and New Zealand is much more leniently treated, with a higher $1078 million threshold.

Investment proposals are reviewed on a case-by-case basis, applying a national interest test that is open as to what can be considered. Stated criteria specific to agricultural land include access to land and water, productivity and security of agricultural production, biodiversity and employment. This test is apparently weak, as almost all applications are approved, including about A$55 billion in agriculture and mining in 2011-2012.

Foreign investments below the thresholds are not scrutinised, and companies may strategically keep proposals below the threshold.

So the formal review process appears unlikely to restrict foreign investment. But this needs to be seen in context. About 99 percent of the companies that own agricultural land are entirely Australian-owned (and these own 89 percent of agricultural land in Australia). Nevertheless, foreign ownership is rising.

Comparing rules between countries is difficult because nations vary in the way they regulate. Many countries, including the US and Canada, also have restrictions at the regional or provincial level that are greater than at the national level.

*EU members which are meant to treat other EU investment no less favourably than domestic **restrictions recently increased Author

Rules may look strict on paper in some countries, but there is little monitoring or enforcement of them. Many countries discriminate between countries when it comes to foreign investment. For instance, European Union countries are meant to allow investment by other EU countries on the same basis as domestic investment, while foreign investment from non-EU countries may be more restricted.

To complicate matters further, the level of policy and regulatory attention can depend on the existing level of foreign ownership, the proportion of agricultural land and the economic dependence on agricultural and mining production and export. Developing countries often have weak or absent institutions for regulation, which affects their ability to address the market failures in this area.

Given those caveats, we can say that foreign investment is more restricted than domestic investment for all 34 members of the developed nations in the OECD (and 10 non-OECD members) which are signatories to the OECD’s principle of “national treatment”. This means that foreign enterprises should be treated no less favourably than domestic.

At least 15 of these 44 countries have additional regulation specific to foreign investment in rural land. This is summarised in the table above

The table includes countries referred to in a recent Senate inquiry report on Foreign Investment and the National Interest, which compared the regulatory contexts of “countries with agricultural land that has experienced increasing levels of foreign investment [and] have made regulatory changes to meet this challenge”, denoted by **.

This is indicative of some movement away from the “national treatment” initiative, which had been intended to free up international capital movements since the Global Financial Crisis.

Verdict

Overall, many countries are at least equally or more protective of their “core assets” as Australia, so Kevin Rudd is broadly right. This is particularly the case for countries at comparable economic levels and with a significant land resource and rural sector. Some other countries are moving more towards such protections.


Review

This is a good piece, well supported by detailed analysis that demonstrates Kevin Rudd is broadly right. As the author notes, there has been recent tightening in a number of nations, including in previously unrestricted Argentina. Also in South America, Colombia is experiencing widespread civil unrest due to the effects of its US Free Trade Agreement, so tightening or some other significant public response can be soon expected there.

The author notes the favoured treatment that Australia affords US and NZ investors. This is due to the agreed bilateral trade agreements – and it seems that China wants similar treatment if it is to sign a free trade agreement with Australia. It is worth noting that these bilateral “free trade” agreements are actually bilateral “preferential trade and foreign investment” agreements (but cannot be termed “preferential” as such things are illegal under the WTO). – Mark McGovern

The Conversation is fact checking political statements in the lead-up to this year’s federal election. Statements are checked by an academic with expertise in the area. A second academic expert reviews an anonymous copy of the article.

Request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

 

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

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Sip on this: do diet drinks make you fatter?

Diet drinks are no help in the fight against obesity and may actually encourage over-eating, according to a US academic who recently argued this point in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Susan Swithers reviewed studies that suggest normal or mildly overweight people who consumed artificially-sweetened drinks were more likely to gain weight when compared to those who did not.

The studies showed that, in two separate groups of adolescents, drinking artificially-sweetened drinks was associated with increased body mass index and body fat.

This suggests these drinks don’t even help people maintain normal body weight and may, in fact, be detrimental. But Swithers recognises that this association may be a case of “reverse causality” – people who are genetically prone to obesity are more likely to drink low-calorie drinks to limit calorie intake.

So, it’s the obesity tendency that leads people to drink artificially-sweetened drinks, not that artificially-sweetened drinks lead to obesity.

A better way

To exclude the possibility of reverse causality, it’s necessary to undertake a randomised prospective study. The ideal would be to recruit about 200 volunteers and randomly assign each volunteer to a group that will drink only diet drinks or to a group than drinks only sugared drinks. We could then observe the effect on their weight.

The paper quotes one such study that examined 641 boys and girls. For 18 months, the children were asked to drink either a single artificially-sweetened drink or a single sugar-sweetened drink every day.

After 18 months, children who had drunk the artificially-sweetened drink gained less weight and had smaller increases in fat mass when compared to the children who had drunk the sugar-sweetened drink.

This suggests that the previously noted association of obesity with drinking diet drinks is the result of spontaneously obese individuals trying to take evasive action. In other words, it is a case of reverse causality.

So, what is the evidence that artificial sweeteners could make you fatter?

What the rodents did

In a different paper by the same author published in the journal Behavioural Neuroscience earlier in the year, she reported the results of a rat study she undertook with her colleagues.

They measured the weight gain in rats after feeding them yoghurt supplements sweetened with saccharin (an artificial sweetener) or yoghurt sweetened with glucose.

The authors found that when the rats were consuming a low-fat “healthy” diet, there was no difference in weight gain between the two groups of rats. But when the rats had a “Western” high-fat, high-sugar diet, the ones being supplemented with artificially sweetened yoghurt put on more weight than the others.

These effects were more pronounced in female rats from strains known to be susceptible to diet-induced obesity.

So this effect, if present in humans, will be more dramatic in genetically obese-prone women on a high-energy western diet. The study may also explain why the prospective study on children did not support the hypothesis; the children were not on a high-energy diet and the group contained both males and females.

Becoming desensitised

But how could artificial sweeteners encourage over-eating in some circumstances? According to Swithers, artificial sweeteners weaken the normal response of the body to the arrival of glucose in the system.

It receives confusing signals: there’s a sweet taste but it’s not accompanied by the usual effects of glucose such as the suppression of hunger mediated by glucose metabolism in the brain or the stimulation of appetite-suppressing hormones from the small bowel.

After a period of ingesting sweet-tasting but calorie-free drinks, the body may no longer respond to glucose containing foods with these appropriate appetite-suppressing mechanisms.

This may explain the finding that body weight increases only when sweet-tasting, calorie-containing foods are consumed. We normally rely on the appetite suppressing effects of glucose to limit our intake of these foods and will overeat if the response has been blunted.

Imaging studies of the human brain have shown that sucrose (table sugar) but not the artificial sweetener sucralose, activates brain areas related to reward of pleasantness and in other taste-related areas of the brain.

So what does all this mean for you?

Swithers ends her piece with a list of remaining questions to be answered and calls for more research. We clearly do need to learn more about this phenomenon.

But in the meantime, we should all (but especially obesity-prone females) review our consumption of artificially-sweetened drinks as they probably aren’t helping our fight to stay lean.

As always, plain water is the best drink.

Joseph Proietto is Co-Chief Investigator on an NH&MRC grant investigating a phenomenon that is related to feeding fructose + fat to mice.

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Foreign investment in agriculture? How about a plan for profitability

Large parts of Australian agriculture are economically and financially unsustainable. Returns are inadequate and unbalanced; assets are depleted; risks are needlessly high. To date, governments have largely relied on the market to address problems, but problems have worsened.

Mainstream political thinking has essentially ignored issues of foreign investment in farming and food processing (where no significant wholly Australian processor remains). Popular opinion has been turning against such investments, but it was only on Wednesday evening, at the Rooty Hill leaders debate, that prime minister Kevin Rudd finally stated his anxiety about our “open slather approach” and expressed the need for change.

Responding, opposition leader Tony Abbot was reassuring. He would lower the threshold for review of foreign investment from A$220 million to A$15 million – a meaningless gesture when approvals are automatic and asset overpricing pressures remain unchecked. Understandably he did not wish to open up an issue that still divides those in the Coalition and, now openly, Labor.

Headline reactions were splendid: Rudd “retreats on foreign investment” (AFR), “risks foreign investment” (The Australian), “takes hard line on foreign investment” (The Land, The Conversation), “cautious on foreign investment” and makes “reckless flub on foreign investment” (both Business Spectator). Tidying up after this explosive “thought bubble” preoccupied most. All in all, it was a marvellous media moment for reporting, little analysis and much opinioneering.

How important is foreign investment to our farming future, and indeed our nation? Briefly, the historical record is mixed. There are no clear connections between GDP growth and foreign investment, and indeed some contrary examples (relatively slow GDP growth with high foreign investment).

The really important issue is how investors use production assets (such as farmland) and who profits where and when. Serious problems arise in markets when:

  • income streams and profit are inadequate for needs
  • distorting opportunistic strategies are not curbed or countered
  • assets from stressed enterprises are dumped on markets
  • investments are made with mixed motivations
  • funding availability and power are asymmetric
  • financing is unevenly based and biased and
  • perceptions are distorted by misinformation.

Any one of these conditions can corrupt asset markets. As all seven are evident in the Australian farmland and product markets, outcomes are likely to be perverse. Relying on a market solution in such circumstances would be foolish, something that the current prime minister seems to be realising, finally.

Not business as usual

While our politicians and, particularly, their advisers might prefer “Plan A: business as usual”, prudence dictates planning for realities. Here the Australian people are ahead, with now clearly expressed preferences for controls on farm land purchases, supply chain reform, robust national interest evaluations and the like.

This year has witnessed many collapses in rural businesses across all manner of size and form, with many more likely. Governments need to agree on an adequate “Plan B: Stabilisation” as a debt-deflation spiral builds in rural land assets.

In our open economy, the build-up in foreign investment necessitates “Plan C: asset return enhancement”. Foreign investment, be it direct or portfolio, can add significantly to the progress of regions and a nation when it adds something “new” or “better” that realises decent returns for both its domestic hosts and external investors.

Foreign capture of assets, however, is different. There, not only do the bulk of returns accrue preferentially to external parties. Control of assets also enables wider strategies, be these corporate or national.

For example, a grain handler (headquartered in the USA, China, Middle East or elsewhere) may acquire assets in Australia not so much for the earnings from a well-run business based on them but as a means of global supply chain consolidation and targeted preferencing of some suppliers (and discrimination against others).

Plan C should then minimally include a robust national benefit demonstration and measures to preclude opportunistic actions. Under some circumstances (such as current high domestic finance costs and limited rural liquidity) the only real national solution appears to be to ban foreign investment until local investors can obtain comparable finance. Currently cheap foreign money is maintaining unserviceably high asset values and privileged asset access, pushing prices above those local investors can sensibly afford.

The critical strategic question is how to manage foreign investments so that excessive domestic production earnings do not leave the country (as already happens in some Australian sectors and many parts of the world). This is central to plan “D: Restoring national incomes”.

Ownership transfer, income losses

Further ownership transfers of farm, processing, product handling and marketing assets to external parties would see increasingly serious national income losses and Balance of Payment deterioration. Australia is an increasingly indebted nation. It needs to earn its way in the world, not sell off the assets which could support such earnings. External crises can be expected soon enough if our annual net outflows of around A$50 billion continue to go unaddressed.

The usefulness of current financing arrangements could be the focus of “Plan E: sustainable finance”. Currently banks are providing what are essentially home loans to businesses with the high income volatility of agriculture. Others have structured finance in unsustainable ways.

All have been asking for trouble, and it has now arrived. High interest rates (especially the growing margin claimed by financiers for rural funds and the use of unilaterally-imposed penalty rates) need attention, as do the situations of larger debt holders. A well-constituted Rural Reconstruction and Development Bank is part of a viable solution.

Next come “F: supply chain operation”. This does not just mean the problems laid at the door of Woolworths and Coles. The real issue is one of supply chain closures, globally and nationally, as countries and corporations set up their own exclusive supply chains. Markets are increasingly bypassed as corporations tie up chains for a variety of reasons.

Such chains are tailored to preferentially serve certain parties at select parts of the chain. As this runs from farmers through transport and processing to end users anywhere in the world, there are many options for predatory, security or other actions. Recall that high prices only five years ago saw more than 30 nations enact food export controls to ensure their domestic populations were fed.

Insightful action needed

Ultimately, solutions combine in “Plan P: restoring enterprise profitability”. Suitably profitable enterprises have futures. Opportunities to develop can then be sensibly taken up. Much distress and needless destruction of wealth can be avoided if we act insightfully, now.

In all, new policy directions that canvas a range of possibilities for these uncertain times are needed. Solving serious problems in rural Australia requires focused, informed and creative responses by involved stakeholders. Unfortunately, current policy proposals are out by an order of magnitude – and many are not even on the right track.

Prompt, effective interventions can halt the deteriorating situation of Australian farm assets, and the national slide. Complementary actions can restore profitability. Such is the challenge to those who would lead us.

Mark McGovern does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

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

 

The global food security threat: where do we begin?

Without doubt, the biggest challenge we, our children, and our grandchildren will face is the rising global demand for food and its impact on the environment, says Major General John Hartley, CEO of Future Directions International.

Future Directions International is a not-for-profit, independent research institute based in Perth, which conducts comprehensive research of important medium- to long-term issues facing Australia. Today, Hartley was one of the first presenters on day two of the 20th Australian HACCP Conference in Melbourne, and he had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.

His presentation was titled Global Food Security in the 21st Century and Australia’s Role, and his message was clear: the single biggest threat facing the world today is an increasingly hungry population.

In the western world, the vast majority of us enjoy three meals a day, and with our ever-expanding waistlines it would be understandable if some westerners are at least a little skeptical that food security is a real problem.

But make no mistake, ensuring there is enough food to feed the world is a serious concern for today’s population, and becomes more pressing with each generation.

According to Hartley, nearly one billion people are hungry and malnourished today, and with the global population set to soar and food consumption expected to skyrocket by 75 percent in 2050 (compared to 2007) there’s never been more pressure on food producers to rise to the challenge.

However, climate change and the growing population’s increasingly reliance on natural resources represent significant roadblocks, if not deal breakers.

“Demand has outrun many of the natural systems on which we rely,” Hartley said, adding that as societies become richer, they tend to develop appetites for more nutrient-dense foods, and this is evident in the population’s rising (and unsustainable) meat consumption habits.

In June last year, research from the University of Exeter in the UK found that if we are to feed the 9.3bn people expected to inhabit the world in 2050, we will need to bring down the average global meat consumption from 16.6 percent to 15 percent of average daily calorie intake, which is about half that of the average western diet.

The aquaculture industry is expected to capitalise on any decline in meat consumption and is due to become a major source of the world’s protein over the next 20 years, quadrupling in size.

Jammie Penm, assistant secretary at the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), who also presented at the HACCP Conference today, said food producing industries are facing five key challenges in food production:

  1. Total factor productivity growth is weakening
  2. Land expansion is slowing
  3. Land degradation
  4. Water availability
  5. Climate change (640,000 ha of land in China is turned into desert every year, with climate change a key contributor).

But having enough land and adequate resources isn’t the only challenge the world’s food producers are facing. In order to adequately prepare for the future, consumer awareness also needs to be a top priority.

John Hartley says that some of the world’s governments are doing good work in this area, but overall, it’s not nearly enough. And while the National Food Plan contains worthy goals for boosting food exports and production, it falls short in terms of communicating just how pressing the issue of food security is.

“We need to convince the average person that we have a major problem,” he said. “We can only deal with an impending crisis if all contribute.

“We need to portray the findings of scientific communities in such a way that the public understand [the seriousness of the issue].

”Having said this, Hartley said the average global citizen is aware that globally, regionally and nationally, we need to produce more food, and that we need to invest in our food producers. Generally, farmers owe a lot of money, so investment is needed to ensure they can improve productivity and “get their act together,” he said.

Hartley provided the following stepping stones to managing global food security, breaking the food industry’s – and the global population’s – challenges into two categories: supply and demand. And while they might seem overly simplistic, once we get our head around the real issues at hand and understand the magnitude of what needs to be done, hopefully some real, valuable steps can be made to ensuring future generations are better off, not worse, than we are today.

Demand. We must:

  • Stabilise the world’s population
  • Eradicate poverty
  • Reduce excessive meat consumption
  • Reverse biofuel policies
  • Reduce waste (Around 40 percent of all food intended for human consumption in developed countries ends up as waste).

Supply. We must:

  • Stabilise the climate
  • Use water more effectively
  • Reverse decline in arable land

 

The Right Food Group wins Organics title at Food awards: video

The Right Food Group proved it's got the right idea in mind with its Organic Noodle Kitchen – Asian Noodle Range, taking home the Organics category at this year's Food Magazine awards.

The Right Food Group is one of Australia's leading organic developers and manufacturers, specialising in certified organic and low allergen foods. The company's products are gourmet, simple to use and chef-inspired with the added benefit of being healthy.

The Right Food Group is a certified organic, JAS MAFF (Japan), HACCP, Halal and Kosher certified company which develops and manufacturers organic simmer sauces, dressings, table sauces, salad dressings, marinades, stir fry sauces and fruit spreads.

The Organic Noodle Kitchen gourmet noodles is a unique new Asian product range featuring designer packaging and attractive shelf ready inners and available in a number of flavours including Organic Beetroot, Spirulina, Charcoal and Whole Wheat.

The new range grew out of founder Anni Brownjohn's desire to create innovative and great tasting, organic foods. Not only has the Organic Noodle Kitchen received praise within Australia, but the company also won Best New Organic Product at the BioFachWorld Organic Trade Fair, held in Nuremburg, Germany earlier this year. The Organic Noodle Kitchen – Asian Noodle Range is the first Australian product to win the prestigious award.

The Right Food Right was founded in 1999 by Brownjohn, who has a keen passion for healthy food.

"I started The Right Food Group because I believe in healthy food for Australians and we've continued that journey right up to now. We like to create innovative, new foods and exciting foods that make everyone's life easier," said Brownjohn.

When asked why she thought the company may have won the Organics category, Brownjohn put it simply: "I think we won because we actually do the best product," she told Food magazine.

In order to make the best product, Brownjohn says that excellent producers and quality ingredients are imperative.

"I think that Australia creates the most innovative foods because we are a small market. We work really hard and we've got great products to work with, great ingredients and great farmers."

In addition to The Right Food Group's already distinguished range, Brownjohn says that the company has a few more exciting product to showcase this year.

"We've got organic two minute noodles and cup noodles coming to market which will be launched at the Fine Food festival.  They are healthy, simple, quick food solutions with no MS – just great tasting noodles with great flavours that are good for your health." 

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Morlife dominates at Food magazine awards: videos

Functional food company, Morlife, was the big winner at this year's Food magazine awards, taking out both the Confectionery and Snack Foods categories, as well as the overall Best of the Best award.

Based on the Gold Coast, Morlife's Snake lollies won the top spot in Confectionery.

Product development manager, Cheryl Stewart, said Morlife's Snakes are a healthier alternative to the jelly snakes most of us are familiar with.

"We won a Queensland government grant to produce this product. We said we'd do two things: we said we'd lower the sugar in the confectionery product, which we did by 20 percent – over and above other confectionery products – and we also said we'd add vegetables and fruit to the Snakes. 

"So the Snakes come in four different colours: there's an orange snake which has carrot and orange in the freeze dried fruit powders; there's a green snake which has spinach, spirulina and apple in it; there's a yellow snake which has pumpkin and pineapple; and a red snake which has beetroot and raspberry in it."

Stewart said Morlife's freeze dried fruit powders are key to the company's ability to market itself as a healthier confectionery brand. The powders give the Snakes colours and taste but contain no preservatives, artificial colours and are gluten-free.

Morlife's second win at the Food magazine awards was for in the Snack Foods category, for its Choc-Coated Golden Berries.

Golden Berries contain the compounds Vitamin C, A and bioflavonoids, and also have good levels of protein, Vitamin B, B2, B6, calcium, phosphorus, fibre and pectin and, to top it off, the highest magnesium content of any fruit.

To create this winning product, Morlife combined the tart yet slightly sweet Golden Berries with dark chocolate.

"Morlife Dark Chocolate Golden Berries are in themselves a unique and delightful tasting super-food," the company said in its award nomination form. "Golden Berries (aka gooseberries) are now gaining attention as an Amazonian superfruit, native to South America. The reason we incorporated these with dark chocolate is that dark chocolate contains high levels of cocoa solids, known to be a good source of polyphenols antioxidants.

"The contrast between the soft texture and tart taste of the berry with the premium dark chocolate is sure to appeal to any chocolate lover."

Stewart said Morlife imports the berries from Peru then coats them in chocolate at their Gold Coast facility.

"It's a naughty but nice snack. It's really high in antioxidants so it's a really good treat if you're going to have a snack," she said.

Just when Stewart thought she could get comfortable in her seat and enjoy the rest of the awards night, Morlife was back up on stage, claiming the night's most prestigious award – t he 2013 Best of the Best award.

The company is a worthy recipient of the Best of the Best crown. As a functional food company with a focus on developing complete nutritional food solutions, Morlife prides itself on empowering society to get 'More out of life'. The judging panel for this year's awards was impressed with the Morlife's ability to innovate not only through the development of new products including snacks, cereals, herbal teas and beverages, but also through effective packaging and a marketing campaign emphasising its point of difference.

Morlife has not only experienced impressive growth here in Australia, forming an impressive partnership with key retailers including Woolworths, but it's also established invaluable relationships with overseas markets in countries including NZ, Singapore, Thailand, the UAE and Malaysia.

Stewart credits the company's success to the passion and commitment of its team members.

"To win the Best of the Best is an honour. We must be doing something right," she told Food magazine. "I truly, honestly, believe in our mission and our vision. We're very passionate about what we do and it's all about bringing wellness to people through adding nutrient-dense ingredients to every day foods. And we're going to continue along that path."

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Ready-to-go roasts win Food magazine award: video

Grab and Go Hot Country Roasts by Creative Food Solutions won the Meat and Smallgoods category at this year's Food magazine awards.

Creative Food Solutions' Grab and Go Hot Country Roasts are available in three flavours: Australian Beef, Lamb and Pork – all ethically raised. The roasts are free from artificial colours, additives and preservatives and have a shelf life of 28 days.

The company produces a range of sous vide roasts that it supplies on a large scale to RSL clubs and age care facilities, and has now developed a smaller 1kg roast meat range designed to be sold in conjunction with the currently expanding roast chicken market which supermarkets including Woolworths have developed over the past few years. 

Creative Food Solutions worked with a European packaging supplier based in Australia to combine sous vide cooking, normally reserved for the hospitality industry, with an "ovenable" reheat bag, allowing the meat to be slow cooked and browned for meal time without any mess in an oven.

The product's cooking bag, made of a nylon structure, is what makes the Grab and Go Hot Country Roasts so innovative, the company says. 

"This is the first time we have been able to sous vide and roast the product in the same bag. This has allowed us to lock in flavour and moisture from paddock to plate," Creative Food Solutions said in its nomination form.

"Is it as good as a Sunday roast made from scratch? It's better," said Ian Hill, creative manager at Creative Food Solutions. "It's much better because you don't have to wash up. We provide you with a one kilo roast meat, ready to take home, sliced up, put it in front of the family and you are the star."

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Cheeky Rascal Cider takes out Beverages category at Food awards: video

Two years ago, Rebello launched Cheeky Rascal Cider – the country's first apple and pear cider to be blended with fruit wine and made entirely from real, fresh, local strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. And this year, the company won the Food magazine awards' Beverages category for its new varietal range.

Rebello's market research indicated that cider consumers were always looking for something new and interesting, and in November 2012, the company added a new limited edition range of real fruit ciders to the Cheeky Rascal portfolio, based purely on creations requested by the consumer.

CEO Ruth Gallace, said the research findings have "allowed us to bring experimental batches of new and interesting ciders to the consumer without disrupting the consistency and reliably of our well-loved core range."

The seven new varietals are made from real apples from Victoria and include Passionfruit Pink Lady, Apple Guava, Gingerberry, Ginger Apple, Strawberry Apple Mint, Honey Apple and Apple Mint.

With the introduction of herbs and honey, new processing methods had to be developed, posing a number of challenges for the company. Gallace commented that the process was "very time consuming and complicated… involving much trial and error."

Even with the associated complications that naturally occur when introducing a new product line, the new varietals proved to be a wondrous success. The Passionfruit Pink Lady cider pre-sold out before it was even on the market.

Gallace said one of the flavours in particular, Honey Apple, turned out to be highly controversial – "people either love it or hate it," she said.

"When we're provoking such extreme responses to our experimental limited editions, this confirms that we're pushing the boundaries and really giving consumers something interesting."

Craig Wilson, distributor for Rebello Wines and Cheeky Rascal, said the key to the brand's success was innovation and keeping ahead of the competition.

"It's about keeping at the forefront of the market; it's about releasing new products," he said. "It's always about keeping ahead of the game."

Another point of difference for the new varietal Cheeky Rascal ciders is that they are the first, and only, 100 percent real fruit blended ciders in Australia, with no additives, flavourings or concentrates and all apples are sourced from within Victoria.

A further testament to the company's success, Rebello is current working closely with the Victorian government's Department of Business and Innovation on export opportunities in Asia, and is also considering entry into the US and UK markets.

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New plating system from CMActive claims packaging award: video

CMActive's Torus Pak was a stand-out contender in the Food magazine awards' Packaging Design category this year.

In all traditional meal trays, the base is a solid integrated part of the container, but the Torus Pak has a unique flexible base with a folded pulling tab, enabling the meal to be presented on a porcelain plate exactly the way it's intended. 

After removing the packaging, the meal will appear freshly cooked, as if plated by the chef and all traces of industrial production will be erased. As the top film will not be removed during the transfer of the meal, the Torus Pak also has an important safety element as no hot steam will burn the user's fingers.

CMActive imports and distributes the Torus Pak in Australia and upon claiming the Packaging Design award, a company representative told Food magazine "It's probably a world first. It's the first time ever that a piece of packaging allows you to actually plate and present a meal, whereas traditionally, if you had any form of foodservice packaging, and you want to eat off a plate you have to take the meal out of the packaging and put it onto the plate, which is usually in reverse to how it went in. So it might look nice in the packaging but by the time you've finished [plating] it looks like a dog's breakfast. 

"But with Torus Pak, the base of the product removes so the meal drops straight through and however it looks in the pack is how it ends up on the plate.

"You can maintain the chef's integrity right throughout, so I think the Torus Pak has some great labour saving and cost saving benefits for the foodservice industry. We pay a lot for labour [in Australia] and there's labour shortages in foodservice so if you can simplify that, extend shelf life and improve product safety as well, then I think the Torus Pak has some great opportunities," he said.

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Springhill Farm wins Prepared Foods category at Food awards: video

Springhill Farm's Real Bread Mix took out the top spot in the 2013 Food magazine award's Prepared Meals category.

Springhill Farm originated on a sheep and grain farming property near Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, where the Barber family farmed for two generations. The family hosted kindergarten and school children for a country experience, where they could feed the animals, watch sheep being shorn and collect stalks of oats to observe, taste and smell the grain being transferred into flour.

The muesli slice was their final taste of the country before heading home, and it was this modest muesli slice that won the hearts of these school children and fuelled the idea of moving the focus of the business to baking.
Now, 25 years later, Springhill Farm has been passed on to the next generation of family bakers, the Whatleys, who have spent years determining the right ingredients, flavours and textures to create a range of slices, biscuits and gluten-free products for consumers, both with and without food allergies.

With its Real Bread Mix, Springhill Farm wanted to prove that, despite what many think, gluten-free products aren't always dry and tasteless. To do this, the company added flaxseed flour, psyllium and pea protein to its bread mix, ensuring the resulting bread is not only gluten-free, but also has a fluffy texture and what the company refers to as "as-good-as-the-real-thing taste."

In early 2012, Springhill Farm further developed its range, adding 'Seed' and 'Fruit' varieties to The Real Bread Mix foundation, with the added benefit of also being wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free and nut-free. 

These mixes can not only make bread, but can also be substituted for traditional wheat or fruit flours to make hot cross buns, a variety of puddings, biscuits and cakes.

Accepting the award for the Prepared Foods category at this year's Food magazine awards was Fiona Whatley, co-owner of Springhill Farm. She said "We've got three flavours: Original, Fruit and Seed. It's gluten-free, egg-, wheat-, nut-, dairy- and soy-free. It can be used for bread, pizzas, biscuits, cakes, muffins – all sorts of things. So it's really versatile and applicable to lots of lots of different people."

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