Affordable fresh food for every Australian child – regardless of their postcode


 

An election period is a time when we look to our leaders for bold, visionary action and innovative policy. A time to re-imagine our society and create new solutions to our most-pressing challenges.

A moment every three years, when we can shift the trajectory of this nation and voice our opinions. Exercise democracy, but also a time to reflect. Take stock of our national landscape and ensure that we as a nation are heading in a direction we can all be proud of.

A new promise

Now I am an academic and not a politician – and for the purposes of this article, my political bias is not totally relevant. But I want to make a call – draw a line in the sand and urge both sides of politics to consider adopting a new and bold promise for this coming election.

That by the end of the coming term, every child in our country will have equal access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.

That no matter where that child lives – the centre of Sydney or the red centre – fresh produce will cost the same.

And this cost will be affordable.

Fresh food is health

A recent study suggested that Indigenous children who have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, are healthier and require less antibiotic therapy than counterparts with less fresh food access. This was a small study, but it implied something we all can imagine – that children do better, and achieve greater health if they can access affordable fresh produce.

And yet, another study looking at the cost of a standard basket of supermarket goods across a spectrum of remoteness in Australia – showed a cost differential between 24 percent and 56 percent. In other words, fresh food is up to 56 percent more expensive in remote regions.

And this is not just an issue for Indigenous children, this is an issue for remote and rural children also, and this is an issue for urban children who live in areas void of fresh produce stores – known as food deserts.

Remote, rural and economically vulnerable families want to buy fresh foods, but increasingly simply cannot afford to.

A time for vision

All this, in the world’s 9th richest nation, by GDP per capita. A nation that was built on the back of agriculture and rural enterprise. A nation that prides itself on striving for equity and on the notion of a universal “fair go”.

Money doesn’t solve everything – but money can solve this. We can solve this and our government can solve this.

We are a wealthy nation and it is shameful that families and children could go without, or face greater economic barriers to accessing fresh foods, simply because they live further from big cities. We should not accept such disparities in the cost of food for those living in rural regions and those living in less-advantaged urban settings.

Every child should have the same opportunities for achieving health.

Every child – rural, remote, indigenous, non-indigenous or urban – should and can have access to affordable fresh produce.

If we decide to make this a priority.

Affordable fresh food for every Australian

In this election year, let’s urge our leaders to close the divide in the cost of accessing a healthy diet. Make it just as easy for all Australians and all Australian children to achieve a healthier life, regardless of their address.

It’s time to have vision, to have foresight and to make bold, meaningful and tangible changes that can benefit all. So let’s call on our politicians to make this one of their priorities. To consider a policy of affordable fresh food for every child – whatever their postcode.

Connect with Sandro on Twitter via @SandroDemaio.

This article is dedicated to the inspiring and visionary work of Prof Kerin O'Dea.

Alessandro R Demaio 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

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Images:  Flickr / Monica Arellano-Ongpin, Flickr / epSos.de and Flickr / JanahPhotography

 

Be clear with claims: editor’s rant

Yes I'm a proud advocate for Australia's food manufacturing industry, but first and foremost I'm a consumer. We all are.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I love coming to work every day and learning about all the new and innovative ways our food manufacturers are doing business.

I love reporting on – as cliche as it sounds – what really matters to you guys. I love talking to you and trying to understand your struggles, and advocating for the reforms you say you need to ensure the longevity of your business and the industry.

BUT, before I was a journalist and before I was editor of Food mag, I was a consumer, and obviously I still am – albeit a much more discerning one.

I'm not a vegetarian – in fact I'll pretty much eat anything, but I try to buy and eat as ethically and healthily as possible. It's a personal choice and it's certainly not an easy one.

The plethora of labels and marketing tools out there which are either straight-up misleading or at the very least sneaky, mean consumers like myself aren't always buying what they think they are.

Australian shoppers are a savvy bunch and are increasingly aware of the regulation, or lack thereof, surrounding marketing claims such as 'organic' and 'free range.'

My point is this: be honest. Don't blur the truth. Coles – don't insult your customer base by telling them it's wrong to assume that 'baked fresh' means 'made from scratch.' Water cannot be organic, so don't say it is. Breakfast drinks actually have to be 'high' in something, whether it be protein or fibre, in order to promote it that way, and a chicken needs more than an A4-sized piece of land to run around on in order to be labelled as (and priced as) 'free range.'

This year has seen a number of food and beverage brands named and shamed for leading consumers astray. More stringent regulations are no doubt on their way, but manufacturers should fear more than just a hefty fine.

Yes, Australian consumers are a loyal bunch, they also don't forget easily. When news gets out that the wool has been pulled over their eyes and their 'light' microwavable meal is in fact packed with sugar, salt and perhaps even kilojoules, they'll walk away from the brand and won't look back.

So be warned – tell the truth. It's for your own good.

 

The sodium shake – why food manufacturers need to reduce salt levels

As obesity rates continue to rise throughout the country, Australian consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about salt levels in food – in particular, food products targeting children.

A report released by the Dieticians Association of Australia in late 2012 stated that Aussie children are “overdosing on salt” by consuming sodium levels comparable to that of adults.

More recently, consumer group Choice, in conjunction with The George Institute for Global Health, released an independent report which found alarmingly high levels of salt in a host of breakfast cereals and children’s snacks. The report claimed that 72 out of 240 products tested revealed higher levels of sodium per 100 grams than the popular Smith’s Original chips.

The claim was strongly refuted by peak industry body, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, which dismissed the claims by stating that salt levels in children’s snack foods are neither harmful nor hidden. The lobby group also emphasised that members of the food manufacturing industry are being proactive, and taking significant steps to address salt levels.  

So exactly how much salt is too much? What does current legislation state about sodium levels? What initiatives are food manufacturers implementing to tackle the issue and how are consumers embracing the changes?

Health concerns translate to business concerns

Although the human body requires a small amount of salt to function, Australians are consuming alarmingly high salt levels, 75 percent of which comes directly from processed food, according to the National Heart Foundation.

 Accredited practicing dietician, Professor Caryl Nowson of Deakin University in Melbourne, conducted research into the salt consumption of children. The study drew from a sample of 238 children aged 5 to 13 years and found that seven in 10 children exceeded the recommended upper limit for sodium. Nowson also found that salt levels in adults did not fair much better with 97 percent of Australian men, and 86 percent of women found to be consuming far more than the recommended daily intake.

The Dieticians Association of Australia states that rising salt levels, especially in foods targeting children, increase the likelihood of health problems later in life including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

The National Heart Foundation of Australia also stresses that the total maximum recommended limit of sodium for adults should be less than 2,300mg per day, and much less for children. Foods that contain less than 120mg of sodium per 100g are considered ‘low in salt’, and the Heart Foundation recommends that foods be restricted to no more than 600mg of sodium per serve.

The Australian government launched The Food and Health Dialogue in late 2009 which serves as a joint government and industry public health initiative aimed at making healthier food choices more accessible for Australians. Participation in the initiative is voluntary with no legal obligations tied to involvement.

A number of agreements under the new initiative will see leading food manufacturers and grocery retailers reformulate key grocery lines to comply with new standards regarding portion sizing, consumer messaging and sodium levels.

The list of categories where participants are encouraged to reduce sodium include breads, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, simmer sauces, processed meats, soups, savoury pies and savoury crackers.

Big players such as General Mills, George Weston Foods Limited, Kellogg, Arnott’s Australia, Unilever and both Coles and Woolworths have all chosen to participate in selected categories.

Each category features differing targets to be achieved within set time-frames, however questions have been raised as to how effective a voluntary agreement can really be.

Is Australia behind the times?

Australia is already behind Britain and the USA which have both introduced limits on salt in recognition of community initiatives to control health related issues.

According to Jacqui Webster, the head of food policy at The George Institute for Global Health, Australia has only set around 17 targets over the past four years, whereas the UK has released 80 in just two years.

Professor Bruce Neal, also of The George Institute of Health, said tougher action is needed to control sodium levels, especially in children’s food.

“This calls for much tougher action to control the food industry, so it is not profiting at the expense of our children’s health,” he said.

While Aussie food manufacturers appear to be a little slow on the uptake, the Australian Division of World Action on Salt & Health (AWASH) has listed a number of businesses which have taken considerable steps to reduce sodium levels. These include George Weston Foods, Goodman Fielder, Bakers Delight, Freedom Foods, Heinz Australia and Sanitarium.

AWASH launched its Drop the Salt! campaign in 2007 with an aim to reduce the amount of salt consumed by Australians to 6g per day over a five year period. The campaign was said to be influenced by the success of initiatives in the UK which were widely adopted by the nation’s leading food manufacturers.

Gavin Neath, chairman of Unilever Bestfoods, said the UK’s salt reduction program was a testament to the effectiveness of both government and industry working together to achieve a positive outcome for the community.

“The work that was done in the UK … to reduce salt levels in processed foods was an excellent example of government and industry working effectively together on an important issue of public health. Over a period of three years very significant reductions were made across a broad range of product categories that included everything from bread and breakfast cereals to soups and meal sauces,” Neath said.

Why manufacturers should be liberal in their approach to salt

Let’s face it, salt is cheap. And it’s tasty and it can undoubtedly add flavour to a product that without it could taste a little bland.

But food manufacturers are increasingly being put under the microscope in regards to how their products are marketed towards children, and also to ensure they don’t exceed acceptable levels of additives such as sugar, fat and salt.

Many time-poor consumers place trust in the food industry by assuming that products marketed as a healthy snack alternative for kids, i.e a muesli bar, are indeed healthy.

However we are now living in the age of the health-conscious consumer, and that consumer is becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to reading nutritional information labels and assessing appropriate levels of added ingredients in processed foods.

So really, to keep ahead of the game, salt levels need to be addressed sooner rather than later, not just for corporate social responsibility reasons, but also for a businesses’ long-term brand integrity.

 

Study links high-energy food and drinks with bowel cancer

 

Consuming a lot of high-energy junk foods and fizzy drinks is associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer, according to new research published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention.

The new study is the first to draw a direct link between high sugar, high fat foods and bowel cancer but some experts have warned the results should be interpreted cautiously.

Colorectal cancer, which includes bowel and rectal cancer, accounts for 9.7percent of all cancer cases worldwide and eight percent of all cancer-related deaths.

The research team, led by the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, investigated the relationship between colorectal cancer and demographic, lifestyle, and food choices.

The authors included 2062 mostly white patients who presented with colorectal cancer to surgical units in Scotland between 1999 and 2006. A control group of 2776 mostly white people matched for age, sex and area of residence was also studied.

However, many patients and controls refused to take part in the study and participation rates were 52 percent for the patient group and 39 percent for the control group, with the authors speculating that some may have been turned off by the prospect of biological specimen collection.

Participants filled out a questionnaire about their general lifestyle and another about their food intake.

The researchers found that those who consumed more high-energy snack foods — which included high-fat and high-sugar foods such as desserts, chocolates, nuts, crisps, biscuits and cakes — were more likely to have developed colorectal cancer.

“The positive association of ‘high-energy snack foods’ and high-energy drinks with colorectal cancer is novel and merits further investigation as such snacks and drinks are increasingly important contributors to diets in industrialised country settings,” the report said.

Juice, coffee and fish

In the population studied, high-energy snack foods accounted for 20 percent of the daily energy intake.

Drinking a lot of fruit and vegetable juice was also associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer among patients with a high body mass index.

“Generally, fruit and vegetable juices have different properties compared with the whole fruit or vegetable they come from, as the majority of them contain sugars, preservatives and other additives. In addition, it has been shown that pure fruit juice raise blood sugar, and hence insulin, by a greater magnitude than a whole fruit eaten over the same time period, which could account for different metabolic effects,” the authors said.

High levels of white fish consumption was also associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer but the authors said this was likely because the fish was often served fried or battered.

“Coffee may be associated with a decreased colorectal cancer risk either because it contains particular anticarcinogenic substances, such as phenolic compounds, or because it increases the motility in the large bowel,” the researchers said in their paper.

Caution required

Professor Ian Olver, CEO of Cancer Council Australia said that the strength of the study was that it involved large numbers and highlighted, “a complete set of new factors associated with the risk of bowel cancer and that was the consumption of snack foods and fizzy drinks.”

However Professor Olver, who was not involved in the study, the fact that the patients reported their own food and drink habits was problematic because some people cannot remember their food choices accurately.

He also said that control patients may have chosen to participate because they may have had healthier diets, which in turn leads to a biased result; a limitation the authors of the study acknowledged in their paper.

Professor Dallas English, Director of the Centre for Molecular, Environmental, Genetic and Analytic Epidemiology at the University of Melbourne, said that “case-control studies of diet and cancer have been problematic because people with cancer might report their diet differently.”

“Many findings of case-control studies have not been replicated in cohort studies, which are much more sound methodologically because they begin with healthy people and follow them up to identify those that get cancer,” said Professor English, who was not involved with the study.

The Conversation

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FactCheck: is Australia losing one manufacturing job every 19 minutes?

“Under this [Labor] government we’ve seen one manufacturing job lost every 19 minutes.” – Opposition industry spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella, Q&A, 1 July.

The Conversation contacted Mirabella’s office to request a source for this claim, and a spokesman quickly responded:

“Sophie’s comment on Q&A was based on ABS data… the Labour Detailed Quarterly collection (cat no. 6291.0.55.003). If you open Table 04 in the series of spreadsheets available in that collection, then the ‘Data 1’ tab, and then column W, you’ll see it contains seasonally adjusted manufacturing employment figures from 1984 to the current day.

“For the ‘1 every 19 minutes’ calculation, Sophie was using the decline from 1,081,700 employees for February 2008 (the first reading after Labor was elected at the end of 2007) through to the most recent number of 938,300 for May 2013. That’s an overall loss of 143,400 jobs over a period of five-and-a-quarter years, or 273 weeks.”

Dividing that jobs figure by the time elapsed, Mirabella’s office came up with the total of around one job lost every 19 minutes. The spokesman added:

“It’s worth pointing out that at no time prior to this period of Labor Government has the total number of jobs in Australian manufacturing ever fallen below the 1 million mark, let alone by so far under that mark. I may be wrong, but I also don’t think there’s ever been such a sustained loss of manufacturing jobs over a five-year period.”

So are those calculations right? Is it true that Australian manufacturing has had a particularly bad five years compared to the past? And to put that in some context, how has manufacturing fared in other industralised countries?

Crunching the numbers

Employment figures by industry are available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on a quarterly basis. That data is also available through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Short Term Labour Market Statistics. The OECD version reports data to the unit, while the ABS version rounds up data to the nearest hundred.

Kevin Rudd was elected prime minister on 24 November 2007, towards the end of the fourth quarter of the year, so I have examined employment data from the first quarter of 2008 to the end of the second quarter of 2013 to cover when Labor has been in power to date.

The ABS data shows that there were 1,081,664 manufacturing jobs at the start of 2008 and 938,280 by the second quarter of 2013 – meaning there was a net decline of 143,384 jobs.

In that time, there were 22 quarters, each averaging 91.25 days. Since there are 24 x 60 = 1440 minutes in a day, the total number of minutes in a quarter is equal to 1440 x 91.25 = 131,400. Hence, in 22 quarters there are 22 x 131,400 = 2,890,800 minutes. Dividing 2,890,800 by 143,384 one obtains 20.16, which means that one manufacturing job was lost every 20 minutes from the first quarter of 2008 up until the second quarter of this year.

Mirabella’s figure is slightly different because instead of counting the duration of the time in government in quarters, she counts it in months, starting from February 2008 and ending in May 2013. This approach is consistent with the fact that ABS collects quarterly data on the second month of each quarter. This way of counting yields a total of 2,759,400 minutes. Dividing this number by 143,384 we obtain 19.24; that is, one job lost every 19 minutes.

Both counts are acceptable and they yield very similar results, so I would consider both to be numerically correct.

But what does it mean that Australia is losing one manufacturing job was lost every 19 (or 20) minutes? It is worth putting that in some historical and international context.

Made in Australia: a recent history

The data series available from the ABS goes back to the mid-1980s. So it is possible to compute “minutes for one manufacturing job loss” for five consecutive periods of 22 quarters, from the first quarter of 1986 through to the second quarter of 2013.

As noted earlier, the last of those periods corresponds to the Rudd/Gillard Labor governments. The results of this exercise are summarised in Chart 1 below:

Chart 1: Minutes between jobs lost or created in Australian manufacturing. Author’s calculation from ABS data

 

The chart suggests that the loss of manufacturing job is not a recent phenomenon: with the exception of the 1991-1996 period, all other 22-month periods since 1986 are characterised by a decline in manufacturing employment.

But it is correct that the pace at which jobs in manufacturing are lost has been faster in the most recent period.

In the 22 quarters preceding the beginning of the first Rudd government, one manufacturing job was lost every 140 minutes.

Before that, from the start of 1997 to mid-2002, one manufacturing job was lost about every two hours.

And in the period from the start of 1986 to the second quarter of 1991, one manufacturing job was lost about every hour.

Rudd vs Gillard

Some recent trends in Australian employment are worth noting, including that manufacturing job losses slowed considerably while Julia Gillard was prime minister.

In the 10 quarters of the first Rudd government, one manufacturing job was lost every 12.5 minutes; during the 12 quarters of the Gillard government, one manufacturing job was lost every 29 minutes.

However, this is not really surprising, given that the early years of the Rudd government corresponded to the most acute phase of the Global Financial Crisis.

Jobs growth in the wider economy

The employment data also shows that the loss of jobs in manufacturing has been matched by a gain of jobs in other sectors.

Seasonally adjusted total employment data for the second quarter of this year are not yet available. So, one can only compute changes in total employment over the period from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2013.

Over these 21 quarters, total employment (including manufacturing) in Australia increase by 836,490 units. This is equivalent to one new job being created every 3 minutes.

The global picture

Finally, it is worth looking at a global perspective using OECD Short Term Labour Market Statistics.

Using the same methodology described above, we can determine “minutes for one manufacturing job loss” for each of the 34 OECD member nations, including Australia, over the period from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2013.

Chart 2, below, shows how Australia compares with other OECD nations on manufacturing employment. The first column is the main one; I have included the column on the right in order to include countries for which 2013 figures are not yet available.

 

Chart 2: Manufacturing job trends among OECD nations. Author’s computation based on OECD Short Term Labour Market Statistics.

 

Chart 3, below, shows a comparison between Australia and six of the G7 economies (second quarter 2013 data was not yet available for France, so it was excluded from the comparison).

 

Chart 3: Author’s calculations from OECD, Short Term Labour Force Statistics data

 

As it can be seen, the experience of Australia is not unique.

In fact, five out of the six other countries used for this comparison lost manufacturing jobs at a faster rate than Australia (one every 2 minutes in the US and Japan, one every five minutes in the UK and Italy, and one every 12 minutes in Canada).

The loss of manufacturing jobs is a common phenomenon in many industrialised countries and it is partly due to the process of structural transformation of the economy. Furthermore, the Global Financial Crisis hit manufacturing hard worldwide.

Verdict

Sophie Mirabella’s calculations of manufacturing job losses are correct.

Her spokesman’s assertion that manufacturing jobs have been lost at a faster rate in the past five years than other recent five-year periods (going back to 1986) is also correct.

However, these job losses should be considered in their wider international context, including the Global Financial Crisis and an even sharper decline in manufacturing jobs in a number of other industralised economies.

While manufacturing jobs have been lost in Australia, over the past 21 quarters total employment (including manufacturing) has increased at a rate of one new job created every 3 minutes.


Review

I have gone through both the Mirabella statement and this author’s comments. These comments confirm that Mirabella’s original statement, with some minor quibbling, was basically correct.

The main point seems to me to be not the factual accuracy but, as the author points out, the phenomenon that manufacturing employment has been on the slide for over 40 years, no matter who has been in power. This is as a result of structural change, whereby manual labour has been replaced by labour requiring knowledge and people skills as we become an advanced, service-based economy.

There is no reason why we would necessarily regret the passing of skills no longer in demand and the stronger growth in demand for different skills, as long as jobs growth overall increases. There are, however, problems for those workers whose skills are no longer in demand who may find it difficult to gain employment in the new growth areas of the economy. – Phil Lewis

 

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.

 

Fabrizio Carmignani receives funding from the Australian Research Council for a project on the econometric estimation of the piecewise linear continuos model and its macroeconomic applications.

Phil Lewis 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

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Organic certification – what is the cost of clean production?

Cited as one of the nation’s top five growth industries by the Biological Farmers of Australia, the Australian organics industry has gone from strength to strength over the past decade.

Mainstream supermarkets have embraced the ever-increasing demand for certified organic products, farmers markets are popping up all over the country, and home delivery services are available for those too busy to join the checkout queue.

Access to premium quality, certified organic produce has never been easier.

The health and environmental benefits of organic farming have also been well documented. Organic production prohibits the use of pesticides and pharmaceuticals (antibiotics) ensuring the sustainability of the land over the long term, and eliminating the presence of synthetic chemicals in food.

It all sounds fantastic, but what are the realities for a food manufacturer in gaining a certified organic status? Do you need certification to make an organic claim? How do producers tackle seasonality in supply? And importantly, how do food companies communicate the higher cost to consumers, who in the end, bear the premium price burden?

Gaining organic certification poses many barriers for producers and manufacturers, namely availability of supply, time and cost. Organic produce attracts a higher price point, but along with a premium product, the costs of production also demand higher overheads.

So there the question lies, how do food manufacturers weigh up the costs and benefits associated with organic certification? What exactly is involved in achieving a certified organic status and does it pay off at the checkout?

Organic certification bodies in Australia

Australia’s peak body for the Australian organic sector, the Organic Federation of Australia, lists a number of Australian organic certifying bodies on its website including NASAA Certified Organic, The Organic Food Chain, AUS-QUAL, The Bio-Dynamic Research Institute, Safe Food Production Queensland, The Tasmanian Organic Producers and Australian Certified Organic.

Australian Certified Organic is the largest of the certification bodies and is the nation’s premier auditing, certifying and licensing company of both organic and biodynamic operators.

The organic certification process

The Department of Environment and Primary Industries states that the certification process differs depending on whether the application is for primary producers, manufacturing and distribution or the retail trade. In reality, the process to gain organic certification is far more involved for primary producers than it is for food manufacturers.

The idea behind certification is that it provides a guarantee that the integrity of organic food is maintained from the farm gate all the way to the end user.

According to NASAA, organic certification within the processing and manufacturing sector is complementary to existing environmental, quality assurance and HACCP based food quality standards.

The certification essentially ensures that the ingredients, associated inputs, processing activities and transportation of goods all conform to the stipulated standards set out under the National Standard for Organic and Bio-Dynamic Produce 2008.

Manufacturing and distribution operations can achieve certification following an inspection of the processing site and an examination of associated documents, all of which must display a clear and auditable paper trail to verify all organic claims.

For a product to hold a ‘certified organic’ label, 100 percent of the ingredient list must be certified, with exceptions for salt and water.

Food manufacturers are also subject to routine annual audits once certification is granted to ensure that businesses and farms are meeting the organic standards stipulated in their contract.

Does a product have to be certified organic to make an organic claim?

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), an organic claim is any claim that describes a product as organic, or containing organic ingredients. For example food manufacturers may choose to use the terms ‘made using organic ingredients’ or ‘100 percent organic’.

Current organic product standards are governed under a voluntary Australian standard for growers and manufactures who wish to label their products as ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’ (AS 6000-2009).

A food manufacturer does not need certification to make an organic claim, however Australia’s main supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, will not stock products with organic claims unless they’re backed by a recognised organic certification body.

A false claim can lead to heavy fines and legal action if it’s found to not comply with national standards and another point to mention is that by law, if food manufacturers plan to export out of the country with an organic claim, the product must be fully certified.

Outgoing CEO for Australian Organic, Andrew Monk, said that although producers making organic claims without certification has been problematic in the past, today it’s a different story.

“Ironically, [organic claims without certification] used to be a more problematic situation for us in the past, but our take on it now is that it is possibly of benefit in a strange sort of way,” Monk told Food Magazine.

“There are consumer laws around misleading claims, so we do, as an industry, have an agreed base national standard and that means that if a company is going to try and make a claim that is not backed up by an independent certifier claim, it’s going to risk their livelihood in the long run.

“The industry has gotten cohesively together behind a base standard that can be tested by law at any time on uncertified product.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be the director of a company that made that sort of a claim in this new consumer law environment that we now have.”

Creating the balance between cost and benefit

The argument to go organic is two-fold. The certification not only provides an official confirmation of sustainable farming and processing practices, but it also acts as a powerful marketing tool, offering consumers a measure of trust and in turn, attracting a higher price tag.

However on the other side of the coin are availability in supply, seasonality and cost.

Organics, despite strong growth in recent years, still remains a niche market and as such, securing consistent supply in raw ingredients can be a challenge.

Monica Meldrum, founder of certified organic snack food company, Whole Kids, said when starting her company eight years ago, it was initially quite difficult to source certified organic suppliers.

“Our product development is largely driven by availability of supply, because it’s very much a growing industry in Australia, so sometimes we just simply have to hold back product sales because the supply is not available,” Meldrum told Food magazine.

“However, supply has increased over recent years and we are finding that farmers are moving to what’s called ‘in-conversion’ so they’re looking at the organic space and converting their farms.”

Meldrum says that despite the occasional hiccup in supply, her customers demonstrate a high loyalty to the Whole Kids brand, and understand that products are not necessarily available all year round.

Meldrum agrees that gaining certification is a rigorous process, and encourages businesses to only invest in organics if they are prepared to make a commitment to the industry long term. She stresses that good supplier relationships are imperative to the success of her business.

“We have to be certified right throughout our supply chain and in terms of managing supply, we actually have really good relationships with all the growers. We work directly with them,” she said.

“Although we are not growers ourselves, we still go through a pretty rigorous process to ensure that there is no contamination of ingredients at any point along the supply chain. Australian Certified Organic even goes so far as to test some of the soils in adjacent properties to some of our growers, just to test that there is no possible contamination, and everything through to production, warehouse and storage and distribution is also audited.

“People who are getting into organics need to understand that it is a long process and they need to be in it for the long haul. Sometimes there is this assumption that you can make a quick buck because you can charge a premium, but I think that with organics, you really need to work with growers and suppliers throughout the supply chain. But the customers really appreciate it and they are very, very loyal.”

The time and cost associated with gaining certification is far more expensive for farmers than food manufacturers. The main concerns for food manufacturers in making the organic switch is more in line with processing compliance issues, which ACO’s Andrew Monk claims are not unlike those of HACCP.

“Almost every processor in the country by now should have had a HACCP system implemented and independently certified. And it is fundamentally no different than that really,” Monk told Food magazine.

“The first point of difference is more that there is a production standard that you will need to comply with, which goes a bit more into detail than the food safety standard does. But all those same principles are there. You apply and have an auditor come out and cross check that what you are claiming to be doing is exactly what you are doing.”

Chief executive of Aussie Farmers Direct, Braeden Lord, agrees that the certification process is not as complicated as many make it out to be.

“Organic certification is a simple process providing you follow the bouncing ball,” he said.

Aussie Farmers Direct recently went into a joint venture with Organic Dairy Farmers to build an organic butter plant attached to the side of Aussie Farmers Direct’s conventional dairy.

In order to achieve organic certification for the new plant, the companies had to build a complete separation between the conventional milk and organic milk lines.

“It was only really a process of the certifiers coming through and viewing the factory and making sure that everything was in its place. And making sure that we have a way that we can separate out finished products so there is no confusion,” said Lord.

“We have a system called SCARDA which is a very sophisticated dairy management production system, so it literally monitors the milk from the time it arrives, to the time it enters into the silo, to the time it enters a bottle.

“The system is able to batch control, so we can show the certifiers that we are managing the milk as it comes through the processing, which of course they are thoroughly excited about.”

The realities of supply and certification

While growers and food manufacturers generally see the value in organics, some argue that with particular crops, certification is either simply not viable, or something they’re simply not interested in.

Bruce McPherson, co-owner of Bundaberg strawberry company, Tinaberries, says that although he applies a holistic approach to his farming practices, it is simply not viable for him to grow strawberries organically.

“We employ so many organic practices. Things like companion planting, we don’t fumigate our soils, we introduce microbes into our soil and we regularly sap test our plants,” McPherson told Food magazine.

“We use a lot of things like kelp or seaweed, and we use amino acids. So when we say we don’t spray, of course we spray, but we seldom use so-called agrichemicals. Having said that, we are not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater, if we really get a problem, we will move into that.”

McPherson had previously looked at going organic, but after a trip to Spain, one of the world’s largest strawberry producers, he changed his mind.

“What we found [in Spain] was that there was no price advantage for organic strawberries for the grower, and the quality of the strawberry wasn’t as good as the sustainably grown [not organic] varieties,” he said.

“[Furthermore] It’s very hard to grow a strawberry organically, especially to grow one in volume and for it to be economical. It’s been proven around the world that they are just one of the hardest things to grow. And once you get a disease or pest pressure, it’s very hard to deal with it effectively.

“I have no problem with organics, but I’m not convinced by the masses that it is as big an issue as what certain parts of the consumer base thinks it is. For us to be here next year we’ve got to make money out of it, we’ve got to be commercially viable.”

New Zealand based peanut butter producer, Pic Picot, owner of Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter, said that if he could source good quality organic peanuts, he would consider an organic line. However, he’s yet to find organic peanuts that are up to his standard.

“Of the nuts that we have tried, and we have tried all the nuts that we could get our hands on, the only organic nuts that we could find were not up to scratch,” Picot said.

“I would be happy to buy organic nuts if we could find some that tasted good, but our concern is to make the best peanut butter that we can, and not have it as a purely certification sort of thing.”

According to Picot, the only organic peanuts with a steady supply come from China, and to a lesser extent Argentina and America. Picot explains that the Chinese nuts have a tendency to go rancid very quickly and deliver a metallic after-taste, whereas the Argentinean nuts don’t have the right “depth of flavour.”

Picot says that his supplier, the Peanut Company of Australia (PCA), completed trial crops of organic peanuts, however they have only been able to successfully produce around one-sixth of the size of a standard conventional crop.

“It used to be in Australia that all Australian peanut growers used a hell of a lot of sprays … The PCA has had a massive seed development program, so they have spent a hell of a lot on adapting Australian peanuts to require less and less chemicals.

“If we did find really good organic peanuts – Australian organic peanuts – at a price that we could afford to make peanut butter out of, then I would consider it.”

Is it worth it?

The organics industry really does boast a myriad positive attributes including clean and green production, loyal consumer bases, freedom from synthetic chemicals and, of course, a premium price advantage.

The decision to enter the organic space predominantly depends on the market in which a company chooses to operate.

Organics is in no way a quick or an easy way to justify a price premium. Extensive research and preparation needs to be undertaken in order to create a sustainable, profitable and long-term business model.

Having said that, organic certification truly stands as a reputable confirmation of sustainable farming practices, equating to premium quality, healthy food. Conventional operations can still maintain clean and green production methods without an organic certification, however they don’t have the same authority to market their point of difference, and of course they’re unable to back up their claims in the way that a certified organic producer can. 

 

Don’t let pest management eat away at you

Pest management is a dirty word for some food manufacturers. They don't like to talk about it, and they don't like to admit that it's an integral part of their business. But let's face it – if you're a food brand in Australia worth your name in salt, then you must have a pretty serious pest management plan in place.

Having a strategy for keeping creepy crawlies out of your facility, as well as one for removing them if they find their way in, is indicative of a proactive, responsible business, not a negligent one.

But, like a lot of regulation in the food manufacturing industry, knowing exactly what an effective pest management strategy looks like can be difficult.

There are a wide array of pest management standards that a brand can adhere to, depending on what products it manufactures and where those products will be sold.

Eighteen months ago, the Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association (AEPMA) penned a Code of Practice for pest management in the food industry in Australia and New Zealand.

David Gray, national president of the AEPMA, says "With the industry Code of Practice, we didn't create anything new, really. We just took the benchmarks that were there and, in a nutshell, if someone is setting up a pest management program in a food manufacturing facility and they set it up to the Australia and New Zealand Code of Practice, then they will meet the requirements of all the existing standards or codes that are out there."

The Code, which aims to define best practice in managing pests in food manufacturing, is a go-to guide not only for food brands, but also for auditors and pest management companies.

"We've added some additional value in the sense that auditors usually come from the food industry. Their expertise is in food, some of them have some experience in pest management but most don't. So we've developed this Code equally for their benefit, so they can look at it and then audit the pest management program against the Code. It gives them some KPIs that they can measure against, rather than just going in and approaching it blindly," Gray told Food magazine.

"It also includes the downstream suppliers to the food industry, so the suppliers of raw materials, and things like packaging. Often the packaging plants and packaging materials come under the same stringent requirements because they're supplying into the food industry."

Abiding by the AEPMA's Code of Practice means food manufacturers will not necessarily have less regulatory I's to dot or T's to cross, but will at least know what systems and processes it needs to have in place to ensure everything's kosher, so to speak.

Stephen Ware, national executive director at the AEPMA, says "In the pest management industry, everyone knows they need pest managers, but the food manufacturers haveproblems because auditors turn up and different auditors have different ideas of what should happen as far as, for instance, where to put down rodent baits and traps. The Code of Practice has helped to clarify that.

"That's why [the Code] has been pretty well accepted by both the pest controllers – who don't really want to argue with everybody about where he should put the bait – and the food manufacturer – who doesn't want to have to sit down and have an argument with every auditor that comes in."

A multi-faceted approach
Paul Moreira, service manager for Victoria at Adams Pest Control, says the two fundamental pillars of pest management are hygiene and maintenance.

But this isn't as straight forward as it may sound, he insists.

"In the food industry there's a requirement to integrate a pest management approach which is multi-faceted. So rather than just focusing on applying a pesticide, it's about identifying proofing issues, harbourage issues, alternative food sources. All of those things link into the site's pest management program," he said.

Safety of the end product, obviously, is a high priority in pest control in the food industry. Manufacturers need to be very careful about where and how they fight off pests, and there are a number of options available to them, Moreira says.

While toxic bates are available, which are consumed by rodents and kill them five to 10 days later, Moreira believes that in the coming years the industry will move award from these chemicals.

"Another approach is to have a monitoring block, which allows you to assess activity. So the pest controller goes around and has a look at if the block has been consumed or not,and if it has you obviously have a problem and you have to go down the path of getting rid of the infestation," he says.

This approach means there's no risk of contaminating the product being manufactured, but on the other hand it's purely an information gathering exercise – it doesn't treat the problem at all.

It's for this reason that the American Institute of Baking (AIB), which has an internationally recognised standard, is moving away from the use of non-toxic chemical blocks internally, instead recommending the use of mechanical traps.

"It's all about minimising pests within the site by hitting them outside, and then inside your treatment becomes a non-toxic approach. According to the AIB's standard you have to use a mechanical trap. You can't use a monitoring block … because all that does is feed the rodent. You haven't addressed the issue of having the rodent there."

While Adams Pest Control's latest product, Baitsafe, can be used with toxic baits, it's like nothing else on the market as it allows food manufacturers to use pesticides in cavities in a safe, controllable way, Moreira says.

"What Baitsafe allows us to do is put a device in that cavity and then apply the pesticide in a very secure way. It looks like a fire alarm. It's flush against the ceiling, but it doesn't have to be in the ceiling. It can be in the splashback of the kitchen, it can be in the kickplate of a bench or in a wall, but it sits flush against it.

"We have a key, we place it in the device, open it and the pesticide is on the other side, or we can even apply a monitoring block or a sticky board to allow us to gauge the activity levels of, say, fruit flies or cockroaches, then we close the device.

"So as far as anyone on this side of the wall, where people work, are concerned, all they see is a tiny little circular flat planel and they can't access the pesticide that's on the other side," Moreira says.

Money well spent
Food manufacturers need to be proactive with their pest management strategy. It goes without saying that it's much easier – and more cost effective – to prevent an infestation from occurring than it is to have one treated.

So while regular inspections and a detailed pest management strategy might seem like an unneccesary expense, it's money well spent, says Simon Lean, Australian technical manager at Rentokil.

"Pest control isn't free but they [food manufacturers] do get good value for money. It's always something you have to have on your books and something manufacturers often want to get done for as cheap as possible, but generally, if people are chasing cheap pest control they get a cheap job, and if they get a cheap job they end up with pest problems.

"That's the last thing they need because all these food manufacturing companies are very particular about brand protection. The last thing they want is for someone to see a rat in a loaf of bread or something like that," Lean told Food magazine.

"A PR disaster can really hit these companies. But it's not just PR. If they've got a contaminated line in their manufacturing, just imagine if they have to close that line down because it's either riddled with pests or simply broken. The cost of that line being down could be thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands a week, in lost production. Whether that be because of pests or an engineering concern, it gets very serious and it really does hit their bottom line."

Regular inspections are critical for any food brand, especially those in older facilities that may not be able to keep pests out as effectively as new buildings can.

Having said that, regular – and thorough – hygiene and maintenance schedules go a long way in pest-proofing your business, and therefore minimise the likelihood and cost of treating infestations, replacing equipment or – heaven forbid – dealing with product recalls.

"If you keep things clean and in good working order, it's going to be easier to inspect for any pest problems, and you're not going to have as many pest problems because it's clean and you don't have any food for the pests or harbourage where they can hide and breed," Lean says.

"That's why inspections are so critical in food manufacturing."

 

Container deposit laws: cleaner, more sustainable

We have a major problem with beverage containers in Australia. Between 7-8 billion are land-filled or littered every year. Nationally, less than half are recycled, and drink containers continue to pollute waterways and oceans where they wreak havoc on seabirds.

Container deposit schemes are the only proven way to eradicate drink containers from litter. In South Australia the scheme removes and recycles 80 percent of cans and bottles, twice that of normal roadside recycling.

So, I was surprised to read a recent article led by Dick Gross at University of Melbourne suggesting container deposit laws are out-dated and inefficient.

Mr Gross suggests Victoria – a state without container deposit laws – is cleaner than South Australia, citing the Keep Australia Beautiful National Litter Index. But the annual study has some serious flaws.

For instance, it assesses the same number of sites across all states, no matter their land area or population size. It also doesn’t account for whether the area being studied was recently or is frequently cleaned. And it treats a cigarette butt – which will break down in 1-5 years – the same as a drink container.

This makes the index unreliable for comparing states. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in South Australia there is virtually no drink container litter in the streets, parks, waterways or beaches.

Far from being old-fashioned, in the last decade various Pacific Islands, Hawaii, Israel and Germany have all adopted container deposit schemes. Another 40-odd states or countries around the world retain this approach to deal with litter and recycling – despite the often constant lobbying against them by sections of the drinks and packaging sector.

The Council of Australian Governments concluded in 2011 that a container deposit scheme would cost between A$1.4-$1.7b over 20 years. As it stands kerbside recycling currently costs local councils and ratepayers somewhere between A$300-600m each year.

The $1.4-$1.7bn cited above, is however worth qualifying. This “economic” cost relates to two things: the cost of peoples time to recycle, and private sector investment in building the necessary infrastructure of depots to operate the scheme.

The actual cost of a container deposit scheme to Australians is zero – assuming they collect they recycle and collect their deposit. This is because the “handling fee” of a few cents per container – which attracts the private sector to invest – is subsidised by the unredeemed 20 percent of deposits, the sale of the used containers to re-processors and the interest earned on these two sums.

In April a consortium of global companies in the recycling industry outlined their interests in a national container deposit scheme at A$500M.

The most recent global analysis of container recycling and litter schemes by accounting firm PWC concluded found that deposit systems are furthermore more sustainable than the collection of one-way containers in curbside collection schemes. This analysis includes the transportation of used containers, whether for refilling or recycling.

There is no proposal in Australia for a return to reusable containers, although this would be the optimum carbon and sustainability outcome. Germany and the Netherlands both use reusable container schemes, where sturdy plastic and glass bottles are refilled around 20 times before binning.

While reusable containers may be the optimum for saving on carbon, even recycling is better than nothing. For instance, O-I, the largest glass bottle manufacturer in the world states that, “Every 10 percent of recycled glass used in production results in an approximate 5 percent reduction in carbon emissions and energy savings of about three percent”. Glass manufacturers do so by literally turning the temperature of their blast furnaces down when used glass is being processed.

Far from hurting the recycling industry, container deposit schemes and roadside recycling can sit side-by-side, and in fact help each other. We shouldn’t be talking about getting rid of container deposit when it’s the best thing we’ve got.

Don White is Chair of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW which is a member of the Boomerang Alliance, an organisation of 27 of Australia`s leading environment groups, which is committed to work for zero waste in Australia.

The Conversation

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

 

The ‘free to roam’ case – why perceptions matter for misleading claims by business

The Federal Court of Australia has brought down its decision in the ‘free to roam’ case. The Court has clarified that our consumer protection laws are about, well, consumers!

Some background to the case can be found here. In brief, two chicken processors made statements that their chickens, when growing, were ‘free to roam in large barns’. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) noted that the chickens each had less space than an A4 sheet of paper for much of their growing cycle. The ACCC claimed that the advertising was misleading and deceptive, and contravened the Australian Consumer Law. The Federal Court has agreed.

The controversy behind the case is that chickens ‘flock’. They do not tend to wander aimlessly, even if given the chance. An expert in animal welfare provided evidence to the Court that:

“The scientific literature on stocking density indicates that stocking densities [more than those involved in the case] do not affect the spatial distribution of broiler chickens, the time spent walking, the distances travelled by commercial broiler chickens or walking ability …”.

At least one commentator made the same point arguing that the ACCC was not protecting animal welfare by its case.

No, they weren’t!

As the Court has made clear, animal behaviour and animal welfare is not the relevant test. The Consumer Law is anthropomorphic. It asks what consumers will infer from claims made by business.

“It is necessary for the Court to determine how this statement would reasonably be understood by a significant number of those persons to whom it was directed and, in particular, whether the phrase would have conveyed, as the ACCC contended, the assertion that the chickens had “substantial space available allowing them to roam around freely” in the sheds.”

And the Court agreed with the ACCC.

For business the lesson is clear. In advertising, business must ask themselves a simple question: What will consumers infer from my claims? If the inference is false then the advertisement is misleading and deceptive. Whether ‘organic’, ‘full of fruit’, ‘free range’ or some other term, the consumer laws look at the interpretation by consumers.

Stephen King 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.

 

British-Indian chef spices up Coles’ shelves

Coles is stocking a new range of Indian curry sauces on its shelves, created by British chef Anjum Anand.

The Spice Tailor range was launched in Britain two years ago in the upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose. Now, the range of eight sauces is coming to Coles’ supermarket shelves.

Anand cooked up the Spice Tailor range with the purpose of exposing non-Indians to different regional Indian cuisines. She also wanted to make her native food lighter and more accessible.

“I grew up eating and cooking Indian food. I love it and I wanted to make it easier for more people to enjoy delicious and healthy home-cooked Indian cuisine,” Anand said.

“Australia has such a vibrant food culture but Indian has often been overlooked, especially on supermarket shelves. We’re thrilled to be introducing the range and I hope that Australians will fall in love with The Spice Tailor and opt for a Punjabi Tomato Curry over a Pad Thai.”

The range was launched yesterday (3.7.13) with the help of marketing company Liquid Ideas, owned by Stuart Gregor. Gregor hosted a lunch in his home, attended by Food magazine, where Anand cooked up a banquet with her range of sauces.

She explored regional India by cooking with her Keralan Coconut Curry. Located in the south-west region of India on the Malabar Coast, this state is known for its abundance of coconuts. ‘Kera’ means coconut.

Anand cooked prawns with coconut curry, mustard seeds, oil and coriander. For those of the vegetarian persuasion, she modified this and substituted prawns with eggplant.

She used Punjabi Tomato Curry from Northern India to make a curry with paneer (cottage cheese) and capsicum. The meal also included Rustic Rogan Josh curry with lamb.

 “My food mantra is you need to enjoy what you eat,” Anand told Food magazine.

“I like to have a little bit of honesty in my food. So I want it to have some heritage. I’ve brought out some proper regional heritage of India so we’ve got Keralan curry, I’ve got a curry from Mangalore, and I’ve got the Punjabi tomato curry.”

Her range also includes the South Indian Mangalore Herb Curry, which has flavours of coriander, mint and coconut.

She said she hopes her range will show that not all curries taste the same.

“I really do believe that if we get people to try it and you like Indian food you’ll like this. We have our fingers crossed that we make enough noise to get everyone to try it,” Anand said.

The range of curry sauces will be on Coles’ shelves from Monday 8 July for $4.99 RRP.

 

The best of the best, a day at the Sydney Food and Wine Festival

The annual Sydney Good Food and Wine Festival took place last weekend, attracting thousands of food lovers from across the state.

Featuring a smorgasbord of innovative producers from Australia, New Zealand and around the globe, this year’s festival saw the Sydney exhibition centre flooded with unique aromas and flavours to tantalise every palette.

Featuring well loved producers such as Maggie Beer Products and McWilliams Wines, to smaller new to market entrants, the festival delighted food lovers with an endless array of new and delicious offerings.

Some particularly notable exhibitors included New Zealand’s Ikana, who specialize in Greenshell™ Mussels, and Pana Chocolate, a local Melbourne raw chocolatier.

Innovative packaging locks in freshness

Ikana introduced their organically grown, easy steam Greenshell™ Mussels range to the Australian market last year. The Mussels are prepared fresh with chef inspired sauces which are free from artificial colours and flavours, and are then lightly blanched and snapped frozen to retain freshness and flavour.

Ikana is a small family owned and run business, with distribution throughout selected Woolworths Supermarkets across the country. General Manager, Mark Ventress said that the reception of Ikana’s products at the festival has been fantastic.

The mussels are packed in an innovative ‘easy steam’ tray, allowing consumers to cook the mussels from frozen in under five minutes.

Raw, vegan and fair trade delights

Pana Chocolate is a raw, certified organic, vegan chocolate which is handmade in Melbourne. The company sources only natural ingredients, sweetens its products with dark agave nectar and its cocao percentage ranges between 50 to 80 percent.

Along with using only organic and natural ingredients, Pana Chocolate’s packaging is made of 100 percent Australian recycled cardboard, using soy ink, recyclable foil and a recyclable paper wrapper.

One of the most notable points of Pana Chocolate is its texture and decadent taste. The richness of the cocao delivers a strong full flavour, coupled with a surprisingly smooth texture which is achieved without the use of heat.

Pana chocolate is never raised over 42 degrees and the company’s cacao is sourced from fair trade cooperatives in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic.

Something to be nutty about

Continuing along the welcomed trend towards natural and minimally processed offerings, Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter sources the finest quality hi-oleic peanuts from Farmers in Australia and Argentina. The New Zealand company started in 2007 and has grown to become one of the country’s most loved brands.

Pic’s Peanut Butter is made with 100 percent peanuts omitting added vegetable oils, sugars and preservatives found in many other brands. Pic’s Peanut Butter range is available in either original or smooth varieties, and contains either a little salt, or no salt.

The calibre of exhibitors at the 2013 Good Food and Wine Festival was exceptional. Innovative ideas borne from either identified gaps in the marketplace, or simply a pure passion for a product had consumers both curious and excited about the impressive range of new product offerings.

The exposure generated from the event will no doubt benefit both new and emerging brands as well as old favourites.

 

Why market forces don’t protect animal welfare

 

The actions of animal protection activists have sent reverberations throughout Australia’s livestock industries in recent times. Revelations of animal cruelty in local processing and the live export trade have led to the forced closure of abattoirs, the filing of criminal charges, trade suspensions, and new regulation. Some think market forces will be enough to bring about change, but I would argue that productivity and animal welfare are not always compatible.

In his opinion piece, “Why capitalism raises an animal’s spirits” published in the Australian recently, journalist Nick Cater takes aim at the “animal vigilantes” who took video footage inside an intensive pig farm near Young, NSW. An eight minute clip depicting row after row of squealing pigs confined to small concrete stalls was later posted on Youtube.

 

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Cater argues market forces alone can prevent animal suffering. According to Cater this is because a producer has an economic incentive to protect animal welfare – “a happy pig equals profits”. This argument is commonly heard from representatives of the livestock industries and repeated by politicians. It is for this reason it should not go unchallenged.

Modern animal welfare science has gone beyond measuring welfare solely by reference to physical attributes and mortality rates. Cater’s claim that in “the absence of reliable porcine attitude surveys, we can only go by the empirical evidence of health and death rates”, underscores his ignorance.

Physiological functioning, brain state, behaviour, physical condition, performance and even an animal’s feelings are now all recognised as key factors in assessing an animal’s welfare.

It is possible to have a physically healthy productive animal that is in a poor state of welfare due to, for instance, psychological stress. If this is so, there is little economic incentive for a farmer to provide improved welfare, especially if doing so increases costs.

Indeed, the economic literature shows animal welfare and productivity are in conflict. Under an economic model, productivity is prioritised and animal suffering is treated as a market “externality”. Market signals will generally cause welfare standards to fall below community expectations.

Examples are not hard to find. Battery cages and sow stalls are known to have negative impacts on welfare yet they are designed to achieve productivity gains. Another obvious example can be found in the use of routine surgical procedures such as debeaking, tail-docking, dehorning, mulesing, castration and even the spaying of cattle. These procedures are performed without the administration of pain relief to keep costs down.

Welfare protection and productivity can coexist in well-managed, free-range farming systems, but as the size and intensity of production increases, welfare begins to decline.

 

The assessment of animal welfare has moved beyond just physical measures. Flickr/Cyron

 

The argument that animal welfare and productivity are two sides of the same coin is also completely out of step with growing community concerns. Cater’s defence of “factory farmers” on the grounds that they are not “by and large, tormenters who derive a sadistic thrill from watching dumb animals suffer” completely misses the point. The broader community does not equate animal welfare with simply keeping animals alive or sparing them from overt acts of cruelty. They expect more. There is now a growing demand to see farm animals treated in a manner that recognises their “intrinsic value” as sentient beings, and provides them with a “life worth living.”

No doubt Cater would dismiss this as a preoccupation of urban latte sippers, devoid of any experience with “the gritty reality of farming”. But it is precisely this dismissive mentality that is now causing Australia’s livestock industries serious headaches. “Values-based consumerism” is spreading throughout the Western world and may expand with the growing middle classes of Brazil, India, Russia and China.

Livestock industries must strive to get ahead of these trends, not to fight them. Calls for US-styled “ag gag” laws in Australia to criminalise unauthorised filming and photographs in agricultural facilities are nonsensical and counterproductive. Such laws have been described by leading animal welfare scientist and meat industry consultant Temple Grandin as the “Stupidest thing that ag ever did.” By restricting the rights of whistleblowers, activists, and journalists to expose illegal and sometimes legal husbandry practises, they increase negative publicity and only fuel public curiosity over what happens to animals on factory farms.

Producers who are in touch with their customers will internalise the costs of higher welfare standards and convey this product feature to consumers. By rejecting the archaic conceptions of animal welfare espoused by Cater, they will be well placed to capitalise on values-based consumer demands in the coming years. It is only when animal industries adopt this business model that there can ever be any truth to the proposition: “capitalism raises an animal’s spirits”.

Jed Goodfellow receives funding from a Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship. He works for RSPCA Australia on a part-time basis.

Peter Radan 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.

 

New facility gives Garlo’s a bigger slice of the pie market

There's been no shortage of bad headlines for the food manufacturing industry in recent times. A number of high profile companies have hit the wall (think Rosella, Windsor Farm Food Factory, Darrell Lea and Byron Bay Cookies) and the high Australian dollar, labour costs and cheap imports have also taken their toll on the profitability of local brands.

It's so refreshing then, to hear Sean Garlick, managing director at Garlo's Pies, talk about the strength of the 12 year old pie business.

Family-operated, Garlo's Pies has gone from strength to strength since opening its first retail pie shop in a 60 square metre premises in Sydney's Maroubra.

With Sean an ex-football player, Garlo's launch was promoted through the television show, The Footy Show, giving the brand an enormously valuable push in the right direction.

Twelve months later, Garlo's opened a second store in Mascot, followed by one in Parramatta, one in Coogee and another in Blacktown.

In 2004 production was shifted from the back of the Mascot store to a 250 square metre bakery in St Peters.

"That was our first step into big bakery thinking," Sean told Food magazine. "But for the last two years of our existence [at St Peters] we were just busting at the seams. We couldn't swing a cat. We couldn't operate effectively and we couldn't take on any substantial new business because we physically had no more space. So that was the motivation to move into a new place."

About four weeks ago, production started at Garlo's Pie's new home – a 1,350 square metre facility just 900m down the road from its predecessor.

"This move represents capacity and potential. We've always had potential and everyone's always spoken about how good our product is, but while we've been thwarted in our growth because of the physical limitations of our last premises, over the last couple of years we've learnt where we wanted to go in terms of operations and logistics," says Sean.

"We really took a long time planning the flow of the premises, how the product would come in and come out and now it allows us to really take on all markets."

A very lucrative deal with Coles was another reason Garlo's Pies had to step up its production capabilities. The supermarket giant approached the company back in 2009, and while Sean was originally reluctant to sign on the dotted line, concerned Coles would push pie prices down too far and threaten the brand's premium pie reputation, Sean says Coles is onboard with theGarlo's strategy.

"We're now supplying to every one of their stores in NSW and we have 14 lines in most of them, which is huge," he says.

The Coles contract meant Garlo's had to become a more "sophisticated" business, says Sean.

"They've really provided us with an education in terms of what's needed to be done to service the big guys. It's now positioned us to speak to Woolworths … and we've also been supplying to Metcash for the past six months, which is IGA. We're available all over NSW in IGA stores, but we've also secured big contracts with the Australian Navy."

The Garlick family with NSW premier Barry O'Farrell at the new St Peters site opening.

Despite these game-changing contracts and interest from export markets including the UAE, south east Asia and the US, it's those who helped build Garlo's Pies from the ground up who are still pushing its growth today.

"You've got to market your product. What we learnt very early on is that it's one thing to be available in Coles, but unless you're supporting your product, it just doesn't sell," Sean says.

"We really invested heavily in doing in-store demonstrations, in merchandising and in advertising. There's no point being there if no one's heard of you or no one knows about you.

"[When launching in Coles] we underwent a big advertising campaign and relied on family – as we always do – to go out to the stores. Our wives, sisters, our mother, were all out there in the stores demonstrating, making sure we were on the shelves and trying to get relationships with store managers, going to meetings and just putting our brand in front of people and pushing the brand," he says.

While exporting is a big opportunity for Garlo's Pies, the company is more focussed on establishing a national presence here in Australia, where the humble meat pie has an iconic status not seen anywhere else in the world.

And the new St Peters facility will certainly help to achieve this.

"When we first opened our doors in Maroubra Nathan and I looked at each other and said 'How many pies will we make?' So we made 100 and they all sold out by lunch the next day. The next day we made 200 and they sold out by 2pm the next day. Then we made 500 and that was about as many as we could make."

After moving to its first St Peters location and investing in a pie machine which deposited filling into the pies, as opposed to filling them by hand with an ice cream scoop – production at Garlo's Pies jumped up to about 8,000 pies a day.

"Now, in this place, we can make 12,000 pies in a shift, which is from about 6am to 5pm. And we'll be able to do about 6,000 pies in an hour when we have two machines running," Sean says.

"We can now supply in a much bigger scale to the supermarkets. And of course that's not forgetting the small pubs and clubs and schools and cafes and lunch trucks that we supply to on a daily basis. Those guys are very important in maintaining the strength of the business.

"We can't allow ourselves to have our eggs in too few baskets."

 

A passion for flavour – a tour inside the new Flavour Makers facility

When I first stepped foot inside the new Flavour Makers Braeside factory on a rainy Melbourne morning, I was immediately hit with the tremendous sense of pride which seemed to be emanating from the walls of the barely three week old facility.

Barbara, Flavour Makers’ receptionist, was brimming from each to ear, and exuded an infectious sense of excitement as she explained the ‘big move’ which involved consolidating four manufacturing facilities under the one roof.

“We are still going through a teething process,” she said. “But we are all very excited.”

Despite construction workers still ironing out the finer details, there is no way you could even attempt to steal the sunshine off any member of the Flavour Makers family.

Every employee I met has a genuine passion for the business, which still remains wholly Australian owned after its 20 years of operation.

Commercial manager, Jodie Hooker, said that it’s the fostering of strong relationships, both internally and externally, coupled with hard work that has made Flavour Makers what it is today.

“Integrity is one of the most important commodities,” she said.

Innovation and traditional values

As the name suggests, Flavour Makers do exactly that, they make flavours, and they do it well. Flavour Makers targets the needs of the customer and creates concepts to match specified requirements.

According to Flavour Makers’ owner, Adrian Cester, the company was born out of an identified need for high quality prepared food. As customers became increasingly time poor, the demand for prepared foods rose, but the quality of products offered remained relatively low.

With family roots in the poultry industry, Cester started working for his brother’s business, John Cester Poultry, shortly after studying, and this is where he identified the increasing trend towards prepared foods.

With an Italian background, Cester has always valued high quality, home cooked meals and subsequently wanted to offer consumers something more than the stock standard readymade sauces and crumbed chicken that they were settling for.

Cester was frustrated by the low quality of prepared foods available on the market, and decided to channel his frustration into a business opportunity.

“Something was telling me to get into developing better food products,” he said.

Today, Flavour Makers hires chefs of world class standard to create the high quality flavour solutions that have become synonymous with the company’s name.

New facility, new ideas

The new Braeside facility showcases Flavour Makers’ wide range of production capabilities, and as such, has been built to world class standards boasting the latest technology sourced both locally and internationally.

The new facility is complete with a liquid plant, retail plant, culinary development centre (which consists of four test kitchens), sensory booths for independent taste testing, and a storage warehouse/packaging facility.

Everything apart from the dry blending facility, (which will remain separate for allergen reasons), is now located under the one roof.

One of the most impressive parts of the new facility is the boardroom which comes complete with its own state of the art kitchen that has been designed specifically for the final tastings of a client’s product.

The final tastings consist of a full meal created and served to the client by Flavour Makers’ chefs using the specified flavours that the client requested.

Another notable feature of the new facility is the yet to be completed vegetable and spice garden. Cester’s aim is to create a “sensory experience” which includes fruit trees, vegetables, herbs and spices at the entrance of the facility and continuing throughout the premises.

“My intention is to create a sensory experience. When you first arrive you will see recycled timbers and plants used on the building,” said Cester.

“People see us as a food science business, which we are, but at the root of what we do, is food. And we are passionate about that.”

There is always a solution

Priding themselves on creating unique, fast and functional solutions for clients both big and small, Flavour Makers never turns down a project, no matter how tight the timeframe.

“That may mean sometimes using external consultants,” said Hooker, “But we always find a solution.”

Although Flavour Makers may have grown in size over the years, Hooker says it they will never leave the small guys behind.

“We have an intimate knowledge of the local consumer, which enables us to create unique and adaptable solutions,” she said.

“We work with local butchers which serve as a great test market due to their access to the consumer.”

It is through this intimate knowledge that Flavour Maker is able to connect with smaller businesses and devise viable solutions to sometimes complicated requests.

As well as catering for local needs, Flavour Makers is also serving larger players in the market, supplying Tesco stores in the UK with its Passage Foods range and securing contracts with numerous lines of private label products sold throughout Coles, Woolworths and Aldi.

Challenges in the making of flavours

Clean labelling, or the push towards more natural ingredients, has posed a major challenge for Flavour Makers. Tinkering with recipes to include 100 percent natural ingredients in its ‘Celebrate Health’ range required rigorous testing to ensure that the taste, smell, texture and mouthfeel were just right.

“There continues to be challenges surrounding the line. When we started, some of the products contained a small amount of sugar, and we are now removing all of it and replacing some with Stevia, and in some cases we are not using any sweetners at all,” said Cester.

Along with a change in ingredients, also comes a change in the price tag.

“The bottom line is it often costs a lot more to produce [our products] than a packet of something else that’s on the supermarket shelf,” he said.

“We have to try and be competitive. I would like to turn Celebrate Health into a completely organic brand as well but in order to do that I would probably price it out of the market. So at some point, we will probably split Celebrate Health in two and have Celebrate Health Organic, and the other… [conventional Celebrate Health line].

“We already have a number of products in our range that are organic, we have three stocks: chicken, beef and veg. The goal is for all of it to become organic but we’ve got to remain commercially viable. If I can find a way to make our quinoa and lentil range organic without impacting on price, then that is sort of my goal.”

Challenges aside, Cester says that the Celebrate Health line is experiencing an impressive adoption rate amongst consumers.

“We are growing almost weekly,” said Cester. “We presented 18 new Celebrate Health products to Coles and they accepted 12 of them which is unheard of, unless you are a really big player.

“So it is saying that Celebrate Health is resonating, people are loving it, people are buying it. We have also got a very clean labelling on it. I would put my hand on my heart and say that it is the healthiest stuff available anywhere. And I think that is what’s resonating with the healthy consumer.”

Contrary to the norm, Flavour Makers has made a point of being completely transparent in its ingredient lists by identifying every ingredient used. Cester said that he wanted to create a range that could ‘tick as many health related boxes as possible’.

Along with the Celebrate Health line, which includes ready-made quinoa, Passage Foods – which is one of the company’s wet sauce lines – has also embraced the health concerns of many consumers by being totally gluten-free.

Prospering in a not-so-prosperous marketplace

Unlike many other food manufacturers around the country, Flavour Makers has been able to thrive in an environment that is increasingly giving way to imported foods and cheaper prepared food alternatives.

The emphasis on connecting with both the consumer and the client, as well as remaining true to its initial objective of creating healthy and tasty prepared foods, has given Flavour Makers an unprecedented advantage in its market.

As the demand for local, healthy prepared food products continues to rise, and after seeing how Flavour Makers approaches innovation, product development and meeting its consumers’ demands, I think this is one Aussie brand that’s ahead of the game.

 

24 hours with Pitango

Wade Gillooly, general manager at fresh chilled organic soups and meals brand, Pitango, runs us through a day in the life of a food manufacturing professional. 

What are your primary roles and responsibilities in your job? Give us a day in your working life.
Primarily I oversee the management of the Pitango business.  Day to day this involves managing the sales, financial and operational performance of the business including managing key distribution and customer relationships, product innovation, business planning and strategy for growth.  I also am responsible for the monthly reporting to the company Board of Directors.

What training/education did you need for your job?
I attended the Waikato University in New Zealand where I completed a Bachelor of Management Studies (B.M.S) with Honours.  My major was Commerce and Japanese.  I believe that tertiary education is a great stepping stone to start your career but the journey starts with gaining ‘on the job’ commercial experience.  This is where the real learning starts and never stops!

How did you get to where are you are today? Give us a bullet point career path.

  • 1994 graduated Waikato University (B.M.S)
  • First job as Marketing Graduate with Carter Hold Harvey (forestry and timber products)
  • 1995-2000 worked as Product Manager for Heinz-Watties.  This position was followed by several product and business management roles in the fresh produce and honey industries
  • 2008 joined Pitango

What tools and/or software do you use on a daily basis?
The main software system that I use is SAP for financial reporting.  I also utilise Excel and Power Point packages as well as various customer supplier portals for forecasting and inventory control.  However the main tool I use is the telephone!  Never underestimate the power of speaking one on one with a customer or supplier over sending an email.

What is the one thing that you are most proud of in your professional life?
I’m most proud of the growth of Pitango and the reputation we have built for the brand as a leader in organic, fresh chilled food. This couldn’t have happened without the great team of people that work for the business.

Biggest daily challenge?
It sounds like a cliché but it is letting go of work at the end of the day.  I am very passionate about Pitango but I am also a firm believer in work/life balance.  My family comes first, that is a given, but sometimes it is hard to turn the switch to off!  I find that exercise helps.

Biggest career challenge?
The single biggest challenge I have experienced to date in my career would be the transition to our new parent company following the collapse of our previous one.  In early 2013 our then parent company, Gourmet Foods Group, went into voluntary administration.  This resulted in the collapse of Rosella Food Groups.  My role was to keep Pitango running during the administration process and to successfully complete the sale of the business without interrupting our day to day trading.  The transition to our new parent company, Beak & Johnston is now complete.

What is your biggest frustration in your job?
I can’t say there are any frustrations right now other than finding time to have a holiday.  It’s that work/life balance again!

What is the biggest challenge facing your business?
The biggest challenge would be operational capacity in our factory at the present time.  We are working on building a new plant that can support our growth plans with our customers.

Is there anything else about your job you want Australia to know about?
Food manufacturing and the FMCG sector is an industry that I love being part of.  It offers a lot of scope to develop careers and makes a valuable contribution to the economy.

 

If you would like to take part in Food mag's Industry Map, click here.

To read another Industry Map Q&A, click here.

 

Packaging design – keep the end in mind

As a packaging consultant I would love the opportunity to be able to consult a reliable crystal ball to see what lies ahead for this very important industry we represent. Reaching consumers these days is difficult. No longer do traditional methods of advertising and marketing warrant the attention of consumers or their dollars.

Business owners and advertisers alike, struggle to come up with creative ways to grab even the smallest bit of attention for their products. Creating an effective package design is one of the simplest and most cost effective ways to do this but requires originality, creativity, and the ability to connect with consumers.

Originality
Most consumers are not readily open to changing their purchasing habits or experimenting with new products. Why fix it, if it is not broken? When introducing your product to consumers one needs to display originality in your packaging design. Consumers look for packaging that is visually pleasing and representative of the actual product. The package should demonstrate the company’s ability to uniquely display the product through color, size, and/or logos.

Point of difference
As with people, packages that are different tend to stand out. Using unusual colours, containers, and catchy phrase are all effective ways to attract consumer’s attention. You can reap substantial rewards by using packaging design to market the same product to multiple target groups. Product packaging can give new meaning to the same product for different consumers. It is important to note however, that creative packaging is no substitute for a great product.

Connecting with consumers
Therefore, your package design must demonstrate a fulfillment of a need of some sort, as well as the benefits of choosing your particular product. Consumers will purchase products because of a perceived need for them. Your package should elicit emotion from your consumer, whether it is happiness, serenity, or even hunger. If there isn’t a feeling of excitement or necessity, the product will not sell. Consumers like to feel that a company is in touch with their specific needs and offers them something special. You must connect with your target audience.

Effective package design keeps the consumer’s needs at the forefront while still remaining effective in demonstrating the product and its benefits. For better or for worse your packaging design will be a significant deciding factor in whether or not your product is purchased.

Cost effective packaging
There is probably no other area of packaging that has been less understood than cost. Although many organisations calculate the cost of the package material itself as the total cost, the true cost is in reality the total cost of the entire packaging system involved. A simple replacement of one component of a packaging material for a less expensive one may not be a true reduction and vice versa. The question to be asked is, “How will the change affect the entire packaging system, and ultimately increase (or decrease) sales and/or profits?”

Standardise whenever possible
All incoming packaging materials and outgoing finished packages should where possible be standardised. If a multi-plant operation is involved, standards are an absolute necessity. If standards are changed then clearance should come through a central authority.

Now more than ever before, packaging technologists must design with the end in mind, how it must function, who is to use it and the easiest and most suitable format for reuse, recycle or refill.

 

Crop crisis: Why global grain demand will outstrip supply

 

Since the time of Malthus, humanity has worried whether there would be enough food to feed the growing population. Such fears were always overcome and doomsayers all proven wrong: there was always more land to grow our crops when existing croplands failed to deliver, and new ways to get more yield from old crops.

Today our planet appears very finite, and the only places to expand agriculture are in our remnant natural grasslands and tropical forests. And the demand for more agricultural crops is relentless, due to not only our rising population, but more importantly, our rising prosperity. The expected 4 billion new members of the middle class who will join the rest of us by 2050 will likely demand more dairy and meat. These require an enormous amount of grains to produce.

Add to these the demands biofuel places on agriculture, and we need to boost global agricultural production by 60% to 110% by 2050. To put this challenge in a time perspective, that kind of increase took our ancestors 10,000 years to achieve.

So how are we doing? My research team recently published an analysis in PLOS ONE of the local to global scale performance of maize, rice, wheat and soybeans. These are the top four global crops, collectively responsible for nearly two-thirds of all agricultural calorie production. We found that current rates of productivity improvements are nowhere near the rates of productivity gains (2.4% per year) required for growing demand. Instead of the required doubling of crop production by 2050, at this rate the yield increase will be only 38% to 67%, with the problem more acute for rice and wheat.

Australia, is the ninth largest global producer of wheat and a major exporter. Its wheat yields have declined at 0.7% per year. In fact, we observed negative yield trends in around 80% of Australia’s wheat cropland areas.

Productivity was rising in only a few of the important wheat cropland areas: the South Eastern statistical division in New South Wales; Darling Downs in Queensland; Goulburn, Western district and Central Highlands in Victoria; south eastern region in Western Australia; and outer Adelaide, Murray Lands, and Eyre in South Australia. Even in these regions the rates of wheat productivity improvements were below the 2.4% rate required to double wheat production, except for south eastern region of New South Wales, where we estimated the rate to be 3.4% per year.

Does this mean Australians won’t be able to feed themselves, much less feed others, with wheat? It seems very unlikely at only 0.7% per yearly declines. This decline however may worsen as Australian agriculture matures. Australian wheat yields are limited by lack of nutrients and of water, with the latter being a bigger factor as we reported in a paper published in Nature last year. In some areas of Australia wheat productivity was already at the maximum possible value.

Looking beyond Australia, we found many countries where the gains in crop productivity are less than those required to keep pace with their population growth. In several countries – such as Guatemala and Kenya – productivity of maize, a significant source of daily dietary energy, is declining and population is growing.

In Indonesia – the third largest rice-producing nation on Earth where rice provides about 49% of daily dietary energy – productivity gain is too low to keep pace with population growth. In India, China, Philippines and Nepal, productivity improvement rates in rice are just about enough to maintain per capita production at current levels.

Although supply will not meet demand by 2050, all is not lost. We can close the demand–supply gap in one of many ways. We can invest more to boost crop productivity in the faltering regions that we identified. We can bring more of our remaining natural lands under production (but wheat alone would require 95 million additional hectares, more than the total area of New South Wales). We can reduce food waste, which already accounts for nearly half of global crop production (unfortunately, waste sometimes is difficult and expensive to reduce, as in developing nations where it occurs between farm and table due to lack of storage and transportation).

Perhaps most controversially, we can change to more plant-based diets. Nobody really knows what members of the new middle class will choose to eat. History shows time and again that as people join the middle class, they look for more dairy and meat. But if they go against previous trends and decide to keep consumption of animal products low – if those of us already in the middle class reduce our meat consumption – we may all have enough to eat after all.

Research support was provided by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and by the Institute on the Environment, along with previous funding from National Aeronautics and Space Administration's – NASA’s – Interdisciplinary Earth Science program. This work also benefitted from contributions by General Mills, Mosaic, Cargill, Google, PepsiCo, and Kellogg to support stakeholder outreach and public engagement. These organisations had no say on the published report or this article.

The Conversation

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

 

Six reasons to adopt automated label applicators

You see them every day – food labels at the supermarket; barcodes on electronic devices; shipping labels on products prepared for shipping to a foreign land. Just how does a business ensure the accuracy of the placement of labels? How does one ensure that labels stay secure for the journey they are to undertake?

Automated label applicators, though not new to the market place, have become increasingly important for businesses striving for speed, precision and efficiency. As businesses expand, and products number in the thousands, menial tasks of labelling, previously undertaken by hand, must give way to robotics and equipment that do not just replicate the action of labelling, but do so with precision, time after time after time.

Automation then, is the way to go. For businesses on the verge of expansion, it is time to consider an automated label applicator for the many advantages it offers. Let us consider these:

1. Increased productivity
As with any repetitive task performed by hand, labelling by hand takes a longer time to complete with each repetition. Automation ensures consistency (same amount of time required for every repetition), and that consistency equals time savings and increased productivity. Increased productivity, coupled with decreased labour costs simply means increased profits.

The benefits of automated labelling are not just reserved for the big companies. Today, with various systems capable of producing a range of labels for multiple products, more and more companies are beginning to leverage the efficiencies that automatic labelling offers.

2. Minimised defects and waste
Let’s face it. It is frustrating when labels do not pass the necessary QC. Time is needed to return them back to the source and to re-label them. And defective labelling does not make for happy customers and vendors on the receiving end, resulting in decreased customer satisfaction.

Automatic labelling offers better readability and reliability of the applied label. In addition, labels can be printed on-demand, which ensures that the most updated information is on the label at the right time on the right product.

3. Minimal wear-and-tear to hardware, and minimised human uncertainty
A good automated label applicator will be able to withstand rugged environments for years. It also does not throw a tantrum and quit on you when it has a bad day! One must always take into account human factors when the task of labelling is undertaken by hand, and repetitive actions carried out by hand will always result in diminished performance, not to mention the accompanied potential for defects in the labelling process.

Where upgrades and servicing are necessary, a good label applicator can often be easily serviced with minimal downtime, and often without the need to be transported for off-site repairs. The benefits of time savings to the entire production chain cannot be underestimated.   

4. Decreased labour costs
Staff will always need to be trained – period. Even the simplest of repetitive action requires training, plus the necessary supervision thereafter – resulting in a high investment in time and trainers. Yes, there is still training involved in operating the label applicator, but it takes far less time, and arguably less monitoring time thereafter – reducing not just overheads and time taken for training, but also overall labour costs.

5. Compliance with statutory requirements, plus flexibility to change when requirements change
Automation ensures quality, and compliance to a standard that has been set – a standard sometimes set in accordance to statutory requirements. When such requirements change, a good automated label applicator is flexible enough (and far quicker than humans) to tolerate those changes. This also negates the necessity of excessive supervision and monitoring when such changes take effect. In comparison, humans effecting those changes will require training, observing, demonstrating and then trying till standards are met. All these take up excessive time, and labels often get wasted in the process.

6. Audits are easier
Try asking a fellow worker how many labels he has applied in a day – enough said. Automated label applicators make auditing an easier process, and analysing of the production process is easier when machines do the “talking” instead.

 

The impact on businesses when one chooses an automated label applicator is tremendous. 

  • Where labelling by hand might result in erratic delivery times, automation gets the job done on time every time, which always bodes well for a company’s reputation, branding, and sales.
     
  • When workers are not inundated with the stress of overcoming diminishing returns for what is a menial and highly repetitive (not to mention occasionally boring) task, they are happier, and more productive as a result. Injury-related costs are minimised simply because of automation which can only mean costs savings at the very least for workplace injury insurance.

 

Datamax-O’Neil is a trusted global provider of stationary and portable label and receipt printing solution products that enable manufacturing and supply markets to capture the benefits of automated product identification and automated legal and financial transactions

 

Container deposit laws past their use-by date

The old-fashioned approach to recycling in which consumers pay a redeemable deposit on drink containers is popular among all kinds of people, from Greenpeace members to traditional Coalition voters. But this nostalgia-fuelled enthusiasm isn’t a good reason to suspend sound judgement. The truth is container deposit schemes are outdated and ineffective, and it’s time we consigned the idea to history’s dustbin.

The Ministerial Council of Environmental Ministers has been considering the idea of container deposit legislation for some time, and in 2011 commissioned an examination of container deposit options in the Packaging Impacts Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (PICRIS). It shows that in reality container deposit laws are clumsy, expensive and not worth the bother.

Litter, the problem container deposit was initially aimed to address, has been joined by another scourge, carbon. Policy responses on packaging must deal with both issues. Container deposit laws were first adopted when glass containers were prevalent as they could be washed and reused. However rewashing is wasteful of water and carting the heavy packaging around is carbon intensive. Modern beverage containers have been made lighter to reduce carbon emissions in both transport and manufacture. They can never be reused.

Thus the concerns of carbon warriors might be at odds with litter activists. This is the core of the problem. Container deposit laws may reduce small amounts of litter but they are a distraction from efforts to cut carbon emissions.

Australia has developed industrial-style responses to packaging and other waste. Kerbside recycling and large sorting facilities are able to deal with it. The waste recovery and recycling systems are huge, integrated and increasingly efficient. ABS statistics demonstrate a strong commitment to recycling in Australia, particularly in urban and regional centres.

Our current recycling system, hadn’t yet been implemented when South Australia’s container deposit scheme was introduced. The legislation may have been appropriate then but now it would only serve to undermine our successful recycling system.

A study for the Municipal Association of Victoria demonstrated that a container deposit system would have negative financial implications for kerbside recycling. This makes it a potential form of environmental vandalism.

The evidence from the Keep Australia Beautiful National Litter Index is that South Australia (5.36 litres of litter per 1,000m) is dirtier than Victoria (3.99 litres of litter per 1,000m) and on that point, the whole argument for container deposit laws should fall.

What the index also demonstrates is that beverage containers are only a small part of the packaging stream (25%) and a minuscule part of the total waste stream (4%). We live in a world where packaging has exploded beyond just beverages.

Because a container deposit scheme only hits part of the waste stream it misses out on the main problems (cigarette butts, plastic and takeaway food litter). Victoria’s relative cleanliness shows that a holistic approach is better than a one-dimensional hammer that misses the nut.

Australians are strongly committed to kerbside recyling, which is cheaper and less carbon intensive than CDL. Flickr/QueensLandgarbagefan

 

A recent peer-reviewed study demonstrated that while container deposit laws would reduce litter by 6%, they would also cost 10 to 20 times more than other strategies such as an advanced disposal fee paid by the consumer at purchase or just increasing recycling at dining and retail outlets. Improving our resource recovery performance at hospitality and retail would cost A$13 per tonne of packaging versus A$2040 per tonne for container deposit law. A container deposit scheme would cost an estimated A$680 million.

Such a scheme also requires the duplication of recycling trucks, as waste with a deposit must be separated from the rest of the waste stream. This increases the carbon miles of waste treatment and would require a vast bureaucracy tracking down every deposit.

The expense of a national container deposit scheme would also be shifted onto families’ food bills. We have been told of one beverage manufacturer who adds 14.5 cents per unit on to their produce in SA. (This additional cost is corroborated by research for an industry group that put the additional cost per annum at $173 to $437 depending on household income.) This regressive charge on families should be resisted. South Australians unwittingly pay this but in a more transparent national debate, it would be manifest. Container deposit would prove less efficient and fair than other systems.

One must beware of ideas drawn from the past. Nostalgia is selective: our enthusiasm for container deposit takes a rosy-eyed view of how things used to be, without looking at the way they are now. Container deposit is very popular but it is problematic in ways that its advocates refuse to acknowledge. It’s a rubbish idea.

Dick Gross is affiliated with Bicycle Networks Victoria, the National Trust, the ALP, Media Alliance, Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria Inc. and the National Packaging Covenant Council. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article.

Maurizio Toscano and Paul Carter 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.

The Conversation

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

 

GM foods – are producers fighting an uphill battle?

Widely viewed as either a breakthrough in scientific research or a dangerous experiment, genetically modified foods are not exactly shy of media attention.

Unapproved genetically modified wheat from GM giant Monsanto was recently detected in a field in Oregon. The discovery resulted in both Japan and South Korea suspending wheat imports from the US, and further fuelled the debate surrounding the safety of GM seeds.

Executive director of the US Centre for Food Safety, Andrew Kimbrell said Monsanto has placed the US wheat industry at grave risk and that it must be held responsible.

Over 90 percent of corn and soybean crops in the US are genetically modified. New labelling laws which will require the mandatory labelling of foods that contain GM ingredients, are seeing food manufacturers across the country struggle to source conventional ingredients to replace GM varieties in fear that sales will dwindle once food is properly labelled.

But what does this mean for Australian food manufacturers and producers? What GM crops are grown in Australia? What are the laws surrounding GM labelling? And are genetically altered seeds as dangerous as protesters make them out to be?

If GM foods are perfectly safe, like GM giant Monsanto says, then why would the US industry be so opposed to mandatory labelling?

GM seeds, what are they all about?

GM seeds have had specific changes introduced into their DNA which resist the effects of pests and bacteria that can cause damage or ultimately kill a crop. There is a general consensus from many scientists that GM crops are safe and pose no greater threat to human health than conventional varieties.

By manipulating the genetic make-up of foods, scientists are able to select the most desirable characteristics of a plant, (ie, pest resistance or high yield) for breeding the next generation.

GM foods boast a host of benefits: they’re hardy, inexpensive and a practical solution to feeding the world’s ever growing population. 

Research is also in the works to create drought-tolerant plants that require less water to grow, making them ideal for changing climatic conditions and well suited to a number of Australia’s drought prone regions.

Despite these positive attributes, many members of the public and scientific community are actively questioning the validity of studies into the safety of genetically modified foods.

Bad press

Numerous studies have claimed that GM crops and associated herbicides can lead to anything from cancer to Parkinson’s and other serious ailments in both humans and animals.

A recent study conducted by Australian and US researchers found that pigs that were fed a diet of genetically modified grain showed significantly higher rates (20 percent) of stomach inflammation than pigs who were fed conventional feed. The study, which was published in the Journal of Organic Systems, was conducted over 22.7 weeks using 168 newly weaned pigs in a commercial piggery located in the US.

Earlier this year, a peer reviewed report published in the Scientific Journal of Entropy concluded that residues of glyphosate -a key ingredient in Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup – has been found in food. Roundup is designed for use on Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GM crops which have been engineered to withstand the herbicide.

Evidence in the report suggests that glyphosate and indeed Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers.

In addition, over two million people participated in a worldwide protest against GM giant Monsanto in late May highlighting the alleged dangers of GM foods and the environmental damage caused by their production.

Mandatory labelling in the states

So far in the US states of Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, at least one chamber of the state legislature has given the go-ahead for bills that will require the mandatory labelling of foods that contain GM ingredients, with similar legislation pending in over 24 other states, as reported by the New York Times.

US retail giant Whole Foods Market, has also added pressure by refusing to sell any GM produce or processed foods in any of their stores by 2018, unless they’re labelled accordingly.

A pressing concern for many businesses is the process involved in switching from GM to non-GM certified produce. The cost for conventional, non-GM ingredients is far higher than that of genetically modified crops and produce in the US.

Approximately 90 percent of US corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets are genetically modified and farmers that are willing to make the switch to non-GM will need to sacrifice a lot of time before they’re able to harvest, as the soil may not be immediately suitable for non-GMO certification.

 “There’s a transition period required,” said Richard Kamolvathin, senior vice president at Verity Farms, which sells  meats, grains and other products derived from conventional crops, as well as natural soil amendments.

“You don’t just stop growing GMO seed and then start growing non-GMO seed,” he said.

Taste and consistency of product is another factor that needs to be considered when making the switch, as the product will need to be tried and tested to capture the same flavours and mouth feel as the original GM ingredients.

GM foods in Australia

According to the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand website (FSANZ), all genetically modified foods intended for sale in Australia and NZ must undergo a comprehensive safety evaluation and will not be approved for sale unless they are deemed safe for consumption.

Foods in Australia must be labelled if they contain GM ingredients, however if a GM ingredient is highly refined, (ie cooking oils and sugar) they do not have to be labelled.

The decision to not label highly refined products is based on the notion that processing removes DNA and protein from the food, resulting in GM foods holding the same composition as non-GM varieties.

Currently, Australia does not permit the sale of GM fresh foods including fruit and vegetables. 

GM crops grown in Australia include: 

  • Canola – used in margarine spreads, dairy blends, tinned food and snack foods
  • Cotton – used to create cotton seed oil which is widely used in cooking as well as cottonseed meal which can be used as stockfeed
  • The CSIRO was trialling GM wheat in the ACT and received warnings from a number of scientists stating that the modified crops could pose a significant health risk to humans and other animals

GM foods imported into Australia:

  • GM soybean products (including soy lecithin, additive 322) – used widely in processed foods including confectionery, breads, potato chips and spreads as well as in stockfeed for pigs and poultry and supplements in dairy cattle
  • GM corn products – cattle feed, corn oil, cornflour and corn syrup used extensively throughout processed foods and may also be used as a snack food
  • GM potatoes – fresh potatoes cannot be sold in Australia, however GM potatoes can be used in processed products
  • GM sugar beet – used as sugar in a variety of imported processed foods

So where do we go from here?

There is no doubt that many consumers and members of the scientific community have concerns over the commercialisation of genetically modified foods. As the debate continues to gain momentum, food processors that choose to avoid GM ingredients will hold a powerful marketing edge over their GM competitors.

While highly refined GM ingredients do not legally have to be labelled here, the terms ‘GM free’ and ‘Non-GM’ make it clear to consumers which food processors choose to use conventionally grown ingredients, while raising questions about those that don’t.