Australian agriculture’s biggest threat needs a global approach

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

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

A model for eradication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we control and eliminate foot and mouth disease?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving practises at farm level is a good first step

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Global map showing regions with vitamin A deficiency. Wikimedia Commons

Rejecting science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These would not pass muster in the professional scientific literature.

 

Golden rice can save lives. IRRI Images

 

Selective ‘evidence’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Long-term effects

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

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

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

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

As Paul Offit says in relation to people against vaccination:

doing nothing is doing something.

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

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

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

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Why embracing free trade may be more complicated than it looks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

The ‘trade-off’ dilemma in Australian FTA policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why we made the switch to solar: Spiess Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

So is the Prime Minister right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict

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


Review

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Sip on this: do diet drinks make you fatter?

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

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

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

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

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

A better way

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

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

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

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

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

What the rodents did

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming desensitised

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

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

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

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

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

So what does all this mean for you?

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

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

As always, plain water is the best drink.

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

The Conversation

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

 

Foreign investment in agriculture? How about a plan for profitability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not business as usual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ownership transfer, income losses

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

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

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

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

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

Insightful action needed

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

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

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

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

The Conversation

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

 

The global food security threat: where do we begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demand. We must:

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

Supply. We must:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morlife dominates at Food magazine awards: videos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New plating system from CMActive claims packaging award: video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Springhill Farm wins Prepared Foods category at Food awards: video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gluten Free Grain Free range wins industry health award: video

Taking home the Food magazine Health and Wellness award for 2013 is Gluten Free Grain Free's Food for Everybody – Cake Premixes range.

The company's founder, Tania Hubbard, says that the Cake Premixes range is an Australian first and the ultimate allergen-free offering as it's gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free and dairy-free. The range is also free of preservatives and additives while being high in nutrient-dense ingredients.

The new range is hand-milled in a dedicated gluten-free and grain-free production space on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and comprises flavours including chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, date & cinnamon and ginger, with a completely sugar-free variety currently being finalised.

The product consists of organic coconut flour, organic pumpkin seeds, coconut sugar and organic spices and has been made to bake like a normal every day cake.

The Cake Premixes offer a fantastic solution for the school system where children and staff are often required to eat nut-free food. The range is also as a great tasting treat for celiac- or gluten-intolerant children.

Gluten Free Grain Free was founded four and half years ago as one of Australia's first gluten-free and grain-free cafes. Hubbard says that it was in this cafe that the business completed its market research for their winning product range.

"In that cafe we did probably about 1,000 blind tests on this particular product and we developed it with our customers in mind," said Hubbard. "Now here we are four and a half years on, and winning a totally cool award."

Sustainability is also a key feature of Gluten Free Grain Free's business model. The company uses Fair Trade raw ingredients where possible, employs local designers and printers for its recycled, recyclable labels and packaging and also negates the use of glue in its packaging.

Although the company has plans to export its products to New Zealand and European markets, at this stage, Gluten Free Grain Free is focusing on firmly establishing itself in the Australian market, after which the company will assess export opportunities.

In keeping with the company's innovative nature, Hubbard explains that Gluten Free Grain Free's next product will satisfy her personal goal of making an almost entirely allergen-free product.

"At the moment I'm working on, gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, dairy-free, yeast-free bread. It's my goal to cover all of the allergens but it is still food for everybody, it's completely about eating great food that's good for you."

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CST Wastewater Solutions wins sustainable manufacturing award: video

CST Wastewater Solutions claimed the Sustainable Manufacturing award at this year's Food magazine awards, for its Chok Chai Starch RAPTOR.

CST Wastewater Solutions is an Australian company and a member of the Global Water and Energy Alliance, a group of companies around the world committed to providing solutions in waste and wastewater treatment for the recovery of green energy and water.

The RAPTOR anaerobic wastewater technology with ANAMIX thermophilic digester, for the processing of waste cassava pulp and its conversion into biogas, has been installed by Global Water Engineering at the Chok Chai Starch tapioca starch plant in Uthai Thani, Thailand.

CST says the technology, broadly applicable to food and agricultural industries in Australia, is an environmental boon in that it processes and converts the leftover fresh cassava pulp, which starts to ferment once stored, into useful green energy. The rotting organic material would otherwise generate a considerable odour and release heavily polluted wastewater from mountainous pulp piles.

Chok Chai Starch's Thermophilic RAPTOR – the world's first plant to incorporate the thermophilic biological digestion process for cassava pulp – not only greatly reduces leftover pulp, but boosts the plant's existing biogas production to replace fossil fuels and to generate electricity. 

The Chok Chai Starch RAPTOR starch plant produces enough biogas to generate 3.3 to 3.4 MW of renewable electricity for sale to the local grid, while the biogas produced by previously installed ANUBIX B reactors is heating the factory's two thermal oil boilers using green energy produced from digestion of organic matter in its wastewater.

"Advanced anaerobic technology such as that installed at Chok Chai Starch is also strongly applicable to any factory or process with one or more digestible solid waste streams," said Global Water Engineering CEO, Jean Pierre Ombregt. "Such plants – including breweries, fruit, food waste, agro industries, and energy crops including corn, can easily use this technology to generate energy. It opens the door to environmental and production efficiency gains globally."

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Passage Foods’ pumpkin curry named Ready Meal of the Year: video

This year's Ready Meals category winner of the Food magazine awards, Passage Foods, won for its innovative ready-to-eat Pumpkin Curry Side Simmer Sauce.

The inspiration behind the new line came from a collaboration between Passage Foods and market research company, AC Neilson which found that Australian consumers are demonstrating a growing interest in the Indian tradition of sharing multiple meals at the dinner table. 

It was this information that prompted Passage Foods to develop its Passage to India sides range – a ready-to-eat/heat and serve side simmer sauce featuring Australian pumpkin and a balance of spices. 

The product is the first ready-to-eat Indian pumpkin meal on the Australian market, made from all natural ingredients while also being gluten-free and vegan friendly.

While traditionally Indian curries require spices to be fried in order to achieve the right flavour profile, Passage Foods has managed to replicate authentic flavours by using a retort process.

The company spent months tweaking with the recipe to ensure that the taste and consistency was just right, and are now extremely proud to have the product on supermarket shelves. 

The side simmer sauce is packaged in a shelf stable pouch, sold throughout Woolworths, Coles and IGA supermarkets, with a shelf life of up to two years.

Chris Doutre, sales and business development manager for Passage Foods, said that Passage Foods has now become the market leader in Australia's Indian simmer sauce industry and also exports its products to the US, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Malaysia and Taiwan.

In addition to the success of the Passage to India line, Passage Foods also offers a host of other simmer sauces from varying cuisines, with a number of new products in the pipeline.

"There are new products coming up all the time," said Doutre.

"We have a number of new projects happening and we don't just only produce strictly Indian, because Passage Foods is all about a journey of cuisine, so we've got Passage to India as well as Passage to Asia, Passage to Morocco, Passage to China and Passage to Indonesia."

Doutre believes that the company's success in recent times is due to its commitment to innovation and product development.

"I think today, to be able to stay on top in the industry, you've got to be innovative. You've got to be able to come up with new ideas all the time."

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Dyson claims food safety title at Food mag awards: video

With two entries in this category, it was Dyson's Airblade Tap that came out on top and claimed the Food Safety and Innovation in Non-Food category at this year's Food magazine awards.

The Airblade Tap is a touch-free appliance that combines hand washing and hand drying in one unit. The product is the result of nearly three years' intensive R&D by a team of 125 Dyson engineers and an investment of $60m.

Dyson says the Airblade Tap is the fastest, most cost- and environmentally-efficient way to wash and dry hands hygienically, with its compact design also providing a space saving solution for food manufacturing facilities.
In the food sector, the Dyson Airblade Tap is one of only two products approved by HACCP Australia for use in food environments as a hand drying alternative to costly paper towels. 

In terms of its sustainability credentials, the Airblade Tap produces 5.8g of CO2 per dry compared to 17.8g of CO2 per dry for other hand dryers and 15.5g of CO2 per dry for paper towels. 

Another impressive feat for the company, the product's V4 digital motor is the world's smallest, most efficient, power dense and comprehensive 1600W motor ever developed. 

The Airblade Tap also eliminates a number of safety hazards in the workplace including water on a facility's floor, created by users moving from the tap to the hand drying area; the paper towel supply running out; and having overflowing bins of soiled paper towels. The touch-free operation of this all-in-one tap and hand dryer also means the potential for micro-organism transference is reduced.

"Our Dyson Airblade Tap is a fantastic new technology that really looked to solve the problem of things like water on the floor in bathrooms," said Tom Davie, finance and operations director for Dyson in Australia and New Zealand.

"What we did with the Airblade Tap is use the fantastic technology that we'd already developed for our Dyson Airblade product, and integrate it within the tap. So therefore you don't have that situation where you're dropping water on the floor, now you can do it all in one place," he said.

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CO YO named most innovative at Food mag awards: video

For the second year in a row, CO YO Corporate has taken out the Food magazine awards' Ingredient Innovation category. 

Last year, the praise went to its Coconut Milk yoghurt, but this year the focus was well and truly on the new Coconut Milk Ice Cream Alternative.

Manufactured from pure coconut milk instead of dairy milk, the Coconut Milk Ice Cream Alternative presents consumers with a dairy-free and vegan alternative to a dairy-based ice cream. 

Traditional ice cream must contain 10 percent milk from a mammary gland in order to use the product name "ice cream", so CO YO had to name its new product an "ice cream alternative." 

The company describes the Coconut Milk Ice Cream Alternative as "almost velvety in texture, with a unique smoothness on scooping." 

It's available in Natural, which is just pure coconut cream without any additional flavouring, as well as seven other flavours including Cacao; Acai and Blueberry; Mango and Lime; Pina Colada; Sticky Date and Tamarind; Cherry and Raw Choc Nibs; and Vanilla and Nutmeg. 

CO YO also uses tapioca and pectin instead of the usual egg and gum emulsifiers and where possible uses coconut nectar to sweeten the dark flavours, and organic raw cane sugar for the lighter coloured flavours.

In its award nomination form, CO YO said, "There are many consumers in our population who have been deprived of the pleasure of eating ice cream because of an intolerance to dairy products and now, finally CO YO provides that choice. The flavours are innovative and exciting; the texture is smooth and velvety. The use of pectin and tapioca as an emulsifier is safe for those with allergies and the use of unrefined sweeteners makes for a guilt-free treat, well almost!

"The challenge for CO YO's Ice Cream Alternative was to produce a smooth product with good scoop ability. This was difficult because coconut has a low freezing point and is inclined to be very hard unless large quantities of gums are used and we didn't want to do this, so finding the right balance of tapioca, pectin and the nectar was very important. The fruits we use help the texture, particularly the mango and lime and sticky date and tamarind which provide more natural sugar."

CO YO's Ice Cream Alternative is distributed throughout Australia and will soon be exported to New Zealand.

In other exciting news for the company, the product will also soon be on shelves in the US, in a deal similar to that in the UK, where since 2011, a company has manufactured CO YO products under licence in London and distributed them throughout the UK and Europe.

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