Obesity the new smoking?

Australia’s obesity crisis has been labelled “the new smoking” by health experts and industry bodies are warning people to know the health risks associated with being overweight.

Current obesity rates in Australia show one in four is overweight and one in three obese, placing us only just behind Greece, New Zealand and the United States.

It has already been documented that the risks associated with obesity, including heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes and stroke, may lead to the current generation of Australian children being the first to not outlive their parents.

Previous generations grew up observing their parents and other adults smoking in the home, car and public places, and most also took up the habit in one of the most obvious examples of “monkey see, monkey do.”

Of course, the dire health impacts smoking had weren’t well known, or accepted, until the 1950’s, and it soon became illegal to directly advertise smoking or to portray it positively through the use of sport stars or celebrities.

Nowadays, we all know the impact smoking has on our health, and that of children.

In 2010, a law was passed in Australia that banned smoking in cars with children under the age of 17 inside.

Is this where junk food is headed? Ten years from now you won’t be able to eat a burger in the presence of children and anti-junk food ads will saturate the media?

The pattern is already there: we’re aware of how damaging fatty, salty, sugar loaded and processed food is for us, but it is still so readily, and cheaply, available that people can’t and won’t say no.

The suggestion of a “fat tax” on fatty foods similar to that implemented in Denmark was suggested, mirroring the increased tax placed on smoking to make it less appealing to take up the habit and providing more reason to quit.

You cannot advertise smoking, you cannot advertise junk food to children, there are graphic pictures and health warnings on cigarette packets, and soon a simple health guide will be developed by the Australian government to appear on the fronts of all packaged foods sold in Australia.

Subsidised counselling for the obese

Now the Australian Psychological Society wants counselling subsidised for overweight people seeking treatment.

It believes Medicare should fund the cost of registered psychologists to provide assistance to those with chronic diseases caused by obesity.

Each session would cost taxpayers more than $80.

Is it the taxpayers responsibility to fund such a campaign?

While it is individuals we’re talking about here, the fact is that it is a problem all of society will deal with at some stage.

Do we fund a program to educate people now, or do we pay for medical costs when their arteries give up and they need round-the-clock support?

The ageing epidemic is already going to completely overrun our medical system in the next decade, so is it a better idea to be proactive?

Corrina Langelaan from The Parents’ Jury, an organisation set up to reduce childhood obesity and get better health education in Australia, told Food Magazine that pointing the finger only on parents is not the right way to fix the problem.

“Obesity is one of the biggest issues facing our society today,” she said.

“It’s easy to shift the blame solely to parents, but they are being constantly undermined by the actions of the food industry and lack of Government action to tackle the issue.

“Families need a positive and healthy environment to raise positive and healthy children.”

She believes introducing counseling could be a positive move towards an entire behavioral change, but but it would need to be supported by other measures.

“In regards to changing behaviour, counselling is an interesting idea.

“We believe there is a need to create a positive and healthy environment to help parents.”

“However, these environmental factors need to be combined with improved regulation.

“This includes banning junk food advertising during the times of day children are likely to be watching and traffic light labelling on packaged foods.

“Parents’ need Government and the food industry to work together to create an environment that helps families maintain a healthier lifestyle.”

Industry, government and society need to work together

Julie Anne Mitchell, NSW Health Director at the Heart Foundation agrees that the issue is a complex one and a solution will only be found through a combined effort.

“I think it’s complex, there’s no single reason for why we’re seeing the increase in obesity, it is largely lifestyle induced, we have too many machines to do for us what we used to do ourselves,” she told Food Magazine.

“Our environment is changing, we’re sitting in our workplace more and in our leisure time, it’s changed rapidly in the last 20 years and it’s changed how we behave everyday.”

While the negative health impacts unhealthy foods can have are as dire as those associated with smoking, Mitchell told Food Magazine it is much more complicated.

“While you can draw parallels between smoking and obesity, it is different,” she said.

“We didn’t realise how damaging smoking was, and it has no benefit to lifestyle.

“We have to eat food, so it’s not a black and white situation like it was with smoking.

“It took 25 to 30 years of implementing a whole range of anti smoking campaigns and restrictions to curb that.

“With food its much more complex, certainly our lifestyle has changed, there’s a greater reliance on convenience.

“We want to improve the food supply in the community, making sure everyone has access to proper, healthy food.

Mitchell says most people “know what they should be eating,” but often lifestyles get in the way.

She told Food Magazine it’s not a case of having to train for hours at the gym and not eat tasty food, but finding the ways people can improve their health every day.

Substituting full cream dairy products with low fat, margarine for butter and taking the stairs instead of the lifts are simple solutions people can make to improve their health.

“It’s about those moments everyday where you can make a choice between healthy and not-so-healthy,” she says.

Traffic light labelling

The Parents Jury has been one of the biggest advocates for the traffic light labelling system, and Langelaan told Food Magazine most people support the idea.

“In August 2011, a poll undertaken by The Parents’ Jury showed overwhelming support for the introduction of traffic light labelling on food with almost 90 per cent of respondents supporting its mandatory introduction,” she said.

“Over 91 per cent of respondents wanted to see traffic light labelling on all packaged food products and a massive 90 per cent want to see it extended to cover all items on the menu boards in fast food outlets.

She dismissed claims from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) that the Daily Intake Guides (DIGs) are a better solution.

“Many parents simply don’t understand the current daily intake guide and have no idea the suggested servings on many packaged foods don’t reflect reality,” she said.

“Traffic light labelling is a good step to helping consumers purchase healthy foods. It is a simple and recognisable system necessary to help families make healthier choices.”

While Mitchell agrees some kind of simple, easy to understand health guide is needed for packaged foods in Australia, she stresses that it must provide accurate and relevant information every time.

“The Heart Foundation supports some type of interpretive system that is going to help mother or father in a supermarket chose a healthier option in a range.

“People need help, they do need a way to identify a healthier food product amongst other similar ones.

“Were not specifying the type of labelling, but something that allows them to compare like with like in a certain food group.

“It’s not about having the one system for everything, but for each food category or it could become a bit too simplistic.”

Slow and steady won’t win this race

Mitchell praised the changes being made by some food manufacturers and governments, but says more needs to be done.

“It’s a responsibility that government, the food industry and the general public share equally,we all have a part to play.

“Certainly the role for the food industry is to look at the ways they produce food and look at ways to reduce saturated fat and salt in the processing of food.

“The role governments play is giving incentives for the public, as well as industry, to make healthier choices and the educate about healthy food options.

“It is a big problem, it will not go away quickly, we need to work together on this, we have seen great ways the food industry and government is making changes, on menus as of February 2012 restaurants will display kilojoule content of food items so that’s helping the consumer in choice they make.”

Another move by governments to reduce the nation’s ever-expanding waistline is the Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food campaign will begin rolling out across Queensland next week, aiming to re-educate people about how to prepare proper, nutritious foods.

Queensland Health minister Geoff Wilson said the program is a timely arrival.

"There is an urgent need to educate Queenslanders about preparing nutritious meals and help them to lead long, healthy lives," he said.

In August last year the Victorian government spend $40 million on a campaign inspired by the TV chef’s program.

It will provide sessions on healthy eating, exercise and food preparation for the many who find themselves overwhelmed and confused by conflicting health messages.

And for those who are finding themselves feeling pretty unhealthy following the holiday period, Mitchell warns crash diets are not the key.

“They are hugely popular this time of year,” she said.

“People ate too much, drank too much over the holidays and they want a quick fix.

“Fad diets are often quick fixes but not a long term solution.

“They often lose weight in the short term, but end up damaging their bodies in the long run and putting the weight back on.

“It’s more about finding the long term solution and sticking to it.”

Do Australians need more transparency on modern farming practices?

Australian farm groups could take on a US initiative to build public trust in farming to address consumer concerns about modern agriculture and food production.

The Centre for Food Integrity (CFI), a not-for-profit group in Missouri in the Midwest of the United States, has found great success in its work to increase consumer understanding of farming, according to Farm Online.

The initiative, which also addresses developments for the environment, productivity and food safety, is now being closely examined by Australian experts.

Next month CFI chief executive officer Charlie Arnot will be back in Australia to further address initial conversations with farmers in two separate visits in 2011.

Comments welcomed in 2011

Arnot made 13 presentations to around 600 people, saying farmers and food companies need to focus on strategies to promote public trust and establish their own strict self-regulated standards.

The messages were welcomed by industry and farmer groups, according to NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) livestock officer at Moree, Greg Mills.

"The CFI model has certainly had a lot of success,” he said.

“It’s now a case of trying to determine if and how it might work in Australia.”

Established by soybean producers in 2007 and funded by farmers, farm and food organisations and private companies, the CFI is committed to undertaking research to create messages to increase consumer trust.

According to Natioanal Farmers Federation (NFF) executive officer, Matt Linegar, "agriculture’s social licences to operate" are under increasing pressure, particularly as the divide between urban and rural Australians increases.

This divide leads to a huge lack of understanding about farming and agriculture for city dwellers, who have almost permanent availability of any fruit or vegetable, despite weather conditions, which has lead many to question the storage and transport of the produce.

Produce pricing

In September, independent Senators Bob Katter and Nick Xenephon introduced a bill calling for the price paid to farmers at the gate to be displayed alongside the retail price in supermarkets, in a bid to provide transparency and ensure farmers are not being ripped off by the major supermarkets.

But even those within the industry said the plan would not work.

The leading trade association for the fresh produce and floral industries, PMA Australia-New Zealand (PMA A-NZ), rejected the calls from Katter and Xenophon, with chief executive Michael Worthington saying it would be almost impossible to implement.

“It takes no account of the fact that the major supermarkets buy some of their produce from wholesalers, so who would then be responsible for determining what the wholesaler has paid the grower?” he said.

“More often than not, produce is consolidated, graded, packed or processed by an intermediary who is sourcing from multiple growers – again, it would be nigh-on-impossible for there to be a clear chain of transactions to determine what was paid to the grower.

Incidents including the milk price wars that inspired an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and a Senate Inquiry have highlighted the control the major supermarkets have over suppliers, with many predicting dairy farmers will leave the industry in droves because they can’t make a profit, and the nation’s biggest dairy supplier expecting to record a loss as a result of the $1 per litre milk.

Now the industry wants more information on Australia’s agricultural industry provided to everyone.

"We’re examining the CFI’s activities as part of our greater aim of keeping agriculture’s true value recognised by governments and the public," Linegar said.

"I’m sure the issue of building consumer trust will emerge as an important theme in the NFF’s blueprint for agriculture in the coming year."

Animal exports

Organisations including Horticulture Australia Limited, the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, the Animal Welfare Science Centre and the Australian Egg Corporation discussed the CFI with Arnot’s in November, and sought his opinion on consumer behaviour in Australia.

One of the worst incidents to impact consumer opinion of the industry in the last decade was the Indonesian live export revelations shown on the ABC’s Four Corners program, which led to public outrage and Prime Minister Julia Gillard suspending live exports to the region in mid-2011.

It was also revealed authorities warned Indonesian abattoirs of the impending presence of cameras in its facilities, which industry body Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has defended, saying it was part of due process to pass on such information.

Live export has resumed to Indonesia and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) confirmed in November that since the ban was lifted, 128 312 cattle have been exported to Indonesia.

Honesty the best policy

"Farmers often feel like the victims – which they may or may not be – but the fact is consumers aren’t willing to put your farm’s profit concerns ahead of their current principles," Arnot said on the issue during a presentation in Sydney.

"We have to help consumers understand their principles are actually the same as today’s farmers.

"Animal welfare, environmental stewardship, food safety and a passion for doing the food production job well are all basic principals of farming."

The worst thing farmers could do, Arnot believes, is to stay quiet on modern farming activities, and therefore increase the gap in understanding for urbanised Australians.

Mills agrees with the calls from Arnot, saying farmers need to give consumers all the information they can, to prove practises are ethical and safe.

"The aim is to openly establish the credibility or a voluntary code of practice that allows you to operate a farming enterprise or industry without expensive government legislation and the constant tracking and monitoring which law makers might demand," he said.

"If the consumer trust you, sees what they like and believes you’re doing a good job, the industry builds great credibility with the public, but if you flout that trust the public will demand governments step in to crack down and regulate everybody."

Are you a country critter or a city dweller? Do you understand farming practises and would you like to know more?


Are supermarkets deliberately trying to mislead shoppers by copying packaging?

Australian supermarket giants have been accused of deliberately trying to confuse shoppers with “copycat” packaging.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) says supermarkets are intentionally imitating well-known product packaging to make shoppers think they are buying the reputable and trustworthy brands.

In September, Mumbrella released a video showing the striking similarities between well-known food and drink products and Coles’ private-label counterparts.

The major supermarkets are under intense fire lately for dominating shelves with their own private-label products and squeezing Australian manufacturers out of the market.

One of Australia’s biggest manufacturers, HJ Heinz has slammed the dominance twice this year, saying the major supermarkets have created an “inhospitable” environment for Australian manufacturers and suppliers.

“This copycat strategy could be seen to be confusing consumers into believing they are buying top-selling branded products,” AFGC chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“Although the products may look similar, the taste and quality can be quite different between branded and private label products.”

The AFGC is calling for a Supermarket Ombudsman, to stay on top of product packaging becoming too similar to competitors.

Currently, the law allows companies to use similar colours and images as competitors, and the only cause for concern is “passing off” of trademarks.

“Within the Code, there could be a requirement for supermarkets not to directly copy packaging so there’s no confusion for customers,” Carnell said.

“Australians and our political leaders overwhelmingly want a local, value-adding food and grocery manufacturing sector – it’s Australia’s largest manufacturing industry that we can’t live without,” Carnell said.

“Consumers want to be confident about buying affordable, nutritious food and grocery brands that they know and trust.”

Private label products will account for 40 per cent of the market in the near future, and according to a report commissioned by the AFGC, 130 000 workers will be out of employment in the food and grocery sector is nothing is improved.

“The growth in private label is making it more and more difficult for Australian manufacturers to get their food and grocery products on supermarkets shelves.

“In the end, this means consumers will have less choice,” Carnell.

Food Magazine contacted both Coles and Woolworths this morning asking for comments on whether they are deliberately misleading consumers as well as squeezing other manufacturers out of the industry.

“We do not have a strategy to mimic the packaging of branded products,” a Woolworths spokesperson responded in a written statement.

“Our strategy is to differentiate Own Brand from the branded products.

“The main evidence for this is that many of our customers look specifically for Own Brand because it represents quality and value so we want them to be able to identify our products.

The supermarket giant did say it uses techniques to fit product packaging in with similar accepted products in each category.

“There are certain ‘cues’ that consumers respond to around the look and feel of products in particular categoriesm” the spokesperson said.

“These cues are used by suppliers and retailers around the world.

“Woolworths Own Brand products represent international best practice in packaging and we’re always looking at ways to lead in this area.

“In fact, there are plenty of examples where we have led the field in innovation such as putting handles on bulk dry dog food which has since been picked up by the branded products.

Coles had a similar response, responding with a statement to Food Magazine that it does not copy other manufacturers’ products, but rather, has its own design scheme.

“Coles has created its own distinct look and feel for its private label products, we do not follow or mimic anyone’s design," the spokesperson said.

"Our customers are in no doubt that they’re choosing a Coles brand product in our stores.

"Before we launch a new Coles product, we do extensive research to understand what customers want in the packaging and design.

"Sometimes this research shows that customers expect a product to have certain visual cues, such as coffee beans on the label of instant coffee, and we incorporate them into our product – as do branded manufacturers."

Coles also disputed claims from manufacturers and analysts that the increase in private-label products are negatively impacting Australian food manufacturers.

“Coles brand products are sometimes produced by the major branded manufacturer in a category, but typically they are produced by smaller manufacturers.

"In many cases, these smaller manufacturers have been able to dramatically grow their business, take on new employees and develop new product lines on the back of securing a Coles brand manufacturing contract.”


Laxative chemical permitted for use in Australian wines

Food Standards Australia has ruled that a chemical used in laxatives and toothpaste is safe for use in wine.

Winemakers will begin using sodium carboxymenthyl cellulose, more commonly known as cellulose gum in wines manufactured in Australia, according to The Australian

The chemical, also known as food additive E466, prevents crystals and cloudiness in white and sparkling wines.

The Winemakers Federation of Australia has been calling for permission to use the chemical, because they say it will be cheaper than the current reliance on filtration and refrigeration.

Now Food Standards has concluded that the chemical is safe for use in wines.

"As a result of changes in temperature during transport and storage, tartrate can crystallise in wine, resulting in cloudy wine with sediment, which is undesirable to many consumers," the ruling states.

"Sodium CMC is added to the wine towards the end of the production process . . . (so that) chilling or filtration steps are not required."

Food Standards concluded that chemical, which is extracted from wood fibres treated with an alkali and acid, does not raise any public health or safety concerns.

"Use of the additive to stabilise wine and sparkling wine is technologically justified and would be expected to provide benefits to wine producers and consumers as an alternative to current treatments,” it said.

Cellulose gum is already used in some European wines, the report said.

Up until now these wines could not be imported because Australia had a ban on the additive.

The major problem with using the chemical is around Australian labelling laws, which will not require manufacturers to disclose on the bottle whether the contents contain cellulose gum.

The move may encourage more Australian wine drinkers to move more towards organic wines, and industry that is increasing at a steady rate.

If the consumers concern is with the change to taste, rather than purity or ethical reasons, Winemakers Federation spokesperson Tony Battaglene does not believe there will be any difference.

"It’s environmentally very friendly because it doesn’t use a lot of energy," he said.

"I don’t think consumers would be concerned one way or another."
Hunter Valley boutique winery Pierre’s Wines calculates the additive will cut production costs by 20c a bottle.

Owner Peter Went said drinkers often mistook crystals in wine for glass fragments.

"This will improve the quality and the economics of wine production," he said.

"In Australia traditionally we cool the wine down to a temperature of minus four degrees for a few days before bottling it, but it costs a lot of electricity to cool down 100,000 bottles of wine."

Coke explains why ‘Share a Coke’ has been so successful

Coca-Cola says the reason its ‘Share a Coke’ campaign has been so successful is because it is communicating effectively with its consumers.

Following the unexpected success of the campaign, the beverage giant extended the campaign through Christmas, with some holiday-inspired names printed on cans.

Lauren Thompson, Communications Manager Coca-cola South Pacific told Food Magazine the company is reveling in the success of the campaign.

“This is a fun and exciting campaign for Coca-Cola – experiential, fluid and dynamic in many ways,” she said.

“We’ve had an unprecedented consumer response… a response so inspiring it simply can’t be ignored.

“As such, we’ve launch the second phase — which wasn’t in the original plans, or to take the campaign past December.”

The list of Christmas-themed names that will appear on cans are Santa, Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Vixen, Donner and Blitzen.

But the bottles will not be neglected either, and Thompson said the decision to use Facebook as the platform for consumers to nominate and vote on the 50 additional names to be printed on bottles seemed the most obvious, considering the amount of bottles with people’s names on them flooding social networking sites.

“Consumers have been talking to us, and we have been listening,” she told Food Magazine.

“There has been a wave of positive engagement to the 150 names on packs [and] consumer interactions with all of our virtual and live mechanics.”

“62,208 virtual Cokes created of which 56,211 were shared. This generated 1,719,227 newsfeed impressions!”

Thompson said the response has not only been limited to online arenas, as people, particularly those with unusual names or spellings have been catered for with the Westfield kiosks springing up everywhere.

“126,000 consumers have had custom named cans created for them at our Westfield kiosks — this is 5 times our original estimations,” she explained.

The company has also experiences a 92 per cent increase in the number of posts on its Facebook page, with almost 29 000 posts about the campaign alone since the launch.

“The Share a Coke” campaign has been led by deepening relationships with consumers,” Thompson said.

“We’re pleased with the campaign’s results thus far, but the highest impact for us has been building brand love, learning from our social media executions and furthering our connections with consumers.”

“We’d love to put every name in Australia on our packs for this campaign, but by opening up phase 2 to consumer nomination and vote we think we’re found an exciting and engaging way for people to have a say in the names that are selected.

“We’re looking forward to seeing what Australia has to say.”

Coca-cola was not able to disclose who makes the labels for the bottles at this stage, but Food Magazine will bring you this information when it become available.

New directions in the organic supply chain

As the organic food sector has grown on a global scale over recent years, there has also been an evolution in how these food products are stored, shipped and monitored through the supply chain.

With the focus on product quality control, advanced supply chain technologies are being deployed throughout the organic food sector.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is already being deployed in the organic beef sector to help ensure both product quality and adherence to government food safety regulations (in Australia, the National Livestock Identification System legislation mandated, in 2005, RFID tagging for cattle stock).

As a result of this push, organic beef producers in the country are tagging individual animals with RFID, ensuring rapid and accurate traceability as they move through the livestock chain.

RFID technology is also helping organic beef producers to meet one of the key drivers to growth in the organic sector, as identified by Farmers of Australia’s General Manager, Holly Vyner – ‘buying food produced with animal welfare’ in mind.

The Expert Committee on Organic Agriculture (ECOA) and Animal Welfare Task Force (AWTF) identifies in its publication ‘Animal Welfare on Organic Farms’ that in relation to cattle branding, ‘cattle should not be branded (given it can be a painful procedure for the cattle) alternative methods of identification such as RFID tags should be used.’

International regulations

Today, the majority of organic food is sold through mainstream supermarkets and therefore local organic food exporters need to adhere to stricter international food safety regulations if they want to access growing global markets.

In 2005 the EU mandated that all food and feed businesses must have effective systems and records to ensure that all foodstuffs, animal feed and ingredients can be traced throughout the food chain (‘from farm to fork’). Known as the ‘one-step-backward, one-step-forward’ approach, each business must be able to tell who all their suppliers are and who they supply to themselves (with the exception of consumers). They should also have withdrawal/recall procedures for unsafe food, and must notify authorities immediately in the event of a food and/or feed safety scare.

Organic food producers, manufacturers and their retailers alike can take advantage of advanced track and trace technology to help meet international food safety standards and quickly identify and locate organic foodstuffs that may be affected by a recall.

Using barcode or RFID technology to automatically capture serial numbers or lot codes on cartons processed at distribution centres and received in retail environments, provides a new level of traceability without requiring time-consuming manual data collection.

By accurately and efficiently capturing organic food product codes, retailers could target their recalls so unaffected organic products would not have to be pulled from stores and that customers perceptions aren’t unduly influenced by one particular suppliers organic produce – compared with all organic foodstuffs in the store having to be taken off the shelves.

Advanced barcode and RFID technologies can also aide organic food producers to back up their claims about how food products are raised or grown and where they have come from.

This is particularly relevant to the organic food sector given the rise in popularity around what is known as the ‘100 mile diet’.

Locating local

The ‘100 mile diet’, made famous by two Canadians who only ate food from within 100 miles of the where they were eating, is widely touted as minimising the impact on the environment, contributing to the local community and in many cases, ensuring greater freshness due to lesser transit times.

Obviously, of integral importance for people who are looking to follow the rigorous requirements of the diet (who are known as locavores) is the assurance that the food is in fact, from within 100 miles. In the case of this specific niche market, both RFID and bar code technology can help organic food retailers provide accurate and credible information as to where the food has come from and where it has been prior to coming in contact with the consumer.

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