Methane from food production – the next wildcard in climate change

Methane concentrations in the atmosphere are growing faster than any time in the past 20 years. The increase is largely driven by the growth in food production, according to the Global Methane Budget released today. Methane is contributing less to global warming than carbon dioxide (CO₂), but it is a very powerful greenhouse gas.

Since 2014, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have begun to track the most carbon-intensive pathways developed for the 21st century by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The growth of methane emissions from human activities comes at a time when CO₂ emissions from burning fossil fuels have stalled over the past three years.

If these trends continue, methane growth could become a dangerous climate wildcard, overwhelming efforts to reduce CO₂ in the short term.

Methane concentration pathways from IPCC and observations from the NOAA measuring network (Saunois et al 2016, Environmental Research Letters). The projected global warming range by the year 2100, relative to 1850-1900, is shown for each pathway.

In two papers published today (see here and here), we bring together the most comprehensive ensemble of data and models to build a complete picture of methane and where it is going – the global methane budget. This includes all major natural and human sources of methane, and the places where it ends up in methane “sinks” such as the atmosphere and the land.

This work is a companion effort to the global CO₂ budget published annually, both by international scientists under the Global Carbon Project.

Where does all the methane go?

Methane is emitted from multiple sources, mostly from land, and accumulates in the atmosphere. In our greenhouse gas budgets, we look at two important numbers.

First, we look at emissions (which activities are producing greenhouse gases).

Second, we look at where this gas ends up. The important quantity here is the accumulation (concentration) of methane in the atmosphere, which leads to global warming. The accumulation results from the difference between total emissions and the destruction of methane in the atmosphere and uptake by soil bacteria.

CO₂ emissions take centre stage in most discussions to limit climate change. The focus is well justified, given that CO₂ is responsible for more than 80% of global warming due to greenhouse gases. The concentration of CO₂ in the atmosphere (now around 400 parts per million) has risen by 44% since the Industrial Revolution (around the year 1750).

While CO₂ in the atmosphere has increased steadily, methane concentrations grew relatively slowly throughout the 2000s, but since 2007 have grown ten times faster. Methane increased faster still in 2014 and 2015.

Remarkably, this growth is occurring on top of methane concentrations that are already 150% higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution (now around 1,834 parts per billion).

The global methane budget is important for other reasons too: it is less well understood than the CO₂ budget and is influenced to a much greater extent by a wide variety of human activities. About 60% of all methane emissions come from human actions.

These include living sources – such as livestock, rice paddies and landfills – and fossil fuel sources, such as emissions during the extraction and use of coal, oil and natural gas.

We know less about natural sources of methane, such as those from wetlands, permafrost, termites and geological seeps.

Biomass and biofuel burning originates from both human and natural fires.

Global methane budget 2003-2012 based on Saunois et al. 2016, Earth System Science Data. See the Global Carbon Atlas at

Given the rapid increase in methane concentrations in the atmosphere, what factors are responsible for its increase?

Uncovering the causes

Scientists are still uncovering the reasons for the rise. Possibilities include: increased emissions from agriculture, particularly from rice and cattle production; emissions from tropical and northern wetlands; and greater losses during the extraction and use of fossil fuels, such as from fracking in the United States. Changes in how much methane is destroyed in the atmosphere might also be a contributor.

Our approach shows an emerging and consistent picture, with a suggested dominant source along with other contributing secondary sources.

First, carbon isotopes suggest a stronger contribution from living sources than from fossil fuels. These isotopes reflect the weights of carbon atoms in methane from different sources. Methane from fossil fuel use also increased, but evidently not by as much as from living sources.

Second, our analysis suggests that the tropics were a dominant contributor to the atmospheric growth. This is consistent with the vast agricultural development and wetland areas found there (and consistent with increased emissions from living sources).

This also excludes a dominant role for fossil fuels, which we would expect to be concentrated in temperate regions such as the US and China. Those emissions have increased, but not by as much as from tropical and living sources.

Third, state-of-the-art global wetland models show little evidence for any significant increase in wetland emissions over the study period.

The overall chain of evidence suggests that agriculture, including livestock, is likely to be a dominant cause of the rapid increase in methane concentrations. This is consistent with increased emissions reported by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and does not exclude the role of other sources.

Remarkably, there is still a gap between what we know about methane emissions and methane concentrations in the atmosphere. If we add all the methane emissions estimated with data inventories and models, we get a number bigger than the one consistent with the growth in methane concentrations. This highlights the need for better accounting and reporting of methane emissions.

We also don’t know enough about emissions from wetlands, thawing permafrost and the destruction of methane in the atmosphere.

The way forward

At a time when global CO₂ emissions from fossil fuels and industry have stalled for three consecutive years, the upward methane trend we highlight in our new papers is unwelcome news. Food production will continue to grow strongly to meet the demands of a growing global population and to feed a growing global middle class keen on diets richer in meat.

However, unlike CO₂, which remains in the atmosphere for centuries, a molecule of methane lasts only about 10 years.

This, combined with methane’s super global warming potency, means we have a massive opportunity. If we cut methane emissions now, this will have a rapid impact on methane concentrations in the atmosphere, and therefore on global warming.

There are large global and domestic efforts to support more climate-friendly food production with many successes, ample opportunities for improvement, and potential game-changers.

However, current efforts are insufficient if we are to follow pathways consistent with keeping global warming to below 2℃. Reducing methane emissions needs to become a prevalent feature in the global pursuit of the sustainable future outlined in the Paris Agreement.

The Conversation

Pep Canadell, CSIRO Scientist, and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project, CSIRO; Ben Poulter, Research scientist, NASA; Marielle Saunois, Enseignant chercheur à l’Université de Versailles Saint Quentin; chercheur au Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace; Paul Krummel, Research Group Leader, CSIRO; Philippe Bousquet, Professeur à l’université de Versailles Saint-Quentin en Yvelines, chercheur au Laboratoire des sciences du climat et de l’environnement (LSCE), membre de l’Institut de France, auteur contributif d’un chapitre des deux derniers rapports du GIEC, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin en Yvelines – Université Paris-Saclay , and Rob Jackson, Professor, Earth System Science and Chair of the Global Carbon Project, Stanford University

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

SA wine industry leads way on solar uptake

Dozens of wineries in Australia’s premier wine state are harnessing the sun’s power for purposes beyond growing grapes.

South Australian wineries are embracing solar energy at twice the rate of other business sectors, installers say. Yalumba Wine Company in the Barossa Valley is just weeks away from completing one of the largest commercial solar system installations in South Australia and the largest to date by any Australian winery.

It will have taken more than three months to put the 5384 individual panels in place at three sites: Yalumba Angaston Winery, Yalumba Nursery, and the separate Oxford Landing Winery.

When fully operational, the 1.4 MW PV system will produce enough renewable energy to reduce Yalumba’s energy costs by about 20 per cent and cut its annual CO2 emissions by more than 1200 tonnes, equivalent to taking 340+ cars off the road.

“It is an exciting project and one that will deliver us significant savings, as well as being consistent with our corporate focus on sustainability,” said Managing Director Nick Waterman. Yalumba is currently the leader of the pack, but it is an increasingly large pack.

No one keeps a detailed list, but wineries with systems in excess of 100kW include D’Arenberg, Seppeltsfield, Peter Lehmann, Angove, Torbreck, Wirra Wirra, Jim Barry and Gemtree. Many smaller wineries are installing smaller systems.

In the Adelaide Hills, Sidewood has flicked the switch on a 100kW solar system as part of a $3.5m expansion project at its Nairne winery.

With the support of an $856,000 grant from the South Australian Government, the system will provide more than 50 per cent of the winery’s annual consumption.

Sidewood has also become the largest sustainable winery in the Adelaide Hills after receiving full Entwine Accreditation for all four of its vineyards in September.

There was a brief lull in solar installations after the current Federal Government scrapped the financial support provided under the previous government’s Clean Technology Investment Program (36 of the 80 projects funded in South Australia in 2012-13 were in wineries) but things are moving again.

David Buetefuer is Director of Sales and Business Development for The Solar Project, which has worked with a number of local wineries including D’Arenberg, suggests four reasons for this: the wine industry is starting to recover from a slow patch; the price of electricity is at an unprecedented high; the cost of solar is coming down; and there are new ways to get started.

Yalumba, for example, has signed a 10-year power purchase agreement with energy supplier AGL, which is installing and maintaining the system and will own the energy produced.

This will be sold to Yalumba at a rate comparable or lower than its current per kilowatt hour rate. Another alternative is a rental model under which, as Buetefuer puts it, the bank owns the system. In both cases, the winery does not have to find the capital up front and the system is off balance sheet.

“It’s an interesting time because all three models now work – power-purchase, rental and straight purchase – whereas not that long ago the only people buying solar were those who had the available capital and could justify payback times of five, six or more years,” Buetefuer said. “It’s opened up a lot more opportunities.”

Buetefuer said the wine industry recognised the benefit of harnessing solar power at its most productive period of the year, which coincided with the summer to autumn vintage when the demand for electricity was at its peak in wine production.

“One of the defining features of the industry is the long-term planning that goes into establishing vineyards and infrastructure to support wine production well into the future,” he said. D’Arenberg’s chief winemaker Chester Osborn agrees.

He said one of the important things for the winery last year was reducing peak demand from the grid. “A big portion of our electricity cost comes from our peak requirements which we only need for a couple of months a year, but get charged for every month,” he said.

“We have reduced our power bill by 40 per cent and we are hopeful that the advances in battery technology will lead to further efficiency improvements.”

D’Arenberg’s 200kW system in McLaren Vale was the largest in a winery in South Australia when installed at the end of 2013.

The company made the investment so it could generate 20-30 per cent of its power from solar energy and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent. Among the most publicly visible solar installations in South Australia are the two arrays that line the road to the Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre in the Barossa.

They not only produce all the energy the winery needs, they feature in quite a few visitor photographs.

South Australia is consistently responsible for about 50 per cent of Australia’s annual wine production, including iconic brands such as Penfolds Grange, Jacob’s Creek, Hardys and Wolf Blass. From The Lead

Eliminating waste in the fisheries industry

Every year 340,000 tonnes of usable whitefish by-product are discarded into the sea. But the fisheries industry has now identified ways of halting this practice.

The fishing company Nordic Wildfish has been assisting in the development of a new technology that can make use of the entire by-product from whitefish such as cod, pollock and haddock.

Instead of discarding the heads, guts and the rest of the fish, they can all be incorporated into a hydrolysis process that separates the bones, leaving a kind of “soup” to which enzymes can be added and valuable oils and proteins extracted.

“The entire process takes place on board the trawler, which has only been at sea for two months,” says Anders Bjørnerem, R&D Director at Nordic Wildfish in Norway.

So this technology is entirely new? “Yes. No one has done this before, and it’s very exciting. We’ve already been nominated for the 2016 Innovation Prize awarded by the technical journal Teknisk ukeblad,” says Bjørnerem.

Non-sustainable food production Nordic Wildfish is located on the island of Valderøya, west of Ålesund, Norway, and has been working closely with the research-company SINTEF for some time to promote technological development.

“As much as 92 per cent of marine whitefish by-product is not utilised,” says Bjørnerem. “Commonly it is only the fillets that are processed to become food. This is not sustainable food production. As we approach 2050, the demand for food on this planet will increase by as much as 70 per cent due to high levels of population growth.

The industry must make it its goal to utilise the entire fish,” says Ana Karina Carvajal, Research Manager at SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture.

According to a report published by SINTEF in 2014, 340,000 tonnes of whitefish by-product are discarded annually. SINTEF believes that this material has major commercial potential if it can be processed to produce high quality end-products such as ingredients in animal feed and food for human consumption.

Teamwork is key On board the trawler Molnes, whitefish by-product is processed using enzymatic hydrolysis to produce valuable proteins, amino acids and fish oils.

Many technologies have been developed and adapted for installation on board the refurbished trawler. “Excellent teamwork between researchers and the industry will enable many new systems for better exploitation of the fish to be implemented within the next two to four years,” says Carvajal.

“We’re very pleased to see that some segments within the industry have already taken the first steps towards more sustainable food production,” Carvajal says.

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Hilton Food Group to open $115m meat plant in Queensland

According to reports, UK-based meat processor Hilton Food Group has announced the opening of a new meat processing facility in Queensland.

The facility will be primarily supplying Woolworths  and will be capable of supplying Woolworths stores across both Queensland and parts of New South Wales, with beef, lamb, pork and other meat products.

The company is now in the process of acquiring an appropriate site for the facility and securing the relevant government approvals.

“It is proposed that Hilton’s Australian subsidiary, Hilton Foods Australia, will finance the new food packing facility, with current target for the commencement of production of 2020,” a company statement said.

Have we finally entered the age of the Chato?

Potato has long been in the staple diet for the Australian diet. However, with rising global consumerism and increasing concerns over food security, the market looks to be turning towards alternative and more sustainable food sources.

Australian inventor Andrew Dyhin from PotatoMagic in Melbourne has claimed to have achieved a breakthrough to save wasted potatoes.

In 12 years of what he has coined as “intense research”, Dyhin has developed what he has coined the “chato” that looks like a block of cheese, melts like cheese but all potato. Furthermore, according to Mr Dyhin, the potatoes are peeled and processed with no added ingredients making it a reportedly eco friendly process.

The “chato” can be melted or sliced like a cheese, cut into cubes and served as a salad, or mixed with water and additional ingredients to make any consistency of liquid including dips, aoli and custard.

With over roughly 75000 tonnes of potatoes wasted annually in Australia, Dyhin sees an opportunity to push the “chato” product into a commercialisation phase and attract investors with a target to set up a pilot production plant within a year.

“Food security is a very important issue and we need to look at products that have more yield per hectare, like potatoes.”

“And also how we use that yield. Something like 25 per cent of all potato that is grown doesn’t make it to the plate, mostly because it’s not pretty enough for the shelves,”  Dyhin said.

“While he’s proud of the work he’s doing, he said the bigger issues at play are food security and the environment, and chato could help feed the future population of Australia and the world.”

“We need to find alternatives to animals and intensive agricultural practises. With chato we can take any potato, especially the ones that will just be thrown away, and make something that’s delicious and versatile. We can make the most of what we have,” added Dyhin.

Australian consumers demanding sustainably sourced seafood claims new research

Some 75 per cent of Australian seafood consumers believe in order to save the ocean, we have to consume fish and seafood only from sustainable sources, making it a top priority, reveals the Marine Stewardship Council’s annual report and independent research launched today.

This represents a significant shift in consumption habits as Australian seafood shoppers say they value sustainability over price, with 51 per cent willing to pay more for sustainably certified seafood, according to the report.

The new consumer data is the largest ever global analysis of attitudes to seafood consumption and was carried out by independent GlobeScan, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

“This research released in conjunction with MSC’s latest annual report shows Australian consumers are voting with their wallets to future-proof our oceans by opting for sustainably certified seafood.”

“This is not just a passing trend, it’s an evolution strongly driven by consumer demand that demonstrates greater engagement on traceability and consideration towards our food sources”, said Anne Gabriel, Oceania Program Director, MSC.

“With four out of five households (85 per cent) of Australians purchasing seafood on a regular basis, there’s an opportunity for consumers to make a tangible difference by choosing to source sustainable seafood.” In fact, noted Ms. Gabriel,

“Some 69 per cent of Australian seafood consumers state they want to know that the fish they buy can be traced back to known and trusted source.”

The consumer insights data also found that:

• A majority (54 per cent) of seafood consumers are likely to trust the source of the products if they are ecolabelled

• 71 per cent of Australians believe brands’ claims about sustainability need to be labelled by an independent org.

• Globally, 66 per cent of respondents are willing to pay more for sustainable goods, which is up from 55 per cent in 2014 and 50 per cent in 2013 (Nielsen’s The Sustainability Imperative, October 2015)

• 36 per cent of Australians say they are purchasing more ecolabelled seafood than a year ago

These figures support findings of the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report, which showed that over the previous year, sales of consumer goods from brands with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability grew by more than 4 per cent globally, while those without grew less than 1 per cent.

A full copy of the report can be found here

Manuka Honey makers all abuzz over poor imitations

With Manuka Honey top of the ‘must buy’ list for health and beauty benefits, consumers need to be sure that what they are buying is the genuine article, said a major Manuka Honey industry body today.

In response to their fears of counterfeit products, the guardian of New Zealand’s leading quality mark for genuine Manuka Honey – UMF – has come up with an online solution.

The NZ-based UMF Honey Association (UMFHA) has now launched a service on its website that carries a full list of names of licence-holders that can be easily checked for via a handy search function.

It has been designed for users to ensure they can now easily check the company name on product using just about any smartphone.

Overall, over 90 companies are licensed to use the UMF quality mark which represents the purity and quality of Manuka Honey.

The UMF classification and grading system is internationally recognised as the hallmark of premium Manuka Honey.

Heineken invites Australians to open their world with new campaign

Heineken has today announced the launch of the Heineken City Shapers Festival, which forms part of the brand’s ongoing Open Your World platform.

The campaign will celebrate the cultures, people, music and entertainment, and experiences of the vibrant global cities shaping our top Australian cities and underlines Heineken’s status as a leading international premium beer brand.

The campaign will include the creation of a major festival event, which will take place in Melbourne on 4 August. The Melbourne event will see a secret, unexpected location transformed into an exciting activation space.

Guests will be taken on a worldly adventure, which will begin at an iconic Melbourne train station where guests will be transported by a private train, embarking on an evening of unexpected delights.

The festival will bring to life some of the world’s most dynamic cities with international food, music, art and entertainment all to be explored throughout the event.

Heineken will support the City Shapers Festival campaign with digital, PR and out-of-home media.

Impactful out-of-home activity will be created through a partnership with innovative street artists, Apparition Media, who will bring the campaign concept to life through a series of impactful murals.

Heineken will also take over the night skyline in high traffic areas across Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth with impressive displays to be showcased over six weeks.

As part of the Festival celebrations, Heineken is releasing special City Edition packaging across its 6 and 24 packs, with 18 different global cities featured on the Heineken bottles. The packaging is available nationally throughout July.

Nada Steel, Marketing Manager, Heineken Lion Australia, said, “The Heineken City Shapers Festival is an innovative campaign that was created to celebrate the most energetic and vibrant cities…and enables Heineken to provide consumers with worldly experiences in their city…”

Global food additives market set to grow

The global food additives market will expand from US$31.4 bn in 2014 to reach US$39.8 bn by 2021, according to new research.

The report by Transparency Market Research found that the growth is being driven by increasing expansion of the food and beverage industry.

As per the report, the increasing expansion of the food and beverage industry and the rising preference for natural additives in place of synthetic additives are amongst the prominent factors fuelling the growth of the market for food additives. However, growth opportunities for synthetic additives are still seen within developing nations, thus fuelling the overall market’s growth.

In addition, the increasing health concerns have resulted in the rising demand for functional food additives, hence boosting the market’s growth. On the other hand, the strict guidelines and regulations involved with the usage of food additives may restrain the growth of the market in the coming years.

In terms of product type, the market for food additives is segmented into sweeteners, flavours and enhancers, colorants, enzymes, food preservatives, emulsifiers, and fat replacers. Amongst these, the segment of flavours and enhancers led the market in 2014 and is predicted to maintain its superiority throughout the forecast horizon. This segment was trailed by the segment of fat replacers, which is predicted to take the second largest share in the market in the forecast period.

On the basis of source, the report segments the market into artificial food additives and natural food additives. Amongst these, artificial food additives led the market in 2014. On the other hand, the segment of natural food additives is poised to be the most swiftly growing segment in the forecast horizon.

In terms of geography, the report segments the market into Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and Rest of the World (RoW). Amongst these, Europe led the market in 2014 and held a share of 30.1% in the market. This region was trailed by Asia Pacific, which stood as the second largest market for food additives and held a share of 27.2% in the same year. This region is predicted to surpass Europe and lead the market by 2021.

As stated in the report, the key players dominant in the market are Cargill, BASF SE, Associated British Foods, and Ajinomoto, among others.

Nanoproteins in food — good, bad or irrelevant?

The debate concerning nanotechnology has echoed that of genetically engineered organisms and their introduction into the environment and the food chain. 

According to Protein nanostructures in food – Should we be worried? ( J.K. Raynes et al. 2014),  a synopsis of a number of scientific studies from both Australia and overseas, while nanotechnology in the food industry is in its infancy, it has the capability to introduce changes at all levels of food production, including nano-based food materials, active packaging, new delivery mechanisms for nutrients and agrochemicals, biosensors for food safety and many other potential applications.

The cat may well be out of the bag though, with a recent story in the Sydney Morning Herald that quoted a privately funded test commisioned by environment group Friends of the Earth that found that nanotechnology was indeed prevalent in a number of common groceries.

A range of foodstuffs – from lollies, sauces and dressings were found to contain nanotechnology that Australia’s food regulator long denied was being used in Australia’s food supply, said the story. It added that, for many years, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has claimed there is “little evidence” of nanotechnology in food because no company had applied for approval, and therefore it has not tested for nor regulated the use of nanoparticles.

However, the most commonly researched use of nanotechnology in foods is for active packaging, where the use of nanocomponents can improve barrier resistance, incorporation of active ingredients, and add bio-sensing capability. Nanoemulsions to solubilise and improve the bioavailability of nutrients are also attracting interest.

Over the past ten years, noted the report, there has been an upsurge in food nanotechnology research, including research on food proteins, with a significant increase in the number of peer- reviewed research articles published on this topic. The increase of research in food nanotechnology has raised concerns about the safety of nanotechnology not only in the food industry but also in all products for consumption and use by humans.

Protein nanostructures are natural in many foods
The three main components of food: proteins, carbohydrates and lipids, all exist at the nanoscale and come together to form a complex colloidal mixture with diverse physical and chemical properties. The casein micelle in milk provides a good example of this complexity. In bovine milk, the micelle is comprised of four casein proteins (aS1, aS2, b and k) arranged in a large, heterogeneous, dynamic globular complex. 

In addition to its nutritional role in providing protein for the neonate, the casein micelle also solubilises calcium and phosphate at concentrations well above the level that would normally precipitate in solution, allowing for nutrients to be passed from the mother to her offspring. Exosomes are another nanostructure found both in human and bovine milk and within other body fluids.
Other naturally occurring protein nanostructures include the triple helix of collagen in muscle tissue, from which gelatin is produced upon partial hydrolysis of collagen. This nanofibrillar structure is widely present in foods and pharmaceuticals. Likewise, polysaccharide-derived nanofibrillar structures such as xanthan and carrageenan bundles, the latter from seaweed, are added to foods and pharmaceuticals to increase viscosity, the report found.

Which protein nanostructures can be altered by processing?
Food processing has the potential to alter the structure of food proteins either as the result of manufacturing or as a consequence of the physicochemical environment a protein encounters during processing, said the study. 
Process variables that can alter structure include elevated temperature or pressure, shear forces applied during mixing, pumping, centrifugation or filtration, the use of sonication, or the interactions that occur between proteins and surfaces that result in adhesion and fouling.
Changes in temperature associated with the heat processing of foods can alter protein structure, potentially on the nanoscale. This often results in amorphous, non-specific, protein aggregates, like the cooking of egg white, which induces a change of the protein structure to an aggregated form that is amyloid-like.

The various studies found that many protein nanostructures are currently consumed by humans every day and are broken down rapidly in the gastrointestinal tract. 
Furthermore, foods processed at the nanoscale may be more easily digestible than their microstructured counterparts and so may provide enhanced nutrition, or act as a delivery system. While recent research has focused on the microstructure of foods, nanostructured components can also be used to add or alter food properties including stability and texture.

Should we deliberately introduce protein nanostructures into food?
Evidence to date suggests that there is no simple answer to this question, and that further research will be required, rather than a general solution for all proposed protein ingredients. As an example, amyloid fibrils formed by k-casein under physiological conditions are cytotoxic.

However, both fibril formation and cytotoxicity are inhibited by the presence of b-casein, its natural binding partner in the casein micelle. Thus a homogeneous preparation of k-casein, or fibrils prepared from it, may pose a risk to health, but this risk is substantially lessened in a heterogeneous mixture containing appropriate quantities of b-casein. 

The report also noted that the ability of b-casein to interact with a diversity of relatively hydrophobic proteins in a chaperone manner implies that it could be used in broader context, including as a nanovehicle to enhance the solubility of curcumin, a known natural anticancer and antioxidant polyphenol which, by its nature, is relatively hydrophobic.

So, what's the final conclusion?
The combined studies reviewed in the report suggest we should proceed with caution when considering the development of new nanostructures for use in food, especially amyloid fibrils. 
As the report duly noted, the extent to which novel nanostructures may afford new risks has not been adequately resolved, leading to concern within some consumer groups.
This view is totally consistent with the UK Lords Science and Technology Committee, which has also called for caution, suggesting further discussion and the establishment of a list of commercially available products containing nanomaterials maintained by food agencies along with more transparency in the industry.


Beston Global Food Company to buy ADP protein plant

Probiotec has entered into a conditional binding agreement with Beston Global Food Company (BGFC) for the proposed sale of its ADP protein plant in Jervois, South Australia.

The proposed $7 million sale is to be paid in cash, subject to the completion of due diligence by BGFC and the majority of the money would be received on completion.

The agreement contains provisions for Probiotic to obtain ongoing supply of immunoglobulins produced by the plant.

If successful, the directors expect the transaction to be completed by 30 September, 2015.

Last week, BGFC came to the rescue of Murray Bridge milk processor United Dairy Power, by contracting to buy it out of receivership with the goal of supplying its South Australian milk products to Asia.

BGFC – headed by Adelaide businessman Roger Sexton, has, over a period of three years, built up its investments with the view of taking premium clean, green Australian food and beverage products into global markets, particularly China and Asia.


Microbiologists patent a new type of food thickener

Microbiologists at Oregon State University have discovered and helped patent and commercialise a new type of dairy or food thickener, which may add probiotic characteristics to the products in which it’s used.

The thickener is now in commercial use, and OSU officials say it may have a significant impact in major industries. The global market for polymers such as this approaches US$7 billion, and there are estimates the U.S. spends up to $120 billion a year on probiotic products such as yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk.

The new product is produced by a natural bacterium that was isolated in Oregon. It’s the result of decades of research, beginning in the early 1990s when a novel polymer with an ability to rapidly thicken milk was discovered by an OSU microbiologist. The polymer is known as Ropy 352 and produced by a non-disease-causing bacterium.

“This is one of many naturally occurring, non-disease-causing bacterial strains my research program isolated and studied for years,” said Janine Trempy, an OSU microbiologist. “We discovered that this bacterium had a brand-new, never-before reported grouping of genes that code for a unique polymer that naturally thickens milk. In basic research, we’ve also broadened our understanding of how and why non-disease-causing bacteria produce polymers.”

This polymer appears to give fermented foods a smooth, thick, creamy property, and may initially find uses in sour cream, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, cream cheese and artisan soft cheeses. Composed of natural compounds, it offers a slightly sweet property and may improve the sensory characteristics of low-fat or no-fat foods. And unlike other polymers that are now commonly used as thickeners, it may add probiotic characteristics to foods, with associated health benefits.

“There are actually very few new, non-disease-causing bacterial strains that produce unique polymers with characteristics desirable and safe for food products,” Trempy said. “In the case of a dairy thickener, for instance, a bacterium such as Ropy 352 ferments the sugar in the milk and produces a substance that changes the milk’s properties.”

These are chemical processes driven by naturally occurring bacteria that do not cause disease in humans, Trempy said, but instead may contribute to human health through their probiotic potential.

One of the most common polymers, xanthum gum, has been in use since 1969 and is found in a huge range of food products, from canned foods to ice cream, pharmaceuticals and beauty products. Xanthum gum is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, but is derived from a bacterium known to be a plant pathogen and suspected of causing digestive distress or being “pyrogenic,” or fever-inducing.

Trempy’s research program has determined the new polymer will thicken whole and non-fat milk, lactose-free milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and other products designed for use in either dieting or weight gain. Beyond that, the polymer may have a wide range of applications such as thickening of pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, fruit juices, cosmetics and personal care products.

In their broader uses, microbial polymers are used for food production, chemical production, detergents, cosmetics, paints, pesticides, fertilizers, film formers, lubricants, explosives, pharmaceutical production and waste treatment.


FDA to investigate soft drink colouring

A major new study will be conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration into the caramel colouring used in soft drink and food items, after an examination of beverages including Pepsi One and Malta Goya raised concerns.

A study by Consumer Reports found varying levels of  4-methylimidazole – an impurity formed in some caramel colouring at low levels during the manufacturing process – in 12 brands of soft drinks from five manufacturers, The Advertiser reports.

While the FDA said it’s previously performed studies to confirm the safety of the use of caramel as a flavour and colour additive and has no reason to believe otherwise, it is reviewing new data on the safety of 4-methylimidazole, but didn’t elaborate on what the data is.

The Consumer Reports study urged the FDA to set a maximum usage limit for 4-methylimidazole when it’s added to foods or soft drinks, as well as requesting it be labelled and the banning of a "natural" label if products contain caramel colours.

Though studies have not been conclusive about whether 4-methylimidazole is a carcinogen, California includes it on the state list of carcinogens and a state law mandates a cancer warning label on products that have a certain level of the substance, which can form in trace amounts when coffee beans are roasted or some meats are grilled.

Over eight months, the study found that single servings of two products, beverages Pepsi One Malta Goya, exceeded the 29 micrograms threshold of 4-methylimidazole in California, but carried no warning. Consumer Reports has asked the California attorney general's office to investigate.

PepsiCo has said the company is "extremely concerned" about the study and believes it is factually incorrect.

Other tested beverages include Sprite, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, Dr Pepper, Dr. Snap, Brisk Iced Tea, A&W Root Beer, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi.


New sugar website a sweet resource for industry

Sugar Australia has launched a new website aiming to provide evidence-based information on sugar, health and nutrition to consumers, healthcare professionals and food manufacturers.

Initially established in 2002 as a New Zealand resource, the Sugar Research Advisory Service (SRAS) is now funded by both the New Zealand Sugar Company and Sugar Australia.

The website is overseen by a panel of independent scientific advisors from Australia and New Zealand, hosting fact sheets, news, and answers to commonly asked questions regarding sugar. Advisors include Pat Silcock, Product Development Research Centre, University of Otago; Sydney dietician Bill Shrapnel and Professor Winsome Parnell, Human Nutrition Department, University of Otago.

Also hosted on the SRAS website is Sugar Australia's first infographic, which looks at changing sugar consumption patterns in Australia. The infographic states that Australia's apparent sugar consumption, per capita, has dropped from 57kg per year in 1951 to 42kg per year in 2011.

The infographic also explains the difference between apparent consumption and actual consumption, stating that apparent consumption per capita can overestimate actual sugar dietary intake by approximately 40 percent.

Click here to view the infographic.


Australian food manufacturers are falling behind on the conversion to natural colours

One of Asia Pacific’s leading authorities on natural food colours, business development director for Chr. Hansen, Ji Hoong Too, is urging Australian food manufacturers to convert to natural colours.

Too says that growth in the conversion to natural colours is being demonstrated in developing BRIC markets, (Brazil, Russia, India and China) while Australia is continuing to fall behind due to lax legislation.

She also states that an update to food labelling legislation in the EU will require warning labels on products that contain artificial colours and that change in Australia is only likely to occur if the government feels pressure from consumers and supermarkets.

Too says that it is somewhat concerning that major brands have chosen to continue using artificial colours in Australia simply because the legislation does not require them to change to natural colours.

“The implementation of warning labels on foods containing certain artificial colours in the EU and the UK, has resulted in many manufacturers converting to natural colours. In Australia and New Zealand, no warning labels are required, and as such, the conversation away from artificial colours has progressed at a slower rate,” said Too.

According to Too, retail giant ALDI was the first supermarket chain in Australia to phase out artificial colours from its entire range and that Coles has now taken a greater stance on the issue, however pressure is now building on Woolworths to follow suit. 

Natural colours are derived primarily from plants, seeds, roots and vegetables, while artificial colours are constructed primarily from chemicals.


Salt reduction a bitter challenge

In the wake of Australia's health conscious consumer, food manufacturers are having to address sodium reduction in their recipes, but this isn't as simple as it sounds.

The negative impact of excessive sodium consumption has sparked initiatives around the world. Currently there are 32 countries having active sodium reduction campaigns in place to encourage food manufacturers to reduce the amount of sodium in their products. 

Of these 32 countries, 26 initiatives are led by the government and five are led by non-government organisations, such as the likes of AWASH (Australian World Action on Salt and Health) who keep up the pressure on the food industry to remove sodium voluntarily.

AWASH currently has very active promotional campaigns in place to help raise awareness for low sodium diets and are hoping to achieve a 25 percent drop in sodium across the majority of products for the food industry. 

Sodium reduction is considered such an important global tool in improving the health of consumers, that the WHO (World Health Organisation) considers it to be one of the most cost effective strategies in terms of reducing the burden on national health services. 

Reformulation of food products to achieve a reduction in sodium will save lives and money. Global companies with presence in countries around the world have all pledged to remove sodium from a range of their products, including companies such as General Mills, Kraft Foods and George Western Foods – all taking the lead to reformulate their products in a bid to make them healthier for the consumer.

Sodium reduction is most commonly associated with salt (sodium chloride) – a widely used ingredient around the world. Within the baking industry, bread is a staple part of the diet and traditionally very high in salt. Salt reduction in bread is not an easy task – it is a critical ingredient in production to control yeast activity and preserve shelf life. Removing salt from bread will lower the sodium levels, however this can only go so far until functionality is lost and quality is affected.   

Although not as big as the bread segment of the baking industry, the consumption of sweet confectionery goods such as cakes is increasing in western diets.  Sweet confectionery goods rely on chemical leavening systems to provide them with lift, rather than the yeast as used in bread. 

In a typical raising agent, the leavening system will contain an acid – most typically a phosphate, and a base – most typically a bicarbonate. The phosphate component of the baking powder is the most functionally important ingredient in any raising agent system. It is the phosphate that controls the rate of reaction, and the variety of phosphates available gives bakers the flexibility to fine tune their end products. 

The most commonly used phosphate in the baking industry is the highly functional SAPP (sodium acid pyrophosphate); the only problem being it contains 20.4 percent sodium.  Replacing this highly functional ingredient with sodium-free phosphates may assist with sodium reduction initiatives, however will impact on the volume, texture and quality of the end products.

The bicarbonate source in a chemical leavening system is most commonly sodium bicarbonate – it has been the work horse of the industry for many years, however it is also high in sodium (27.4 percent sodium).  The role of sodium bicarbonate is to simply provide the source of carbon dioxide which is released upon reaction with the phosphate.

By changing the sodium bicarbonate for a non-sodium containing alternative such as potassium bicarbonate, you can reduce the sodium content while still utilising the functional range of sodium phosphates.

Potassium bicarbonate is the new work horse of the industry and is quickly becoming the widely accepted alternative to sodium bicarbonate. In order to be totally functional in a recipe, it is critical that the potassium bicarbonate is a specific bakery grade product.

The product used must have a very fine particle size distribution to allow for full dispersion and dissolution even in dry dough products. Complete reaction of all the bicarbonate in the leavening system will help to maximise volumes and prevent unsightly spots and taste issues often associated with coarse grade products. Up to 50 percent reduction in sodium can be achieved by using a specific bakery grade of potassium bicarbonate, with no impact on the quality of the end product.

There are other sources of sodium in a bakery recipe which will also contribute to the overall sodium level in a cake. Small quantities of sodium can come from some of the emulsifiers e.g. sodium stearoyl lactylate, and from other ingredients such as butter, eggs and flour.  Although these contain sodium in small amounts, the contribution is nowhere near as high as the contribution from the salt and raising agents.

The UK bakery market is leading the rest of world in terms of sodium reduction. The government-led legislation helped to encourage food manufacturers to reformulate their products to be lower in sodium. The food industry very quickly worked on re-formulating their products thus sparking a nationwide drop in sodium consumption. As a result of this, the UK now has the lowest known sodium consumption of developed countries – something which is referred to as the “most successful nutrition policy since the Second World War”.  Kudos Blends has helped many of the UK bakeries to reformulate their products to be low sodium with the help of the bakery grades of KUDOS potassium bicarbonate. 

Although the UK is very much ahead in terms of legislating and implementing sodium reduction, it is quite clearly a global food processors issue. There are methods of sodium reduction available currently for the baking industry, which will not impact the end product quality.

Bread remains a difficult product to reformulate, however we can successfully contribute to overall sodium reduction by reducing sodium in chemically leavened products through the application of bakery specific grades of potassium bicarbonate.  

Michelle Briggs is NPD/Technical Manager and Steph Skellern is Technical Manager at Kudos Blends which provides bakers with technically driven raising agents that optimise the quality, texture, taste and shelf life of baked products.

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Securing the safety of genetic modification

Most genetically modified (GM) crops are based on moving DNA from one organism to another to introduce a new protein. Now a growing number of genetically modified crops are based on intentionally changing RNA. However this new technology may prove to be risky business.

RNA world

RNA or ribonucleic acid is the neglected stepsister of DNA, but it is quickly becoming the Cinderella of biotechnology.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the material basis of the genome of most organisms, it’s what encodes our genes. RNA is the second stage of a process that produces proteins in cells. It’s the messenger and is normally single-stranded. However, when it’s double-stranded, RNA is sometimes also a molecule that can turn genes on off.

The RNA molecules used in genetic modification are known as double-stranded RNAs. These RNA molecules are already being explored for a number of uses.

A number of companies are planning to engineer plants with double-stranded RNAs to kill pests. Some are also planning to make sprays that carry RNA into the cells of weeds.

Double-stranded RNA is being tested as a feed supplement to make bees resistant to viruses, or to kill bee mites.

And GM plants with nutritional characteristics altered through the introduction of novel double-stranded RNAs are already being grown for the human food supply.

RNA: the “new DNA” of genetic modification

Most traits in existing commercial genetically modified organisms are due to the introduction of one or more proteins by modifying DNA. But new modifications are based on the double-stranded RNA molecules that regulate production of proteins.

Double-stranded RNAs can “silence” genes. For example, a small double-stranded RNA molecule has been developed based on a fragment of the dvsnf7 gene. This can kill western corn rootworms when the molecule is added to their food, or when it is expressed (by GM) in the corn plants which the worms eat.

Although the mechanisms for this are still being described, there are already a number of GM crops based on this principle. It is also probable that all commercial GM crops produce unintended regulatory RNA molecules that have not been tested as part of the routine risk assessment.

Worse, one double-stranded RNA can produce unintended secondary RNA molecules that have different sequences and therefore potentially different targets. These can arise in the modified plant or in the cells of those who eat the modified plant.


Not just food: double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) is already used in other consumer products.


We are concerned that what happens to pest insects and nematodes that eat these RNA molecules can also happen to other insects, wildlife and people. An increase or decrease in cell proteins can have important effects on our health. These effects vary depending on the protein, and the cells, organs or tissues to which the double-stranded RNA is delivered.

Small changes in the DNA sequence can change the spectrum and number of potentially affected genes. That is why in our view a risk assessment needs to consider each novel RNA created specifically, whether deliberately or inadvertently.

Risk assessment

The risks of double-stranded RNA have not been systematically evaluated by any regulatory agency we know of, and there are no standard safety testing procedures.

In a recent issue of Environment International we published peer-reviewed research looking at risk assessments done by three different regulators affecting three countries. In all cases the regulators didn’t assess the risk of new double-stranded RNA molecules.

In Australia and New Zealand, a genetically modified plant is subject to an environmental risk assessment if it is to be used in a field trial or released for cultivation. A food safety assessment if it is to be used in food or animal feed.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand assesses GM plants that are safe for use as food. Seven plants approved by Food Standards have been deliberately modified to produce double-stranded RNAs.

Various GM wheat varieties have been assessed for field trial by the Australian Office of the Gene Technology Regulator. These use the same double-stranded RNA technology. Neither regulator, to our knowledge, has assessed a GM plant for unintentionally created double-stranded RNAs.

Exposure incorrectly assessed

Double-stranded RNA produced in plants can be taken up by people through food, as shown in studies last year. Insects also take up RNA through food, which is why manufacturers are patenting dietary-based insecticides.

In another study a naturally produced double-stranded RNA was found to alter gene expression in mouse livers. Double stranded RNA could also alter gene expression in human tissue culture cells.

Until now regulators have rejected the possibility that people can be exposed to double-stranded RNA through food. There has therefore been no research into the safety of these molecules. In short, regulators avoid assessing potential safety issues by saying there were no risks to start with.

Were the regulators right but for the wrong reasons?

Various commentators have argued since RNA is already in the food we eat, it must be safe. Without evidence this reasoning is far from reassuring.

Only a small number of plants have been bred with intended changes to double-stranded RNA. And most of these have been withdrawn from sale, are not grown on commercial scales, or are in boutique crops such as Hawaiian papaya.

The amount of these RNAs in food now is unknown but is probably very small. Thus the argument of safety from existing experience is, at best, speculative. And it fails to account for unintended double-stranded RNAs.

If there are no experiments, we won’t know if double-stranded RNAs have an adverse impact or no impact. While we test food to some extent, there are no studies of other important sources of exposure such as inhalation. And critically, these studies are not on humans: even small differences between our genomes and those of the animals used in tests might have large consequences.

If we are to safely produce products that might contain novel double-stranded RNA molecules, there needs to be routine bioinformatics and transcriptomic testing.

The power of RNA should be used for the betterment of all. On the way, it should not become the snake oil of the 21st Century or the cause of avoidable catastrophes.

Jack Heinemann receives/has received funding from the Marsden Fund of New Zealand, the Brian Mason Trust, the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation and the Safe Food Institute. He works at the University of Canterbury, a public research university.

Judy Carman is Director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research. She has received funding from the Safe Food Institute.

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

The Conversation







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Study reveals Australian children overdosing on sugar

More than half of young Australians are consuming too much sugar, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Wollongong and University of Sydney.

The research, which was presented at the annual congress of the Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society this week, found intake of “added” sugar increased as children got older, reaching an average daily intake of 22 teaspoons for boys aged 14-16.

Added sugars are those added to foods or beverages when they are processed, as distinct from sugars found naturally in food or drinks.

“While other reports suggest that total sugar consumption in Australian children may have declined slightly in recent times, this new work suggests that added sugar intake remains high,” said Timothy Gill, research author and principal research fellow in the Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise at the University of Sydney.

“Research in this area is hindered in Australia because our food composition datasets do not currently distinguish between total and added sugars,“ Dr Gill said.

“This project was set up to help separate added from naturally occurring sugars in food products consumed in Australia."

The World Health Organisation recommends children receive no more than 10% of their energy from added sugars, however the research found teenage boys are actually getting about 13% of their sugar intake from added sugars.

Making a distinction between total and added sugars is becoming more important as experts look for a means of reducing energy intake to control weight and develop labelling to help guide consumer choice, said research author Jimmy Louie, from the University of Wollongong.

“Products such as milk, fruit and certain cereals are high in natural sugars, as well as good sources of key nutrients, as opposed to most foods high in added sugars,” Dr Louie said.

Health experts have welcomed the research, but are keen to see more on the direct contribution from sugary drinks.

“It would be especially interesting to see what proportion of ‘added sugars’ came from liquids such as soft drinks, and what came from foods, as there is evidence that sugars consumed as part of watery liquids do not contribute to satiety and are simply added on to what would normally be consumed,” said Kerin O’Dea, professor of population health and nutrition at the University of South Australia.

“Clearly sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials are still a problem and need to be dramatically reduced as they have no other nutrients – just unwanted calories,” said Peter Clifton, laboratory head of nutritional interventions at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and affiliate professor at the University of Adelaide.

“Nevertheless, focusing just on sugar is misplaced as for many children pizzas, pies, white bread and fast food are more of a problem than sugar, so the whole diet needs attention.”

The Conversation

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Calls for labelling GM food reveal attempts at market domination

Australia has one of the more rigorous food labelling systems in the world for genetically modified (GM) attributes. All foods with more than 1% GM in any ingredient are required to be identified as “genetically modified” on the label, other than at restaurants.

But some stakeholders are demanding more extensive labelling. Given that the current system is already quite tough, we need to ask why more is needed. But first, let’s look at what we do right now.

Peculiar attention

There’s a great disparity between how different foods are labelled in Australia.

Non-GM food products with very real serious risks of containing allergens, such as nuts, are allowed on the market with no more than a “may contain” label. And we still accept artificial food ingredients with established health risks, such as trans fats, without a labelling requirement.


De Cora


But lobbyists and consumer interest groups have focused on the labelling of genetically modified food. This seems to be much more of a political and commercial marketing campaign than one based on science, the environment or health.

There’s no scientific evidence for health or environmental risks from genetically modified crops. To the contrary, there’s scientific consensus that foods from GM crops are at least as safe as foods from conventional crops.

And, in contrast to genetically modified crops, conventional plant breeding is not routinely evaluated for unintended effects, even though detailed evaluation consistently shows GM crops to be less risky than conventionally bred crops.

Despite the greater riskiness of conventional breeding, there has been no major campaign for special labelling of new crop varieties.

What’s more, there is no concerted campaign for compulsory labelling for other food-related issues of concern to consumers, such pesticide use or child labour. Indeed, despite international concern about child labour in cocoa production, there is no required labelling of chocolate for such disclosure.

The Greens can’t even get much support for a campaign on country-of-origin labelling for food. It seems odd that if you want to eat GM-free in Australia for whatever reason, you can make choices more easily than trying to find foods sourced from Australian farms.


Canola crop in Australia. Jan Smith


Consumers already have access to a range of labels and information allowing them to avoid foods grown from genetically modified crops. And even though there are no genetically-modified fresh fruits or vegetables in Australia, you’ll see plenty of “non-GM” labels if you take a quick walk through the supermarket.

This is peculiar in itself because there are such labels on canola oil even though genetically-modified commercial canola oil is not detectably different from oil originating from plants that are not genetically modified.

Consumer choice?

Consumer choice is clearly not the most important value here. So, what else could be going on?

The leading Australian promoters of campaigns for GM labelling don’t reveal their funding sources. But information about the financial interests behind the same push is available in California, where there’s a current ballot proposition to require labelling of GM foods.

The leading funder of the labelling campaign in California, businessman Joseph Mercola, is refreshingly honest about his motivation – and it’s not consumer choice. Mercola has contributed more than $1.1 million to the campaign so far, and also does business in Australia.

Mercola has said, “Personally, I believe GM foods must be banned entirely, but labelling is the most efficient way to achieve this. Since 85% of the public will refuse to buy foods they know to be genetically modified, this will effectively eliminate them from the market just the way it was done in Europe.”


Protests in the United States for GM labels on food. Alexis Baden-Mayer


Mercola is a colourful character. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2011 warned him against making illegal claims regarding the usefulness of his alternative medicines for detecting, preventing and treating disease.

It seems his campaign is not about better consumer choice, but rather elimination of consumer choice. Consumers tend to believe that labels warn of unspecified dangers and people such as Mercola seek to exploit their fears.

Retailers of organic food and other “natural products” also gain a marketing advantage from frightening publicity about genetically-modified foods.

Besides Mercola, the major funders of the GM labelling initiative in California include Nature’s Path Foods, the Organic Consumers Fund (which includes 3000 cooperating retail coops, natural food stores, and farmers markets) and Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps. All these companies contributed between $300,000 to $985,000 each to the campaign.

Debate about GM crops and their labelling will undoubtedly continue. But we need to be honest about the motivations of at least some of the business interests behind these campaigns. And we need to be aware that the campaign to go further than what is already a rigorous labelling regime is more complicated than just giving consumers choice.

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.

David Tribe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article except the University of Melbourne, where he is paid for teaching research and community outreach by a standard salary arrangement with the University. He has no relevant affiliations that might entail a conflict of interest in scientific analysis.

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Woolworths removing additives from breads baked in-store

Supermarket giant Woolworths has announced that more than 70 lines of its bread bakes in store will soon be free from artificial colours, flavours, emulsifiers and preservatives.

Woolworths said the move was indicative of consumer demand for “more natural products.”

The will further increase the power and presence of the private label brands on supermarket shelves, which has seen major bakers in Australia struggle to compete with the major supermarkets.

Goodman Fielder and George Weston Foods have reported difficult trading conditions as a result of the supermarket price wars.

In June, Goodman Fielder announced that it would be forced to slash more than 500 Goodman Fielder jobs across Australia as it restructures the business to reduce costs.

'It is expected that 115 roles will be removed from the baking division as a result of the consolidation of the three bakery facilities,' Goodman Fielder said in a statement.

'This brings the total number of roles removed across the company to 541 this financial year.'

As the impacts of the drought across the US began to show in the form of increased grain costs, Goodman Fielder revealed it regrets its choice to manufacture $1 bread for the Coles private label, as it is already unprofitable.

Like so many other industries, including the dairy, produce and food manufacturing, the bread sector is suffering the impacts of being forced to sell their products at prices less than the cost of production for the sake of supermarket private labels and their war on price.

“Dollar bread is at a loss,” managing director Chris Delaney said.

''This was not a good investment and I wouldn't do it again if I had a choice.”

Countless industry insiders and experts have labelled the current private label environment as unsustainable, as farmers and manufacturers leave their sectors because they can’t break even, let alone make a profit.

While Goodman Fielder says the flow on effects of the grain price increases will flow on to consumers, it remains unclear whether the supermarket giants will actually change the shelf price.

They could absorb the costs within their own businesses, but if past experience is any indication, that would be unlikely and it would be more probable that the bread companies and others impacted by the cost increases would absorb the costs within their already struggling structures as Coles continues to sell bread for $1.

The baking company’s private label contract with Coles is up for renewal in the first half of 2013.

The latest announcement from Woolworths, which will include new bread recipes that will see vegetable emulsifiers 471, 472 and 481, acidity regulator 297 and antioxidant 306 removed from the fresh bread that is baked in 560 Woolworths stores every day.

“ Our customers have provided very clear feedback that they are concerned about additives in their food, so we have made our in-store baked bread free from these artificial additives,” Alex Holt, Woolworths’ Head of Bakery said.

“Parents are particularly concerned about the presence of artificial flavours, colours, emulsifiers and preservatives in the food they give their kids, so we are proud to be able to say that Woolies’ fresh baked bread is now free from these additives and reassure our consumers that they can feel good about purchasing it.”