From $4.5bn profit to $2.7bn deficit: Aus food sector in crisis

New figures released this week have proven what most in the food processing sector already know: the industry is close to collapse.

Financial specialists KPMG and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) joined together to compile the report that offers a snapshot of Australia’s food sector.

And the figures are frightening.

Seven years ago, the sector was one of the most successful and profitable in Australia, producing an excess of $4.5 billion.

In the 2010-11 period it recorded a deficit of $2.7 billion.

In groceries alone, the deficit was almost $10 billion as Australia exported $4.6 billion of product and imported $14 billion in the 2010-11 year.

Australia a net importer of food

A recent Food Alliance report showed that Australia has become a net importer of processed fruit and vegetables, as the price is lower, but unfortunately, the quality often is also.

The Food Alliance report labelled local producers "vulnerable,” as they struggle to compete with the cheap imports, but if the Australian dollar fell to US55 cents, those cheap imports would suddenly become far more expensive.

A $1 tin of Italian tomatoes could become a $5 tin of tomatoes, Elders chief executive Malcolm Jackman warned.

Australia’s peak produce representative body AusVeg has been warning of this for some time, as has the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

In February, AusVeg’s Simon Coburn told Food Magazine that a decision by Coles to slash the price of produce “had the makings” of becoming the next milk price wars.

National Manufacturing Workers Union’s Jennifer Dowell also warned that produce and dairy farmers cannot afford to wait around, losing money, as supermarkets import products, in the hope that they reverse the behaviour and start using local products instead.

“My concern is that if we lose food sovereignty, if we lose control of our food chain we become hostage to other countries supplying our food,” she said.

“How ridiculous is that? In Australia we have the ability to produce the best food in the world, so how are we getting into this situation?

“Once these companies go, they won’t some back, they’re not going to come back and rebuild factories and businesses because Australia is upset after it basically kicked them out in the first place.

“If we rely on imports, and a country decides it is going to give its own market priority, as it very well should, what do we do? Where do we go?

“At a time when the world is saying Africa needs to have food sovereignty, we’re actually participating in a process where we won’t be able to feed our own people.

“We will be reliant on importing food.

“When we finally hit the wall and find that everything is coming from overseas and we no longer have any Australian food industries, it will be too late.”

How much is actually imported?

The supermarkets like to trumpet their success stories and gloss over their failings when it comes to local produce and their treatment of suppliers.

Coles made a song and dance about its decision to use Australian-grown produce in its own brand frozen vegetables, but omitted the fact that none of its 13 private label tinned fruits and vegetables are imported.

For its part, Woolworths imports 13 of 14 home-brand frozen vegetable lines, and 19 of its 21 private label tinned fruit and vegetable lines, according to the most recent report.

Woolworths released a statement labelling the Choice findings “inaccurate,” while a spokesperson told Food Magazine this morning that “we’re working very closely with the Australian agricultural sector, and we buy lot of produce from Australian farmers.”

“96 per cent of our fresh fruit and veg is from Australia.

“71 per cent of our own label products com from Australia, and that’s increasing.

“We’re now importing home brand rice from NSW and our focus is on increasing Australian grown products.”

The spokesperson did not answer questions, however, on whether the price the supermarket is paying local producers for those products is fair, or whether it shoulders some of the responsibility for the dire state of the food sector.

Coles accused Choice of pursuing a "public policy agenda on labelling” when the report was released, but did not respond to requests for comment by Food Magazine this morning.

"We know farmers are struggling": Coles GM

Last week Coles’ corporate affairs general manager Robert Hadler did acknowledge that local processing was in trouble, telling an agribuiness summit in that the high Australian dollar and increased labour costs were "catching many food manufacturers in a cost-price squeeze".

"We're quite concerned … we want security and sustainability of supply, particularly in processed product, so we've upped our game in working with local food manufacturers," he said.

Jackman has warned that it may not be just the supermarkets that are to blame for the state of the industry, but rather popular television shows, including Farmer Wants a Wife and Masterchef, are causing the damage.

"If we're not careful, MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules will all be made with produce produced overseas," he said.

“Long-term investment in agriculture, skills and people working in the field were needed to "drive the future.

"We can't afford to see production and food processing disappear out of Australia because the high Aussie dollar is making imports so much cheaper," he said.

He said food producers and processors needed to educate the public about why they should be willing to pay more for local produce.

How can we fix this important Australian industry? How would you make it profitable again?

Zimbabwe urged to lift ban on GM food

The Zimbabwean government is being urged to lift its ban on genetically modified (GM) food.

The country allows foods that have been genetically modified in other countries to be imported, but currently do not allow it on their own land.

Imported GM products have been flooding supermarkets since stringent import regulations were relaxed in 2009, when the country suspended the local currency.

The current rules mean that it is cheaper for people to buy the imported goods than those grown locally, which is damaging the Zimbabwean growers and distributers.

Wholesale food importing companies have subsequently sprung up throughout Zimbabwe’s capital, allowing working class families to enjoy foods such as poultry for the first time in a long time, by buying in bulk.

While the consumers are obviously fine with the GM foods coming in from overseas, the local government is still opposed to the practise locally.

Agriculture minister Joseph Made said the country will not allow farmers to produce GM foods because they contain toxic substances that are harmful to consumers' health and are less nutritious than organic foods.

His position has been criticised, however, as Zimbabwean farmers use pesticides and fertiliser during farming, so locally produced food, is not necessarily organic.

But influential lobbyists are putting the pressure on it to rethink the legislation, including the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI), which last month announced it was asking the government to allow farmers to plant GMO crops to boost agricultural production after a succession of poor harvests.

"We will continue pushing for the embracing of GMO production, using GMO technology," the CZI said in a statement, adding that exporting such food would be a starting point.

Science and technology minister Heneri Dzinotyiwei has confirmer the Zimbabwean government is reviewing its policy on GM foods.

In Australia, genetic modification of food is allowed, but many are still opposed to the practise and want more transparency about foods that have been altered.

Over in California, about 70 per cent of residents voted last month in support of mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods, while a report out this week found GM corn caused tumours when tested on rats.

What are your thoughts on GM food?

Water water everywhere: should Australia adopt WHO bottled water standards?

Australia’s bottled water representative body wants local producers and sellers to adopt the World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for chemicals in bottled water.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has received an application from the Australasian Bottled Water Institute (ABWI) to adopt limits to the amount of chemicals, as set out In WHO’s Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality.

The ABWI said the move would benefit the packaged water industry and bring Australia and new Zealand onto the same international playing field.

“This application will reassure consumers that chemical constituents in packaged water are regulated on a mandatory level to the same levels as those set internationally,” the submission said.

“The inclusion of such limits will also enhance the ability of the industry to compete in export markets overseas.
If the changes were to be adopted in Australia, there would be six times more mercury allowed in bottles water sold in Australia.

Arsenic and lead levels accepted would drop significantly though, and organic matter would be less acceptable.
Dr Chris Schyzens, Senior toxocoligst and risk manager at FSANZ told Food Magazine the changes would put the Australian industry at the same level as other developed countries.

“Very simply, currently we have 17 chemical analysed in the standard, WHO’s limits has 90, so there is a large increase in chemical detections required.

“Having 90 tested as opposed to 17, from talking to industry, and they are the applicants, they’ve said that their voluntary code, the model code, already follows WHO guidelines, and they’re testing about 49 chemicals.”

Ben Dutton, general manager of brand marketing at Noble Beverages, which captures and distributes H2O water brand, told Food Magazine that tightening the code will not make any difference to companies doing the right thing.

“Consider the landscape three or four years ago, the industry was almost non-existent compare to now.

“The point is that we do have some smaller bottled water companies that might not be taking quality control as seriously as they should be so if WHO standards makes these operators lift their game, that’s a good thing for food consumers.

“Maybe, and only maybe operators that are drawing tap water off, putting it though filters and bottling it, would have problem if they had to ensure they met these standards.

“If it means these companies have to life their game, overall it is good thing.”

“We’ve seen over the last four years or so that it has been a race to bottom as far as price is concerned and most manufacturers are cutting prices dramatically to maintain their place in the market and smaller companies have felt a lot of pain.

As to whether the adoption of WHO standards would improve the waters that are imported to Australia, Dutton was cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t know, I do know [Australia is] importing water from Indonesia and Malaysia and certainly we have mineral water imported from Europe and the US, but I would be inclined to see most bottled water imported would be regulated.

“The challenge in Australia is that even though the bottles water industry has gone through a huge period of consolidation over the last three years, we have this situation now where a lot of small operators have gone out of business or been bought by major companies.”

Schyzens agrees that the huge increase in the bottled water market in Australia has led to some smaller, dodgy companies creeping into the sector, but for the most part, Australian water companies are all doing the right thing and just want to ensure the industry is regulated.

“I think that’s the intention and this has been a call from the industry body the  industry are the ones who have come to us and said ‘here’s a set of values we think would be good for water and that gives consumers peace of mind’”.

“They are the ones who want this, because they already highly regulate themselves, so they want to ensure everyone else is doing the same.

Dutton told Food Magazine that for the companies doing the right thing, which most of them are, there is nothing to be concerned about if the WHO standards are introduced.

“In the Australian industry, there are a lot that are already testing to quite high specifications, whether that’s because they’re trying to get into supermarkets or retailers, they have so many reasons, including the safety of consumers, to do so.

“One New Zealand company is trying to enter the New York market, for example, and their specifications are incredibly high.

While Dutton and Schyzens both agree on the vast majority of the potential new guidelines, there is one issue where their opinions differ.

FSANZ wants to accept all the chemical standards except for the fluoride standard, which it wants to maintain at the current Australian level.

“There’s probably two main reasons for that, and it is important to note that the [WHO)] document allows for nations to make a call based on local consumption of fluoride so we’re not ignoring WHO advice.

“In 2009, after a lot of research and consultation, we determined the maximum should be 1.0 milligrams per litre, which is the same as one part per million.

“So we thought if you have fluoride in packaged water, fluoride is fluoride, wether it’s naturally occurring or added.
“Everyone should be confident standard is at 1.0.”

Dutton explained Noble’s stance on fluoride is about offering consumers choice.

“Our brand is a 100 per cent fluoride free brand and the reason we remove it is because we believe people should have a choice whether they drink fluoride or not.

“People don’t have a choice with government water, but we believe naturally occurring fluoride, not added fluoride, should be the only kind.

“Mass medication is an interesting exercise, but when you deploy mass medication through water, people don’t have a choice as to whether they take the medication or not and there are a million and one studies done into this and the way you look at them can support or disagree with fluoride.

“FSANZ has already allowed bottled water companies to add fluoride but I don’t believe any brand has gone ahead and done that.

“Which makes sense, because consumer are buying it because they don’t want added fluoride, however, naturally it can occur in some streams.”

Schyzens did assure, however, that FSANZ would not be implementing minimum fluoride standards, only a cap on the maximum allowed.

“Added fluoride is just for dental reasons, and is such an incredible public health utility, whilst at same time, we recognise some people are strictly opposed to it, and we’re not saying people have to add fluoride to water, just that they can’t go over one part per million.”

Do you support the tougher regulation of the bottled water industry in Australia?

Makers of ‘pink slime’ sue TV network

The manufacturers of the now infamous “pink slime” used in American meat products has sued ABC News in the US for defamation over its coverage of the creation.

The Dakota Dunes, South Dakota-based meat processor owned by Beef Products Inc. (BPI) is seeking $US1.2 billion ($1.14 billion) in damages over about 200 of what it calls "false and misleading and defamatory" statements about the product.

Officially, the meat product is known as lean, finely textured beef, according to Dan Webb, BPI's attorney.

The lawsuit, filed in a South Dakota state court, names several individuals as defendants, including ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer and the local Departure of Agriculture microbiologist for creating the term "pink slime."

The coining of the phrase and the subsequent reporting by the ABC "caused consumers to believe that our lean beef is not beef at all – that it's an unhealthy pink slime, unsafe for public consumption, and that somehow it got hidden in the meat," Webb said.

In the 257-page lawsuit, BPA also names American Broadcasting Companies, ABC News, and ABC correspondents Jim Avila and David Kerley as defendants.

Gerald Zirnstein, the USDA microbiologist who named the product "pink slime," Carl Custer, a former federal food scientist, and Kit Foshee, a former BPI quality assurance manager who was interviewed by ABC, are also on the defendant list.

The "defendants engaged in a month-long vicious, concerted disinformation campaign against BPI," the lawsuit claims.

In the lawsuit 11 reports that aired on television and 14 that appeared online between March 7 and April 3, are listed to support their claims.

BPI's director of food-quality assurance, Craig Letch, claims the company lost 80 per cent of its business in 28 days due to the reporting.

While some of the customers have returned, BPI still doesn't have the customer base that would allow it to rehire former employees, he said.

The company was forced it to close three of its four US plants and fire more than 650 workers due to the fallout, which was further fuelled by the ABC publishing a list of grocery stores that had stopped selling the product.

This action, he said, pressured others to end their business relationship with BPI over fear of customer backlash.

The reports created the false impression "that it's some type of chemical product, that it's not beef. It led people to believe that it's some kind of repulsive, horrible, vile substance that got put into ground beef and hidden from consumers,” he argued.

"The result of that has been catastrophic for this company," he said.

The ABC has vowed to fight the claims in court, saying it has done nothing wrong.

"The lawsuit is without merit," Jeffrey W. Schneider, ABC senior vice president, said in a brief statement on Thursday.

"We will contest it vigorously"

“Pink Slime,” or "meat glue" is made up of bits of beef are heated and treated with a small amount of ammonia to kill bacteria, a common practice used for many years.

While the processes meet federal food safety standards, many consumers were understandably shocked to see images of the product, looking highly processed and unhealthy.

After the ABC and Zirnstein coined the phrase, it spread quickly, with the The New York Times using it in a 2009 article on the safety of meat processing methods and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver publically campaigning against it.

As a result of consumer pressure, McDonald's and other fast food companies stopped using it, and major supermarket chains also said they would cease selling beef containing the product.

An online petition calling for the banning of the product from school menus drew hundreds of thousands of supporters, as parents grew increasingly concerned about the impact of the low-cost product used to make small amounts of meat go further and ensure continuity in products like hamburger patties.

Only three states in the US, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota, now order beef that may contain it, while the rest refuse to use ground beef with “pink slime” in it, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Frankenfood or crops of the future? Gaps in the perception of GM food safety

Humans have always faced tricky safety problems with food because we eat plants, which are the most ingenious pesticide chemists on the planet. Plants produce an amazing panoply of chemicals to deter animals from eating them. We’ve responded biologically to this challenge by evolving chemical detoxification mechanisms in the liver.

Culturally, we’ve responded by inventing cooking and other food pre-treatments that allow us to eat dangerous foods, such as kidney beans, rapeseed oil and tapioca.

We even add spice to life by adding low quantities of plant poisons to recipes to improve flavour. And we breed our crop plants to reduce toxins. In short, “natural foods” are not necessarily safe and most of our crops are not as natural selection produced them.

Safety regime

 

Cooking and other pre-treatments protect us from the chemicals in plants. Alpha/Flickr

 

Safety assessment of genetically engineered food (called GM or transgenic food) is yet another application of human ingenuity and the harnessing of past experience to obtain sustenance. It starts by careful comparison of the genetically-modified food (and any new components that are deliberately added to that food) against the safety record of existing dietary components for which we have a history of safe human consumption.

All new genetically engineered foods are assessed in a systematic way by food safety agencies (such as FSANZ in Australia), and detailed descriptions of these assessments appear on agency websites.

Assessments involve tests of proteins for toxicity in animal-feeding trials and tests for changes in the allergen content of the food. Scientists have completed numerous animal-feeding studies to ensure the safety of genetically-modified foods.

A comprehensive analysis of chemical composition is also carried out. The genetic stability of crop varieties is checked, as are the detailed structure of the DNA inserts. Extensive use of gene and protein databases enables better assessment of the chance of adverse outcomes.

Nagging doubts

 

Heavy spotting on corn kernels reveals the activity of a mobile DNA parasite. Celebrated American maize geneticist Barbara McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983 for her discovery of the mobile DNA parasites that cause much genetic variation in plants. Damon Lisch PLoS Biology Open Access License

 

But many people continue to worry about unexpected changes to food when it is genetically engineered. This concern has caught the attention of many scientists, whose response has been to evaluate the odds of unexpected adverse outcomes by comprehensive chemical and genetic surveys of crop varieties (chemical fingerprinting).

The good news from 44 different genetically-modified crops' chemical fingerprinting studies (including work on maize, soybean, wheat and barley) is that the chance of unintended changes with transgenic crops is less than the risk of unintended changes occurring in new crop varieties created by conventional breeding.

These food fingerprinting investigations show the precise composition of a crop is readily affected by the position of the plant in the field in which it is being grown, climatic differences between farms, variation in soil chemistry and differences in crop composition generated by conventional breeding. These factors all produce more unexpected alteration of food composition than do the methods used to make GM food crops.

In a recent critical report by an anti-GM group, these major findings are not given adequate recognition. Indeed, one may reasonably ask why anti-GM reports should be given credence when they ignore well documented science from numerous independent laboratories.

Natural genetic engineering

A huge body of basic discoveries in genetics demonstrate that in nature and in farm fields, plant chromosomes are continually subjected to numerous DNA insertions and chromosome rearrangements that mimic the changes that occur when new DNA is introduced by genetic engineering.

These DNA changes come from a variety of processes, including radiation damage and the activities of numerous virus-like DNA parasites that are abundant in plant chromosomes. This frequent natural DNA scrambling is ignored by critics of GM technology.

 

Orange juices blond and red. The red pigments arise from a natural DNA rearrangement that’s similar to what happens in laboratory-based genetic engineering of plants. John Innes Centre

 

One example of such “natural genetic engineering” was recently found in studies of an unusual (non-GM) orange tree variety growing in Sicily. This is a variety that produces blood-red oranges. The red fruit pigments are anthocyanin plant chemicals that are absent from the juice of conventional sweet oranges and may well have beneficial health properties.

Blood-orange varieties emerged several centuries ago as a natural mutation. We now know that this mutation occurred by insertion of a mobile genetic parasite near a key gene, called Ruby, whose activity is needed for successful red pigment formation. Ruby was turned on by the accidental insertion of parasitic DNA near her location in the chromosome.

This is the type of genetic manipulation that genetic engineers do in the lab but, in this case, a natural DNA parasite did it in a Sicilian orange grove.

Another example of natural genetic engineering was discovered in an Illinois soybean field in 1987, where a (non-GM) colour-mutated soybean flower appeared spontaneously in a field of soybeans.

This natural mutation was named wp. It’s interesting to crop-breeders and farmers because it produces larger soybean seeds that are richer in protein. Further investigation showed that in the wp mutation, a complicated new DNA insertion into the soybean chromosome triggered flower pigment formation. This complicated DNA rearrangement was catalysed by a natural DNA parasite.

 

Pink wp mutant soybean flower on the right, parental purple on the left. Gracia Zabala and Lila Vodkin

 

DNA parasites?

DNA parasites are foreign DNA. They are triggered into movement to a new chromosome site when plant cells are stressed. This happens when inter-species crop hybrids are formed by cross-pollination (which is often the case in conventional breeding of major food or feed crops such as wheat or Triticale), or by the stresses of cold nights in Sicilian orange groves.

Geneticists have discovered numerous inter-species transfers of genetic parasites, but more to the point, they have discovered examples of movement across species boundaries of other types of genes, such as those involved in important crop physiological activities.

 

Mark Rain

 

Just this last February, for instance, scientists from Brown University in the United States showed that genes providing more efficient photosynthesis have moved between distantly related grass species.

All the key features of laboratory genetic manipulation of crops — random DNA insertion in chromosomes, foreign DNA, altered expression of genes, DNA rearrangements — are exhibited by natural genetic mutations that occur in plants.

Our exposure to unexpected genetic events occurring in genetically-engineered food is lower than our exposure to the unintended genetic changes served up by conventional foods we’ve eaten for years. And underpinning this more recent scientific finding is the fact that there’s solid assurance of GM food safety from the intense scientific scrutiny and government oversight that GM food has received at all stages of its development over the last 30 years and more. Food from GM crops is at least as safe as traditional foods.

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.

The Conversation

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

Dick Smith only wanted controversy: News Ltd

News Limited has offered its perspective on debate over its decision not to include marketing material from Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith in its papers.

David Penburthy writes for The Punch:

“When you walk into the Commonwealth Bank you don’t see advertisements on the walls attacking banks for paying obscene salaries to their executives. McDonalds would refuse to place banners outside its stores stating that Big Macs are rubbish and the Whopper is a superior burger. In a similar vein, News Limited, the publisher of this website, has taken the unremarkable commercial decision not to use its products as a vehicle to trash its reputation.

The person in question is Dick Smith and the material is a 28-page magazine he has written called Dick Smith’s Magazine of Forbidden Ideas That You Won’t Read About in the Mainstream Media.

As a businessman, Smith has harnessed the concept of martyrdom – be it real or imagined – as his preferred marketing technique. He has made millions presenting himself as a nuggetty Aussie battler taking on the big guys, despite being bigger than most in Australian business.

ndeed some of his wealth has come from pinching market share from local businesses, such as the family-owned preserves producer Beerenberg,whose boss said last month that it was struggling to sell its productsbecause of Smith’s posturing as one of the only patriots in the field of jam production.

In a way, the last thing Smith would have wanted was to have his magazine inserted in News Limited publications, as it would undermine his claim of persecution as the basis for making profits. The magazine is so totally out there that it seems he deliberately went overboard to ensure it wouldn’t be carried as an advertisement, as it is filled with conspiracy theories involving Rupert Murdoch’s American citizenship, this company’s (non-existent) refusal to run pieces calling for a smaller Australian population, our alleged bias against climate science, our supposed determination to attack Smith for using patriotism to make money.

Even the independent website Crikey, hardly a friend of News Limited, rana piece by former Media Watch producer David Salter saying it was “not surprising” that News refused to run the insert, and attacking its content as the work of an “egomaniac” falsely claiming a conspiracy.

I would not be so disrespectful as to call Mr Smith an egomaniac, even though, as Crikey points out, there are 29 photos of him in his 28-page insert. He is certainly a conspiracy theorist and his theories do not pass muster.

Smith’s obsession with News Limited is so acute that he misrepresents both our general conduct and our specific treatment of him. A few years ago I heard him on ABC Radio after the Victorian bushfires saying News Limited had never given a cent to charity. I rang the station and asked (fruitlessly) to go on air to point out that in the previous week News donated $1 million to Victoria. I could fill the rest of this column with similar examples, be it families who made the news for tragic reasons, cultural bequests for the arts, money for our State Library, the Pride of Australia awards for unsung community heroes.”

Read the full article at The Punch.

What do you make of the controversy between Dick Smith and News Limited? Who is in the wrong here?

Would you eat deep-fried butter?

It’s a well known fact that Americans like their deep fried food; in fact, if this year’s state fairs are anything to go by, they will pretty much deep fry anything.

At the recent Iowa State Fair guests were able to get deep-fried offerings of everything from Snickers, Twinkies and Cheesecake, all the way to deep-fried butter.

Apparently, the strange concoction, of simply a stick of butter that is coated in batter and deep fried, was back by popular demand after debuting at last year’s fair.

The deep-fried butter on a stick, created by entrepreneur Larry Fyfe, who has spent decades inventing and selling foods for fairs, is sold for $4 a pop.

Last year, over 8000 of the products sold at the Iowa Fair.

Officials  of the Iowa Fair approached him last year to asked him invent the deep-fried butter option to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the fair’s giant butter cow.

Fyfe was not confident he could do it, thinking the name if it would turn people off, and based on recent attempts that had failed, such as the Texas State Fair.

The success of Fyfe’s creation is dependant on the half-stick (two ounces) of butter remaining very cold, close to freezing, until a customer places an order.

Then it’s dunked into a funnel cake batter that contains cinnamon and other spices, and dipped into vegetable oil at high temperature to heat for up to 90 seconds, before being drizzled with honey glaze and served.

Apparently it tastes similar to French toast or cinnamon rolls at first, but the butter then starts oozing out everywhere.

To that end, a  boat provided when it is served catches most of the butter, which is then eaten with a plastic fork.

Fyfe concedes that at fairs in the US, “dignity goes right out the window.”

In what has become a yearly expectation, creators each year come up with something newer and stranger to deep-fry, and this year was no exception.

For 2012, it was a deep fried pickle dog, which unfortunately did not go exactly as planned.

Because the allure (if you can call it that) of the deep fried offerings is that they are served on a stick, making it easier to fry and eat.

This year’s deep-fried pickle dawg, however, which involves a slice of pickle, some pastrami or ham and cream cheese that is then deep-fried, had some issues staying on the stick and instead had to be served in a cardboard box. Where’s the fun in that?

There are 57 products on a stick on offer at this year’s fair, as the fascination with the serving option continues to grow, and expectations are that next year there will be even more.

All GM foods to be declared on labels if Californian bill passes

Genetically modified (GM) food is a controversial issue that is set to become an electoral one in the US, with one state set to vote on the practise.

In November, California will be the first state to vote on whether declaration labels will be mandatory on all genetically modified food.

Up to 18 states in the US have attempted to pass similar laws in the same way, but so far all have failed to make it to the statewide ballot.

But in California, Proposition 37 as it is known, has received over a million citizen signatures, indicating it will be successful and foods that have been genetically modified with have to include that information on labelling.

Those against genetically modified foods believe consumers have the right to know if what they’re eating has been created or altered in such a way.

Major food manufacturers including PepsiCo, Nestlé and Coca-Cola, however, are opposed to the legislation, arguing that fears over the lack of long term health impacts of genetically modified foods are misguided.

They even argue that the benefits of genetically modified food far outweigh the perceived negatives.

"Bioengineered crops are the safest crops in the world," Bob Goldberg, a molecular biologist who's a professor at UCLA and a member of the National Academy of Science said.

"We've been testing them for 40 years.

“They're like the Model T Ford.

“There is not one credible scientist working on this that would call it unsafe."

Up to 80 percent of all processed foods sold in the US are made with genetically modified ingredients, including corn, soybeans, sugar beets and cotton oil.

If the proposal became law in California, genetically modified processed foods would be required to include the words "Partially produced with genetic engineering" on the front or back label, while foods entirely made through GM systems would h have to declare so with a sign on the shelf.

Where do you stand on genetically modified foods? Do you think Australians need input, similar to California?

Breakfast cereal alliance to improve industry and consumer health

The Australian Food and Grocery Council has formed an alliance of Australian breakfast cereal manufacturers to develop health and nutrition changes for the industry.

The Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum (ABCMF) members produce about 80 per cent of all breakfast cereals purchased in Australia.

Companies making up the alliance include Freedom Foods, Kellogg Australia, Carmens, Nestlé Australia, Popina Foods and Sanitarium.

The Forum aims to improve consumer understanding of breakfast cereals by being proactive in emphasising the benefits of breakfast cereals, engaging in a positive dialogue with stakeholders and consumers and highlighting the benefits of breakfast cereals and correcting misinformation.

The Australian breakfast cereals industry has received praise recently for its proactive approach to health, particularly in the reduction of sugar and sodium levels.

In June it was revealed Kellogg Australia’s commitment to reduce sodium content across its products by 20 per cent had already been met, eight months ahead of schedule.

AFGC Chief Executive Gary Dawson said the ABCMF will provide evidence-based, practicalinformation for Australians on the benefits of breakfast cereals.

“Through continued education, the ABCMF aims to improve consumers understanding of the important role that breakfast cereal can play as part of a healthy, balanced diet,” Dawson said.

“A healthy start to the day is important and breakfast cereals represent the most cost effective, nutritious way to get your day off to a good start.

Australia’s breakfast cereal products market in is worth over $1.2 billion in retail sales per annum and employs approximately 3000 people, many in rural and regional areas.

“All forum members manufacture locally for the Australian market and rely almost exclusively on Australian grown grain, Dawson said.

“The ABCMF will provide category wide, evidence based information on breakfast cereals to media, stakeholders and consumers.”

Kerry closing Melbourne ingredient factory

Ingredient maker Kerry is closing its manufacturing plant in Melbourne, leaving up to 100 employees out of work.

The National Union of Workers says the Ireland-based company will move at least 75 per cent of its production to Asian factories.

The Altona factory, in the Melbourne’s west, will close for the last time on March 31 2013, and the production of products including bases for milkshakes, donuts and biscuits to Malaysia.

“These are high-wage jobs, high skilled jobs and they were good quality middle class jobs in the western suburbs,” National Union of Workers secretary Tim Kennedy said.

“The problem for these people is that the work for them in the future will be casual work here and there.

“There is just no confidence in the manufacturing industry in Victoria.”

Kerry’s factory closure is further indication that the manufacturing sector in Australia is struggling more than ever, he said.

 

“This is not just a job emptying bins at the footy,” he said.

“Some of the equipment is going to New South Wales but the bulk of it, about three quarters is going back to Malaysia.”

Kerry Group says some employees impacted by the closure would be offered jobs at the company's New South Wales and Queensland operations.

"Whilst manufacturing remains a very competitive environment in Australia and international markets, these decisions enable Kerry to provide sustainable business growth by leveraging the offering at our existing sites within the region," Kerry Ingredients and Flavours Asia-Pacific president Mark McCormack said in a statement.

"Whilst Kerry will continue to invest in and expand our presence in Australia, this is a consolidation of a number of acquisitions made over recent years."

"We'll now be focusing on redundancies and making sure that happens promptly and it happens well, and we'll also be looking at reskilling and retraining the workers."

Sport supplement DMAA banned

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has banned the sale, supply and use of DMAA, an ingredient used in some sports supplements.

DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine), also known as Jack3d has been included in Appendix C of the Poisons Standard, following an investigation by TGA in response to safety concerns about the abuse of the drug.

Advice was received from the Advisory Committee on Medicines Scheduling (ACMS) and public consultation and after a scheduling decision by the TGA, state and territory governments implement any necessary changes to legislation.

State and territory authorities will be responsible for enforcing these laws.

DMAA acts as a stimulant and is used in pre-workout sports supplements and “party pills” to provide an adrenaline-like high.

It has also been used extensively in industries notorious for their work hard, play hard attitudes, including the mining industry.

It has been linked with adverse health effects including high blood pressure, headaches, vomiting, cerebral haemorrhage, stroke and death.

New Zealand banned DMAA from all products in April following reports of adverse effects.   

Nestlé baby formula undergoes independent testing following complaints

A popular Nestlé baby formula will undergo independent testing to determine if it is safe, after parents reported babies were becoming sick from consuming it.

Nestlé recently changed the recipe of its NAN H.A. 1 Gold, and since the “new and improved” variety has been on shelves, parents have reported side effects in their babies including constant crying, rashes, discoloured poos, dehydration and vomiting.

Sarah Wells from Launceston in Tasmania told News Limited she put her 10-week-old son Oliver on the new formula immediately noticed the side effects.

“A week after being on the formula, and the second can, Oliver's face broke out in nasty eczema,” she said.

She then got in contact with Nestlé, and was told by a customer service representative it is common for babies to have reactions when their formula is changed, and she was then offered a $50 gift voucher.

 

Robert Paganin from Blackburn North in Victoria said that when he fed the formula to his six-month-old son, he also noticed changes.

 “Within 48 hours of changing he was fine, he was drinking the bigger bottle and finishing it, whereas on the other one he was refusing to drink,” he told News Ltd.

"I am extremely disappointed and disgusted in Nestle playing with our babies' wellbeing."

Nestlé said internal testing of the changed formula, which included changing the calcium chloride was changed to potassium chloride, concluded the it was safe.

“This testing did not show anything that could cause the reactions that parents are describing,” Nestle external relations manager Margaret Stuart said.

The global giant says they take the health of consumers very seriously and are now running further tests at an independent Australian laboratory.

 “While we do not yet have final results, preliminary results of the microbiological profile indicate no food safety issue,” she said.

Should we adopt WHO bottled water standards?

Australia’s food health regulating body is calling for submissions on adopting the World Health Organisation (WHO) limits for chemicals in packaged water.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has received an application from the Australasian Bottled Water Institute (ABWI) to adopt limits to the amount of chemicals, as set out In WHO’s Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality.

The ABWI said the move would benefit the packaged water industry and bring Australia and new Zealand onto the same international playing field.

“This application will reassure consumers that chemical constituents in packaged water are regulated on a mandatory level to the same levels as those set internationally,” the submission said.

“The inclusion of such limits will also enhance the ability of the industry to compete in export markets overseas.

If the changes were to be adopted in Australia, there would be six times more mercury allowed in bottles water sold in Australia.

Arsenic and lead levels accepted would drop significantly though, and organic matter would be less acceptable.

FSANZ Chief Executive Officer Steve McCutcheon said adopting the WHO standard would put Australia on the same level as the rest of the world and would mean more limits on the chemicals allowed in bottled water.

But the FSANZ suggests maintaining two existing limits, including for Fluoride, should be part of the changes. Currently in Australian bottled water, 2.0 mg/L of naturally occurring fluoride is permitted, while the WHO limit is 1.5mg/L.

“FSANZ is recommending adopting the WHO limits, with two exceptions.

“We are recommending maintaining the current lower limit for fluoride in packaged water and a marginally higher limit for styrene, which is used as a processing aid in packaged water,” McCutcheon said.

“FSANZ has taken into account safety assessments conducted by expert advisors to WHO and FSANZ’s own assessments conducted for fluoride and styrene.”

FSANZ is asking for comments from government agencies, health professionals, the food and beverage industries and consumers on its report.

The closing date for submissions to FSANZ is 13 September 2012.

Chile government bans toys with children’s fast food meals

Chile has followed in the footsteps of Australian fast food retailers by removing the toys from children’s meals.

Chile’s government has stepped in to attempt to improve obesity rates by banning toys and other goodies from being served with children’s meals.

In Australia, the government is yet to step in and announce similar regulation, which many health experts have called for since McDonald’s and Hungry Jack’s refused to follow KFC’s lead, which eliminated toys with kid’s meals in August last year.

The next month, the decision by Hungry Jacks to introduce sides of vegetables with its meals was met with apprehension from health professionals.

But more than a month after the ban came into effect in Chile, fast food retailers are still including toys with meals, leading Senator Giudo Girardi to file a formal complaint with the health ministry.

“These businesses know that this food damages the health of children and they know that the law is in effect. They're using fraudulent and abusive means,” Giraldi said.

In his complaint, the senator also targets other manufacturers of cereal, iced treats and other products that attract children with toys, crayons or stickers.

If the companies identified in his submission are found to have continued giving toys with children’s meals, they could be forced to remove them goodies or face nominal fines.

The refusal by some companies to obey the law in Chile is one of the reasons Australian experts don’t believe it is necessary or useful to implement government regulation, but instead rely on manufacturers and retailers to listen to consumers and adapt businesses accordingly.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) believes its Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative (RMCI) has been successful at reducing the number of advertisements for junk food directed at children, but a recently released National Food Plan report suggests these voluntary standards will have to be monitored by the government.

“The food industry is definitely part of the solution, particularly when you look at overweight and obesity, Cristel Leemhuis, Director, Preventative Health Policy Healthier Australia Commitment at the AFGC told the recent Food Magazine Leaders Summit.

“It’s not voluntarily, the consumer is demanding it.

“Consumers push these businesses, so they’re responding to that consumer demands.

“I’m a fan of minimum effective regulation if we do need it lets go down that track, but let’s see what we can do without the regulation to start with.

“Can we actually address the issue without regulation?

“That’s the path we should take first.

“If that doesn’t work then we should step into these other areas, but we really need to try this other area first before we just straight down to [regulation].”

Crops hit by drought and biofuel policy: another food price crisis?

Not so long ago, things were looking good. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had announced on the 5th of July that the FAO food price index had been falling for the third consecutive month and that in May of this year the index had been at its lowest since September 2010. But the optimism may be short-lived.

The adverse weather of continuing drought in the USA and in particular in most of the major corn-growing regions, is bringing volatility back on international food prices, an untenable situation for world food security and in particular for developing or emerging economies.

Droughts hitting crops

According to the statistics services of the United States epartment of Agriculture (USDA), by the end of last week 45% of the US corn and 35% of soybean crops had been rated of very poor condition, the worst US crop result since 1988. Wheat is the next crop to be affected but if rainfall comes (as forecasted by the USDA) this may ease the tension a little. While the rain forecast may be too little too late for the corn and soybean crops, the fate of wheat has yet to be decided.

On the other side of the planet, Russia has had to re-align its forecast of wheat production, also caused by drought conditions. But so far, the Russian government has not banned wheat exports as it did in 2010.

The fluctuation of commodity prices on international markets reflects the volatile nature of agricultural markets. Corn and soybean are now trading 30% higher than what they were only a month ago.

Biofuel demand driving crop prices higher

US federal ethanol mandates (requiring fuel distributors to use a certain amount of ethanol each year) have played an important role in the increase of corn prices. The US policy has driven an artificial demand for corn. When first introduced in 2005, ethanol production accounted for 5% of the demand for corn. Today about 40% of the US corn production is used for biofuels.

The mandatory increased production of ethanol has had a large impact on corn prices because of the fixed nature of the demand. In a free market environment, if the price of a commodity goes up, demand goes down, naturally re-adjusting the price signals. But the ethanol mandates require the same amount of ethanol to be used irrespective of corn prices.

 

Ohio corn: about 40% of US corn goes not to food production but to use in biofuels. Flickr/Graylight

 

Are we entering a new food price crisis?

There is little doubt that the liberalisation of trade and investment (understand financial speculation on agricultural commodity markets) are key ingredients for turning any large supply shocks into a world food crisis.

The global restructuring of the agri-food business has led to the depletion of international stocks since the beginning of the millennium. Large precautionary inventories commonly held by governments and private grain dealers (to absorb supply shocks) were allowed to shrink as everyone had come to believe that countries suffering crop failures could always import the food they needed.

As a result, whilst international cereal stock levels corresponded to about 110 days of consumption in the late 1990s, by 2007, these had dropped to only 50 days, sacrificing food reserves for corporate “food security”. The forecast for 2012 is that world cereal stocks represent about 70 days of consumption.

The domino effect is in operation. High corn prices are putting pressure on other agricultural commodities as well. Wheat, soybeans and other crops are now being used as feed substitutes to corn, pushing their prices even higher.

The global wheat supply and demand has tightened recently and Australian wheat growers may well cash on it and pick up a large slice of the upside trend.

Complex international markets

On the other hand, it is unlikely that the Australian corn producers will benefit greatly from the rise of international corn prices. In fact, the 2012 Australian maize production (similar to the 2011 crop) will be around 350,000 tonnes, a sufficient quantity for the national 320,000 tonnes domestic and feedstock usage.

The soybean situation is different as the bulk of the international production comes from the USA, China, and Brazil with Australia being a net importer to an annual value of $100 million.

One important outcome of these long-term structural adjustments is that most countries and in particular developing and transitional economies have suffered significant degradation of their agricultural sectors and are no longer self sufficient.

The loss of national food self-sufficiency compounded with low global stock-levels provides a favourable environment for what some scholars refer to as a “perfect storm”, a situation for which the dangerous combination of different developments, in this instance supply shortfalls combined with low stock-levels, leads to an unavoidable state of crisis.

 

Rising food prices sparked riots in Haiti in 2008. AAP/EPA/Kena Betancur

 

International agricultural commodity prices have many pressure points. Obvious ones range from growing demand for food to poor harvests caused by climatic events. But some of these pressure points are not as visible, but are as powerful. Government policy is an example. It is likely that the US federal policy on biofuels is felt all over the world from Japan to African countries when importing corn.

The productivist logic underlying the restructure of the international agri-food system has widened the gap between the “haves’” and the “have not”. Whilst Australian wheat growers may be enjoying the rising demand for wheat today, the euphoria may not be shared by the Egyptian people who rely largely on imported wheat to complement their diet.

The food price spikes of 2007/2008, 2010/2011, and a possible 2012, occurring in short succession make clear that not enough is done to ensure that enough food is accessible and available for all.

Comments welcome below.

Brigit Busicchia is affiliated with the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance.

The Conversation

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

Step forward for new weight-loss drug

A new compound that leads to weight loss in obese mice could help in the development of a new class of anti-obesity drugs for humans, scientists say – though this could take many years.

The drug works by increasing sensitivity to the body’s appetite-suppressing hormone, leptin. It is not known exactly how this mechanism works but American researchers suspect the body’s cannabinoid receptors, which mediate feelings of hunger, play a role.

“By sensitizing the body to naturally occurring leptin, the new drug could not only promote weight loss, but also help maintain it,” said senior study author George Kunos of the United States' National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The results are published today in the journal Cell Metabolism.

A similar drug that targeted cannabinoid receptors, rimonabant, was sold in Europe in 2006 but was withdrawn after it was found to cause serious psychiatric side effects, including depression, mood changes and suicidal thoughts. It was never available in Australia.

Rimonabant works by blocking cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which caused brain-based side effects in some patients, according to Joseph Proietto, Professor of Medicine at the University of Melbourne. The researchers therefore aimed to produce a compound that did not enter the brain.

“What this group has done is they have modified the original structure into one that does not enter the brain. So the drug is now only blocking the receptors that are in the rest of the body,” he said.

The new drug has delivered similar weight loss results in the mice as rimonabant but the animals have not shown signs of anxiety or other behavioural problems.

The drug will now have to undergo several years of testing before it can be submitted for approval to the regulatory authorities, including toxicity tests and phase one, two and three clinical trials to ensure it is safe and effective at maintaining weight loss. “We’re talking close to ten years before it’s ready to be submitted for approval,” said Professor Proietto.

Two weight-loss drugs are currently available in Australia: Duromine, an appetite-suppressant which was released about 50 years ago, for which there is very little evidence; and Orlistat, which reduces fat absorption and has been shown to keep weight off for a few years.

The United States Food and Drug Administration recently approved two new weight-loss drugs, which could make their way to Australia over the next few years.

Associate Professor John Dixon, Senior Research Fellow at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, said better therapies were desperately needed to treat obesity and prevent long-term weight gain.

Professor Dixon said the new drug was “just a concept at the moment” but it marked an exciting development. “While this is a long way off, we watch optimistically, such that perhaps in ten years time we have a range of treatments like we do for treating diabetes and hypertension,” he said.

“Perhaps if we had truly effective drug therapies, people would have a different view of this serious disease.”

The Conversation

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

The 5 strangest ways food will be different in future

Food that comes out of a printer, giant skyscraper farms to meet the increased world food demand, drinks made of urine and jelly made out of humans.

These are just some of the wackiest ways food is set to change in the future, according to experts.

Check out the full list at Cracked.com, but be prepared to be utterly grossed out.

Nestlé working to educate Ivory Coast communities to end child labour

Nestlé has officially confirmed it is involving communities in the Ivory Coast in a new effort to reduce child labour, following a Fair Labor Association (FLA) report from November 2011.

Following the release of the FLA report, which included accusations that children are employed on cocoa farms that supply to its factories, Nestlé announced it would conduct an investigation into the presence of child labour in its business.

Nestlé partnered with FLA, a non-profit organisation that works with large companies to improve working conditions at various levels of the supply chain.

Nestlé has also said that it will work with its partner, the International Cocoa Initiative, a foundation that works with the cocoa industry, civil society and trade unions, to set up a new monitoring and remedy scheme recommended by the FLA.

Nestlé announced in a media release last week that the aim of the partnerships is to involve communities in the Ivory Coast in “a new effort to prevent the use of child labour in cocoa-growing areas by raising awareness and training people to identify children at risk, and to intervene where there is a problem.”

 “The use of child labour in our cocoa supply chain goes against everything we stand for,” José Lopez, Nestlé’s Executive Vice President for Operations, said.

“As the FLA report makes clear, no company sourcing cocoa from the Ivory Coast can guarantee that it doesn’t happen, but what we can say is that tackling child labour is a top priority for our company.”

An effective strategy to eliminate the problem of child labour in the Ivory Coast needs to address and change the attitudes and perceptions of those in the cocoa supply chain and the communities where they live, the FLA report said.

“Nestlé does not own or operate farms in the Ivory Coast, but is well positioned to make a positive impact on the livelihoods of workers in the cocoa supply chain due to its leverage with its suppliers and the volume of cocoa beans it procures,” the FLA report said.

Some of the measures put in place include a monitoring and remediation scheme to be trialled in 40 communities covered by two co-operatives of cocoa farms during the 2012 cocoa harvest, with plans to include 20 more co-operatives by 2016.

This would mean about 600 communities would be involved, and would begin to change some of the attitudes.

Whispering sweet nothings: the evolution of the confectionary industry

Willy Wonka was really onto something with his candy factory.

Not only did he realise that making confectionary will bring a smile to the faces of those who eat it – hell, it will get a bedridden man dancing around like he’s Patrick Swayze at the mere idea of it – but he was also an innovator.

Yes, you read that right, this article is singing the praises of Willy Wonka (“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it, anything you want to, do it…wanta change the world? There's nothing toooo it”) because confectionary is a beautiful thing.

It is one of the most innovative, creative and interesting industries, filled with people just like Willy Wonka, who unfortunately don’t have his chocolate factory, but on the upside do have his imagination and passion for invention.

“Australia has a very good confectionary industry, we have great products and some really good marketing and there are some fantastic smaller brands bubbling away which is a great thing,” Anne Barrington, Product Manager at Keith Harris Flavours & Colours, Bronson & Jacobs told Food Magazine.

“There are some really great gourmet items coming up through the really boutique brands.”

Three dimensional confectionary

The confectionary industry is always expanding, becoming more creative and experimenting with different flavours.

“The main trends we’re seeing are in the chocolate and gummy lolly markets at the moment, which are both pretty dynamic,” she told Food Magazine.

“We’re seeing a lot of sensory things coming through that give you multi dimensional textures and flavours, like the tingling cooling effect and fruit pieces coming through.

“Things that are giving the consumer almost a three dimensional experience with a products are certainly being seen in the chocolate market, which is really tapping into that gourmet part of the market and very much capitalising on very good media on antioxidants with the dark chocolate. 

Cadbury’s Marvellous Creations, which combines a number of different textures, flavours and experiences in one mouthful, launched this month, bringing home Barrington’s point about the increase in sensory experiences in the confectionary market.

“Marvellous Creations was developed in response to Australians telling us they want a chocolate experience to share as part of the family occasion, which is fun, magically exciting and unexpected,” Ben Wicks, General Manager Chocolate, Kraft Foods, told Food Magazine.

“We identified a real opportunity to create a product that is ideal for family sharing and brings everyone together at the end of the day.

“We know that families love the occasional surprise and delight in the unexpected. Marvellous Creations is the ideal way to bring a moment of unexpected joy in the everyday.”

The Marvellous Creations range offers consumers three variations, which may seem like strange combinations at first, but have been met with intrigue in the consumer market.

There’s the peanut, toffee and cookie combination, the jelly and Crunchie bits blend and the jelly, popping candy and beanies offering, all covered in famous Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate.

“We tested a number of different flavour combinations with consumers, and had overwhelming positive response to these,” Wicks explained.

“All three variants are performing extremely well, however Jelly Popping Candy Beanies is proving to be particularly popular after just four weeks on shelves,” Wicks told Food Magazine.

The strangest of combinations

Barrington explained that often, combinations of flavours that might sound odd or a little off-putting, in fact turn out to be very popular.

“Certainly the celebrity chef’s and the food shows are bringing a lot of interest into flavours and how they can work together, which means a lot of consumers are more willing to try new things,” she said.

“What we’re also seeing is a lot of different flavour trends coming through, we’re seeing savoury flavours coming into chocolate, thinks like bacon and lime and salt, salted caramel.

“We’re talking about pretty gourmet boutique brands here, but often what we see is that these things bubble away in the boutique market for a while and then it hits the mainstream once it has been accepted and received by consumers.

“It’s how the consumer accepts those new flavours, and often the gourmet boutique brands are the testing ground for new flavours.

“We’re seeing spices coming into chocolate and even into the gum lolly market, as well as some cinnamon and herbs even!

“Herbs and spices are pretty new, but people are familiar with new things coming into chocolate, we’ve seen some floral flavours, like rose. as well.

And while the confectionary industry often seems to stand on its own and march to the beat of its own drum, Barrington explained to Food Magazine that it is not actually as isolated you may think.

“There confectionary industry also often looks to the beverage markets to see some of the flavour trends going on there, because there is quite a lot of alignment,” she said.

“You might see a lot of berry flavours making their way into the beverage market and being very popular and them confectionary makers might try them in their products.

“One of the biggest trends is the expansion of berries of all types, cherry, blackberry, blueberry.

Food scientists and confectionary experts are always hard at work trying to perfect the flavours available to consumers, ensuring they are as realistic as possible.

“There will always be the favourite flavours, which are the basic flavours in confectionary; raspberry, vanilla, lime, but a lot of those flavours have gotten a  lot more sophisticated in their profiles and particular in the flavour experience, they are much truer to type nowadays,” Barrington said.

“Twenty years ago, mango flavour was what they determined mango to be, which was actually nothing like what a mango tasted like.

“Now that mangoes are so readily available and so popular here, the flavour is more true to the fruit, because it has to be.”

How flavours are changing

Beyond the creativity of the industry, and the seemingly endless combinations thought up by confectionary producers, Barrington told Food Magazine the biggest change has not been about adding things, but rather removing.

She’s talking about artificial colours and flavours, which have almost ceased to exist in not only the confectionary industry, but throughout much of the food sector.

“The biggest change across all sectors has been the natural flavours in products aimed at children,” she said.

“Twenty years ago I would say the bulk of flavours were artificial, or synthetic.

“So absolutely, the natural flavours have expanded.

“Back then, the availability to raw flavours was poor but over the last eight to 10 years, the situation has reversed and the major developments in the industry are focused on natural flavours.”

Barrington said greater understanding of the impacts of additives on health has led to widespread developments and improvements to how the flavours are colours are made.

“Now we have a lot more access to natural flavouring materials, whereas before it was very difficult.

“There is a code for how it is determined and there are very strict laws around natural flavouring and labelling your product as such.

“FSANZ [Food Standards Australia New Zealand]has changed the terminology so it is now referred to as a ‘synthetic’ flavour, rather than artificial.

The Australian confectionary industry follows the International Organisation of the Flavour Industry (IOFI) Code of Practice to ensure the health, quality and ingredients of products.

The health factor

While the enjoyment of confectionary cannot be understated, the industry is, understandably, scrutinised as the rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases rise.

In a move sure to upset chocoholics everywhere – but perhaps please their doctors – Mars announced plans in February to stop shipping chocolate bars that exceed 250 calories per portion.

It will mean the king sized chocolate bars made by the confectionary giant, including Snickers, M&M’s, Mars, Milky Way and Dove will effectively be unavailable by the end of 2013.

Even a regular sized Snickers contains 280 calories, but the company advises that it includes three serving sizes.

A king-sized Snickers contains 510 calories.

The family sized blocks of chocolate produced by the company will still be available, as they are intended to be shared.

Some critics came out swinging, accusing Mars of reducing chocolate size to save money on expensive cocoa, but the company said in a statement that it is another move by the company to create healthier products for its consumers.

The company has previously announced aims to reduce sodium levels in all Mars products by 25 per cent from 2007 levels, stop marketing chocolate products directly to children under 12 and it also started displaying calorie counts on the front of packages, eliminating trans fat and reducing saturated fat.

"Mars has a broad-based commitment to health and nutrition, and this includes a number of global initiatives," the company said in a statement.

Initiatives like Mars’ are increasing fast, but not as fast as people’s waistlines.

Of the most pressing concern is the rapidly increasing occurrences of childhood obesity, and as such, there have been calls from medical associations and parenting groups to have all advertising of junk food to children stopped.

A report in May found that children are seeing 60 per cent less junk food advertising during their television programs, following suggestions from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) that the practise should be stopped, and calls from health groups to ban ads aimed at those under 12.

In 2009 the AFGC suggested that high sugar, fat and salt (HFSS) foods should not be advertised during television programs aimed at children.

Following the suggestion, however, HFSS advertisements aimed at children did not decrease, but rather in some instances actually increased.

The AFGC maintains this rise was the result of scheduling error, but health groups including the Cancer Council, Parents Jury, Australian Medical Association and the Australian Greens called on the government to step in and ban the practise.

The AFGC said the suggestion to ban cartoons in advertising HFSS foods to children was “unnecessary” last year.

The AFGC then released figures in May to support its suggestions, which found the advertising of HFSS foods during children’s programs has fallen to 0.7 per cent between March and May 2011, down 60 per cent from the previous year.

The independent research by the Australian advertising information service Media Monitors was revealed in the RCMI Activity Report 2011, monitored free-to-air television – including digital channels – across Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney 24/7 for 92 days.

The figures prove that the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI), which was started in 2009, is working, according to AFGC Acting Chief Executive Dr Geoffrey Annison.

Under the RCMI, 17 leading food manufacturers have committed to no advertise to children under 12, unless the ads are promoting healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle.

 “The latest advertising figures confirm that adverts are not running during TV programs aimed at children,” Annison said.

Annison said the AFGC is pleased the food industry has made decisions to protect children with industry codes.

“Industry looks forward to continuing discussions with Government and public health advocates to ensure the RCMI is aligned with community expectations, remains practical for industry to implement and is successful in supporting better diets and health outcomes for all Australians.”

Barrington said that while the health and nutrition, particularly of children, is always of concern, confectionary should always be seen and marketed as a ‘sometimes’ food, and should be enjoyed at those times.

“Confectionary is a hard one because if people want chocolate, they want chocolate!

Certainly in that category, consumers won’t compromise on that.”

Well then, back to the factory for the Oompa Loompas!

 

The 50 Day No Sugar Challenge: could you do it?

The impact of sugar on our health and weight (and brain) has become more commonly known in recent times, and soon thousands of Aussies will start on the challenge to eliminate sugar from their diet for 50 days.

The 50DaysNoSugar Challenge, created by personal trainer Natalie Carter, starts on 1 July, and urges people to cut the white stuff.

The aim of the challenge is to raise awareness of how many food and drinks products contain excess sugar, encourage healthy eating and curb sugar addiction.

But it won’t be easy. Experts say a sugar addiction is no easier to overcome than a heroin addiction, and more of us are addicted than we think.

The initiative was run successfully last year, and in 2012, Carter is embracing popular social media to encourage people to share their journey and help each other out, by encouraging participants to post snaps of their sugar-free food creations on Instagram and Facebook.