ACCC pledges to crack down on supermarket dominance

The Chairman of Australia’s competition watchdog has come out swinging over competition in local markets including the food industry.

Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), Rod Sims, outlined the current ACCC priorities at the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce’s Business Leaders Lunch in Perth yesterday.

According to Sims, of the 40 to 50 cases the ACCC always has in the Federal Court, about a quarter is related to competition.

“We currently also have 35 separate investigations underway into misuse of market power, cartels, or cases involving a substantial lessening of competition,” he told the audience.

“While these cases are complex, and take considerable time and resources to investigate and then prosecute, the deterrent effect of our work is substantial.”

As part of the ACCC’s bid to improve competition in Australia, which would include taking on even more competition cases, he outlined a strategy it would be using.

It will be focused on the online economy, cartels and misuse of market power and other anti-competitive behaviour, especially in concentrated markets, such as the supermarket industry.

In terms of the digital and online markets, which the ACCC has outlined as a key priority after a strategic review this year, as it poses two of the biggest regulatory challenges.

Digital marketplaces

They are ensuring consumers enjoy the same protections in the digital and online economy as they do in other environments, and making sure there is fair competition in the digital and online economy between new and innovative competitors and their older counterparts.

“We are examining whether certain current bricks and mortar leading firms are seeking to prevent online competition in ways that breach the Competition and Consumer Act (CCA),” Sims said.

“I recently heard one such retailer claiming that bricks and mortar incumbents will dominate online shopping in future and see off completely new solely online competitors.

“It would be a missed opportunity for competition if this became the inevitable outcome.

“Our cases against Ticketek and Flight Centre are two prime examples of our enforcement work to ensure competition online.

“A related case is our successful court action against Apple for misleading consumers about Apple 4G iPad’s capacity to connect to the 4G network in Australia which also has competition implications.

“Other firms, Samsung for example, sell tablets which compete with the iPad and which can connect to Australia’s 4G network.

“Those firms are entitled to compete in a market that is fair in terms of the claims that are made about what the devices can do,” Mr Sims said.

Sims also discussed the misconceptions cartels have about legal conduct, saying the key focus area for the watchdog could result in prosecution.

“Combating the damage cartels wreak on other businesses, consumers and the economy has been a major ACCC priority for some time,” he said.

“For over a year now we have been taking a more proactive approach to cartel conduct, following results from the 2010 Melbourne University Law School research that showed 58 percent of businesses don’t know that fixing prices, rigging bids, sharing markets and restricting supply is a criminal offence that can result in a 10 year jail sentence and of the 42 percent of businesses that understood the potential criminal nature of cartel conduct, almost one in 10 said they’d still be likely to join a cartel if the opportunity arose.”

“Our proactive enforcement and education program aims to bed down the new laws and increase awareness of them.

“We have 10 current cartel enforcement matters before the Federal Court.

“We have a number of active cartel investigations currently underway.

“We have conducted a direct mail and email campaign to targeted and general industry sectors informing them of the criminal penalties and how immunity can free them from prosecution.

"This includes letters to 2,500 executives in the heavy construction and construction supply industries.

“We have made and distributed a short film called The Marker that shows how involvement in cartels can ruin your business and your life – I have personally sent copies to the CEOs of the 300 top ASX listed companies urging them to show it to relevant employees at all levels of the organisation

“We have gained significant media publicity around our most recent court case and the launch of The Marker”.

Misuse of market power

Sims pointed out that due to the size of the country and our distance from other markets, there are many concentrated markets in Australia, and the misuse of market power must be stopped.

He said the ACCC is carefully observing key markets where this is occurring to make sure no mergers or arrangements that substantially lessen competition, are occurring, and where the obvious market power is not misused to prevent or damage competition.

Anyone within the supermarket industry would know that it is one of the markets the watchdog must be keeping an eye on, following an intense couple of years of price cuts and damage to suppliers’ businesses by the big two dominant forces,  and while Sims maintained the markets being targeted are confidential at this stage, he did outline the three most pressing areas.

“Issues relating to the treatment of suppliers by the major supermarket chains,  which include competition issues as well as allegations of unconscionable conduct, business-to-business, which we are keen to pursue generally,” he said.

“Investigating the sharing of information about prices in the fuel retailing sector, and examining the longer term competition implications of the large shopper docket discounts provided between the fuel and supermarket sectors in particular.”

Mergers and acquisitions

The ACCC will be closely monitoring the impacts of potential mergers and acquisitions to ensure they are used for the right purposes – to make companies more efficient – rather than for lessening competition.

“Some of the mergers and acquisitions we review clearly attract a lot of publicity,” he said.

“Understandably, the parties involved in a transaction have an interest in having their merger dealt with as quickly as possible and this can lead to criticism of the length of time the ACCC takes to reach a decision on a proposed merger.

“The length of time our reviews take, and the potential impact on the parties’ commercial time-frames, is something the ACCC is acutely aware of and is taking a number of steps to address.

“The publication of a Statement of Issues is part of the ACCC’s processes that ensure transparency of our consideration of merger proposals.

“We will take account of the reactions from the market and the merger parties to the concerns we have outlined.
“At this stage we aim to make a final decision on this transaction in mid-October.

“Close scrutiny from the ACCC will be particularly the case in concentrated markets.

"As I noted above, we want to ensure that mergers will not result in structural changes leading to a substantial lessening of competition.

“While there are a range of factors to take into account in assessing mergers under section 50, market concentration is a key factor.

“When a merger is a “3-2” – so, when a merger reduces the number of key players in a market from three to two – the parties should not be surprised that the ACCC would want to carry out a full review.

“With only two principal players remaining in a market, each will learn to anticipate the actions and reactions of the other. 

“In these circumstances, the ability of the two remaining firms to raise prices or reduce quality for consumers generally increases.”

What are your thoughts on Sims' comments? Do you think the new plan by the ACCC will improve the food sector? What else needs to be done?

Confronting corporate power in the food system

The Federal Government’s current national food plan process is heavily dominated by business interests. It is built on flawed assumptions that the market can provide the solutions that our broken food system sorely needs.

Australia’s food system, like the food system globally (see also The GROW Report), is dominated by a handful of corporate players in pursuit of profit. Far from the rhetoric of “free” and “competitive” markets, our food economy is governed by an oligopoly of private interests.

(Super)market domination

Concentration of economic power in the Australian agrifood system is probably best understood through the example of the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, controlling around 80% of retail grocery sales. Lesser-known corporate giants include Cargill, the world’s largest grain trader, which became Australia’s largest grain trader when it purchased the privatised Australian Wheat Board in 2011.

Since deregulation of the dairy industry, one multinational food and beverage company, Kirin, controls around 80% of Australia’s drinking milk market, forcing out farmer-run cooperatives. Two companies, Weston Foods and Goodman Fielder, control more than half of the bread and bakery markets.

Private control of agriculture, food processing and retailing means that decisions about what food is produced, how it is processed and where it is sold are driven by profit motive, and not by human needs. Moreover, the huge market share controlled by the small number of companies that dominate Australia’s food system creates the potential abuse of market power.

Farmers' struggle

Farmers feel this impact of this market power keenly. As suppliers to the two big supermarket chains, and to companies like Kirin in the milk market, farmers are forced to accept lower and lower prices in order to win supply contracts. In the milk sector, farmers are receiving a decreasing proportion of retail revenue since deregulation in the early 2000s. The start of the so-called “Milk Wars” between Coles and Woolworths in early 2011, pushing milk retail prices to $1 per litre, only exacerbates this downward pressure on farmgate prices.

In addition to low prices, farmers are forced to meet exacting standards regarding the appearance of fruit and vegetables, to package and label produce at their own expense, and risk having produce returned at the whim of the retailer. Negotiations between supermarkets and their suppliers are not transparent and the resulting contracts, with no standard terms of trade, provide little consistency for suppliers. At times, suppliers are notified of the prices they will be paid after the sale is completed.

It is not only farmers who suffer as a result of the enormous economic power of the handful of companies that dominate the food system. A survey of hundreds of truck drivers working for Coles earlier this year found that the majority felt pressure to drive above the speed limit in order to meet the company’s demands.

Drivers were forced to work for hundreds of unpaid hours per year, waiting in delivery lines, and loading and unloading cargo. Health and safety standards dropped, putting workers’ lives at risk, when the company failed to allow sufficient time for vehicle repairs.

Need for change

It is unacceptable that powerful food companies obtain profits by extracting unreasonable concessions from primary producers and workers in the food system. This imbalance of economic power undermines farmer and rural livelihoods, and threatens the future of Australia’s food production industries.

There has been significant discussion in Australia of the power of the supermarket duopoly. The ACCC issued an astonishing report in 2008 which pronounced the retail industry sufficiently competitive, despite the two largest retailers controlling, at the time, 70% of grocery sales, 50% of fresh fruit and vegetable sales and 60% of all supermarket stores.

Nonetheless, the ACCC did find that some adjustment measures were required, such as lowering barriers to entry for other firms. There has been little progress on this point as Coles and Woolworths have further consolidated their market positions and are refusing to agree to a more “streamlined” process proposed by the ACCC for approving mergers and acquisitions. The retailers are reportedly concerned that the new process will enable the ACCC to block deals and limit their growth plans.

Amid many complaints from farmers and other industry stakeholders, the ACCC’s new Chairman has made several attempts to curb the duopolists' power, including the streamlined approval process for acquisitions. The ACCC has also investigated claims of unconscionable conduct regarding suppliers and misuse of market power regarding private label products. The outcome of these initiatives is yet to be seen.

The national food plan process has been particularly dismissive of concerns regarding the impact of the duopoly. The government has refused to intervene in the relationships between Coles and Woolworths and their suppliers, preferring to “let the market decide”.

The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance decided in early 2012, after seeking to engage with the government’s flawed food plan process, to initiate the “People’s Food Plan” project. The national food plan fails to provide adequate access to the public for consultation and prioritises the needs of the market over the needs of the people who depend on the system. In contrast, the People’s Food Plan questions the dominance of corporate interests and the market-driven nature of the food system, opening the door to the kind of transformative change that many are advocating.

The People’s Food Plan involves community meetings throughout Australia. At these forums, interested farmers, community activists, food-lovers, students, workers and others will get together to talk about the changes we want to see in our food system. If you are interested and would like to participate in one of these discussion events – you can find out more or contact us at The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance.

Claire Parfitt is affiliated with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance and is a coordinator of the People's Food Plan project.

The Conversation

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

Consumers misled over serving sizes: Choice calls for reform

Consumer watchdog Choice is calling for an overhaul to current labelling standards, after research revealed some manufacturers are misleading consumers over portion sizes to make their products seem healthier.

The Choice study found that some manufacturers using the thumbnail percentage guides on the front of packaging to portray their products as the healthier option are deceiving consumers by using distorted serving sizes.

Choice spokesperson Ingrid Just told Food Magazine the practise has been going on for some time.

“We’re not surprised [by the findings], we know manufacturers are manipulating serving sizes to make products seem healthier than they are,” she said.

“Those manufacturers who use thumbnail percentage [daily intake] labels on the front of packs often look to that serving size because it brings some of those percentages down.

“So for consumers who may use that to compare products, they are getting an unrealistic reading, as the serving sizes may not be the same.”

In Australia, manufacturers are responsible for deciding on appropriate serving sizes, and as such, they often vary between different sized of the same product.

A Mars Bar serving, for example, is stated as 18, 36 or 53 grams, depending on the pack size

Comparatively, the US serving sizes are regulated by government body the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Just said the industry needs to be regulated so that manufacturers can’t select serving sizes that will paint them in a more positive light than reality.

“The daily intake thumbnails are confusing, consumers find them difficult to understand, and we’re saying there needs to be one consistent comparison, using 100 grams or 100 millilitres, so that across products, regardless of serving size, they can find healthy options.”

Just said the design and display of front-of-pack labelling is crucial to its success, as consumers don’t allow much time to make their decisions.

“We think any front-of-pack labelling should be one that allows consumers to find healthy options at a glance, so colours or symbols should be used to make that obvious, because consumers take two to five seconds to chose products, so they have to be able to easily compare.

“It needs to be based not on serving sizes.”

The research found manufacturers are putting up to three servings into packaging portrayed to be a single serving size, leading consumers to consume more than intended.

With the mandatory front-of-pack nutritional labelling due to be rolled out by the government this year, Just said Choice will be assisting agencies to find the best variation.

“We look forward to working with all stakeholders to make sure it is easy to understand, is based on a standard measure and is easily comparable,” she told Food Magazine.

Successfully overhauling the system would result in a healthier industry, according to Just.

“What we know is that a front-of-pack, easy to understand system would highlight those products that are worse, and that’s why some manufacturers wouldn’t support it.

“Having said that, it would encourage regulation, which would see, in turn, more healthier products on shelves, and that is good for consumers and everyone.”

The Choice report refers to the latest food and nutrition publication from the government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that found that our current overweight and obesity rates – 23% of children and 61% of adults – are some of the highest in the world.

“Food portion sizes are increasing,” the report states.

“In the US in the 1950s, McDonald’s offered just one size of soft drink – 7oz (about 210mL).

“It now has 12, 16, 21 and 32oz (950mL) offerings.

“And French fries and hamburgers are now two to five times larger than those originally offered.

“Portion distortion has even occurred in the home, where the sizes of our bowls and glasses have steadily increased and the surface area of the average dinner plate has increased 36 per cent since 1960.

“Why does this matter?

“Put simply, the bigger the portion, the more you eat and the more kilojoules (energy) you consume.

“Between 1983/85 and 1995, energy intake increased significantly for both adults and children in Australia.

"Without an equivalent increase in energy expenditure, increases in energy intake can result in significant weight gain over time.”

Increasing plate sizes has also led Australians to consume more, as natural instinct leads most to fill a plate or bowl, regardless of its size.

Even nutritionists aren’t immune to the behaviour, with one study asking 85 nutrition experts to serve themselves a bowl of ice cream.

A variety of bowl and scoop sizes were handed out, and it was found that those with larger bowls served themselves 31 per cent more ice cream without being aware of it, while a bigger spoon made them dish out almost 15 per cent more.

What do you make of these findings? Does there need to be one standard across the board, or should manufacturers be entitled to make the call on serving sizes themselves?

Image: Choice

Imafe

Govt not amused by big tobacco’s plain packaging “sick joke”

The federal health minister has slammed big tobacco’s “sick joke,” which has seen the first two companies rolling out the plain packaging for cigarettes in ways that do not comply with the new standards.

Imperial Tobacco has unveiled new packaging which shows the traditional Peter Stuyvesant logos and colours being torn away to reveal the new drab green colouring, which will become mandatory from next month.

It’s new packaging, which is essentially a new marketing campaign, aims to show consumers that while the appearance is changing, "it's what's on the inside that counts''.

"Soon no one will see Peter Stuyvesant on the outside but we don't care,” the company says in a leaflet advertising its packaging change to retailers.

“We're going plain early, because we know Peter Stuyvesant will continue to live on inside.”

But Health Minister Tanya Plibersek is not amused by the company’s ballsy move, or that of fellow tobacco giant Philip Morris, labelling them "the ultimate sick joke from Big Tobacco''.

“Diseased lungs, hearts and arteries are the reality of what is happening on the inside to a smoker,'' she said.

The government has also written to Philip Morris, warning that that the new plain packaging of its Bond Street cigarettes “heavily resembles the plain packaging requirements,’ but still needs improvement to comply with the new legislation.

"We note that if these products are sold, offered for sale or otherwise supplied after 1 December 2012 the packaging would not be compliant with the Act,” the health department stated.

''The breach of the act could possibly expose the company to massive fines of up to $1.1 million.

“The department takes issues with the use of the word `cigarettes' in small type on the side of the packet, it says the outer surfaces of the packet must have a "matt finish'' and warns the pack may not be the correct colour – Pantone 448C.”

The department has also referred the health warnings displayed on the packaging to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to determine whether they comply with regulations.

From 1 October, companies will be required to start including graphic health warnings across 75 per cent of the packaging, which will be required to be the specific drab green colour set out by the government.

As of 1 December, all cigarettes sold in Australia must be encased in plain packaging, or retailers risk hefty fines.

Major retailers are expecting to receive deliveries of the controversial new packs of Peter Stuyvesant and Bond Street cigarettes this week, and Plibersek has warned that the department will "be closely watching the new packages to ensure that they comply with the regulations because we know that Big Tobacco will use every trick in the book to try and get around the new requirements''.

"Where we identify any examples of possible non-compliance before the implementation dates we will be letting the companies know so they can rectify any issues,'' she said.

What’s your thoughts on the moves by the two companies? Do you agree with Plibersek that it’s a “sick joke,” or are these companies entitled to market their brands?

Bulmers introduces new flavour with ‘Ginger Pride’ campaign

Bulmers has launched a tongue-in-cheek Facebook campaign to promote their new ginger-flavoured cider.

The campaign seeks to promote individuality by turning the tables on all the ‘ranga’ bashing and ginger-hair hate that tends to thrive on social media (the widely publicised and criticised ‘Kick a Ginger Day’ fan page comes to mind).

Launching their first ever Facebook page to kick off the campaign, the “Bulmers – Proud to be Ginger” page is asking fans to tell them what they’re proud of with the winner receiving double passes to the exclusive Bulmers Ginger VIP launch event on Tuesday 18 September, at The Standard in Sydney

The cider is made using real fermented ginger, delivering a refreshing taste with a hefty bite and a hint of lemon and is sure to be a popular addition to the brand’s growing range of flavoured cider, which also includes pear and apple-blackcurrent in addition to traditional apple flavor.

Cider is currently the fastest growing category in Australia, growing by 43% volume in the past 12 months to June 2012 with a number of brands entering the market in recent months.

Progress on health claims standards in Australia not without critics

There has long been contention regarding the regulation of health claims that are applied to food, but the proposed introduction of a Health Claims standard into the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code has also raised concerns.

Consumer advocates claim that as consumers become more health conscious they are more easily swayed by claims that appear on packaging, but these purchasing decisions are being made due to   claims that are not backed by solid evidence.

One of the key requirements of the new standards would be that claims are substantatied by a comprehensive scientific dossier.

The proposed new Health Claims Standard was discussed at the recent FoodLegal- sponsored symposium, where FSANZ’s General Manager Mr Dean Stockwell emphasised that the Ministers’ meeting in June 2012 had continued to support key elements of the existing draft with regard to nutrition content claims, high level health claims, and the application of the nutrient profiling scoring criteria applying to general level health claims.

FoodLegal’s managing principal Joe Lederman expressed concerns during the presentation that FSANZ’s new definition of ‘health claim’ draws an artificial distinction with therapeutic claims, one issue which continues to be contentious.

According to Mr Lederman, the current said the current Transitional Health Claims Standard banned any therapeutic claim for food within the definition of a health claim, citing the example of products which contain antioxidant properties, or probiotics.

The meeting also confirmed a new working group to be established under the umbrella of the Food Regulatory Standing Committee, with key bureaucrats representing the Australian States and Territories.

Coca-Cola Amatil spending $46 million to re-enter beer market

Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) has confirmed it will be re-entering the Australian beer market with a $46 million investment in the Australian Beer Company.

The money, which the beverage giant is lending to the Australian Beer Company, will be used in the acquisition of a state-of-the-art brewery in Griffith, New South Wales, according to an Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) announcment today.

The facility to be acquired by the Australian Beer Company, which is a part of the Casella group, has an annual capacity of 500 000 hectolitres.

Currently, CCA cannot sell, distribute or manufacture beer in Australia until 16 December 2013.

The Australian Beer Company will also refrain from such activities until that date.

After the restraint against CCA expires, the loan will convert into a joint venture equity interest in the Australian Beer Company which will see the Australian Beer Company manufacturing premium beer and developing new brands, while CCA will be solely responsible for the sales, distribution and development and management of customer relationships.

CCA Group Managing Director, Terry Davis said the investment will be a good way for the company to be part of the beer sector again.

“This new agreement with Casella will give CCA the opportunity to access a world class, low cost brewery which will enable us to re-enter the premium beer market in Australia after 16 December 2013 with sufficient initial manufacturing capacity to cater to approximately 15 per cent of the beer market in Australia.”

Branding drives children to make healthy choices too: study

Branding that’s targeted at children can make healthy food a more attractive option than unhealthy food, according to a new US study.

Researchers from Cornell University found that a sticker of the popular character Elmo was associated with children increasing their choice of an apple over a cookie during school lunchtime.

“There is concern over what impact branded products in lunchrooms might have on children’s selection of food. In contrast, this study suggests that the use of branding or appealing branded characters may benefit healthier foods more than indulgent, more highly processed foods,” the authors wrote in an article published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The study included 208 children between the ages of 8 and 11, and involved the children being offered the choice of an apple or a cookie alongside their regular lunch.

The study found the children were more likely to choose an apple when the Elmo icon was on it than when there was no icon, and there was no effect of the Elmo icon on the cookie. The Elmo sticker led children to nearly double their apple choice compared to the pretest control session where both items were offered without a sticker.

“Putting fun figures and cartoon characters on food certainly sells to kids” said Deakin University professor of public health, Boyd Swinburn. “It’s good to see it applies to healthy food and it’s quite a big effect size.”

The challenge, experts say, is competing with the companies and marketers that have big budgets to help sell processed food.

A 2007 study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health found children chose foods wrapped in McDonalds packaging over the same snacks wrapped in unmarked packaging.

“The problem is that most of these things have to be paid for and the fruit growers don’t have any money,” said Rosemary Stanton, nutritionist and visiting fellow at University of New South Wales.

“All of those branded things are popular, but they cost money so we need somebody to be altruistic,” Dr Stanton said. She added that there could also be problems with licensing, given almost all the characters that are popular with children are also licensed.

Dr Stanton said companies that use athletes to sell their product pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars because they know they will get it back.

“Any Olympic athlete willing to volunteer?” Dr Stanton asked.

The Conversation

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

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

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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?

Four’N Twenty expands product range to combat market pressure

Iconic Aussie pie maker Four’N Twenty is diversifying its product range, as the pressure of the supermarket price wars increases and food manufacturing jobs continue to be lost.

Four’N Twenty’s parent brand Patties Foods said last month that the ever-increasing number of private label products in supermarkets will damage the business.

To that end, the company has researched and identified some key areas in need of a breath of fresh air, and have launched products to fill one already.

The Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps, which will be available at convenience stores nationally, fill a significant gap in the market, according to the company.

“Consumer research shows there was no real breakfast solution in the petrol and convenience market, and Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps score highly on overall appeal, convenience and purchasing intent,” the company said.

 

Four’N Twenty Brand Manager, Mark Malak, said Four’N Twenty is confident the new options, which are hand made in the company’s Bairnsdale, Victoria facilities, will be well received in the market place.

 

The Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps consist of either tomato, ham and cheese or sausage, egg, bacon and BBQ sauce in a warmed tortilla wrap and Four’N Twenty Brand Manager, Mark Malak said they are perfect for a hot savoury breakfast on the go.

“Consumers want more choice in the hot food section. We all know it’s important to have a good breakfast – and too many busy people skip it for want of a convenient, tasty and value-for-money option,” he said.

“Brekky Wraps are a totally new offering designed to give on-the-go consumers an attractive breakfast alternative.

“If you’re after a quick, easy and tasty savoury breakfast, Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps are just the thing.

“We’ve used only the finest ingredients.

“For a true Aussie favourite, there’s a delicious ham Brekky Wrap with chunks of tomato and melted cheese.

“And we have a Brekky Wrap with scrambled egg, a slice of bacon and a seasoned sausage patty glazed with Barbecue Sauce – an offer sure to appeal to Aussie Blokes everywhere.

“Each wrap is hand-folded in a light tortilla wrap, making it easy to eat on the go.

Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps are available in the hot food section of convenience stores nationally, priced at $4.95.

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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.

High Court rejects tobacco industry’s plain packaging appeal

The tobacco industry’s appeal against mandatory plain packaging was dismissed by the High Court this morning and the legislation will take effect from October.

The majority of justices rejected the argument from Australian cigarette manufacturers that the laws were unconstitutional, but the reasons for the decision have not been published by the court.

The tobacco industry’s stance was that the government had not acquired their trademarks on “just terms” and they were therefore owed billions of dollars in compensation.

Chief Justice Robert French said the majority of justices found that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill was not in contravention of Section 51 of the Australian constitution and the tobacco companies have been ordered to pay the Commonwealth's legal costs.

From October, cigarettes made in Australia will be required by law to be packaged in ‘drab brown’ boxes.

Only standard fonts will be allowed, with a ban on all logos, slogans colours and other branding and larger graphic health warnings will be mandatory.

From December all tobacco products on Australian shelves will be in plain packaging.

Tobacco companies still have a legal challenge against plain packaging through international trade laws pending, but it is expected these will take several years to conclude.

Director of the anti-smoking group McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, Jonathan Liberman, welcomed the decision, saying it would set the standard around the world.

"It shows to everybody that the only way to deal with tobacco industry claims, sabre rattling and legal threats is to stare them down in court," he said.

“It would be great if the tobacco industry would just say ‘We understand our products are addictive, they kill up to half of long term users and we will cop on the chin whatever the Government decides needs to be done to reduce their harm’.”

British American Tobacco Australia spokesman Scott McIntyre said plain packaging will benefit black market cigarette products.

“Although the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act passed the constitutional test it’s still a bad law that will only benefit organised crime groups which sell illegal tobacco on our streets,” he said.

“The illegal cigarette black market will grow further when all packs look the same and are easier to copy.

“Plain packaging will also put pressure on the industry to reduce legal tobacco prices.”

Health groups are heralding the decision as a major victory for public health.

"Today’s High Court decision that tobacco plain packaging can proceed is a massive win for public health and also the global tobacco industry’s worst defeat yet.” Australian Council on Smoking and Health president Mike Daube, who chaired the Federal Government committee said.

"The global tobacco companies have opposed plain packaging more ferociously than any other measure because they know that plain packaging will have a major impact on smoking here and other countries will follow.”

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Ian Olver said it was a significant for public health over commercial interests.

What do you think plain packaging will do for Australia's health? Will it be beneficial or create more problems?

Govt needs to stop Coles and Woolworths dominance: lobby group

The representative body for smaller grocery retailers in Australia are again calling on fairer competition in the sector, releasing a report outlining the consequences if regulators and governments don’t step in.

Master Grocers Australia (MGA)’s report “Let’s Have Fair Competition,” says the independent supermarket industry is at risk of being annihilated by the unabated growth of the duopoly, Coles and Woolworths, according to an industry report.

They say unless the Australian Government and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) take action now, Australians will have no competition in the sector, leading to prices increases and the end of freedom of choice.

The report refers to the enormous growth of the chains in the last decade and how their massive market power has resulted from practices such as anti-competitive price discrimination, store saturation strategies and shopper docket schemes.

“We want a ‘fair go’ for the smaller independents. It’s time to take action against this powerful Goliath that is growing stronger every day,” Jos de Bruin, chief executive of the MGA said.

“If the Regulators sit back and do nothing to foster fair competition in the grocery and liquor retail industry, then the Australian consumer will literally pay the price in the long term.”

Food manufacturers produce growers and farmers have been warning of the same problems for years, but have been forced into silence in recent years as the power of the duopoly means those who do voice their concerns are punished with reduced shelf space or non-renewal of contracts.

The MGA also wants state and local governments to strengthen retail assessment criteria to prevent the major supermarkets from building oversized outlets in small towns that push smaller retailers out of business.

“The independent supermarket industry strongly supports competition, but we want fair competition because without it, there will be no one left to challenge the big retailers and they will become even stronger.”

Earlier today Australia’s largest bread maker, Goodman Fielder admitted its $1 private label bread deal with Coles was unprofitable and unsustainable and managing director Chris Delaney admitted it was “not a good investment and I wouldn't do it again if I had a choice.”

Coles only response on the issue came in the form of a written statement that seemed somewhat threatening in its attitude towards cost absorptions and contracts.

"Coles is happy to review any supplier requests for cost price increases that can be appropriately validated,” the Coles spokesperson said.

In reponse to the MGA report, Coles told Food Magazine "Coles is not in the business of opening unprofitable stores as the Master Grocers Association report claims.

"We only open stores where we believe there is customer demand for our offer.

"Some other points that might be of interest in the debate are store openings.

"Coles has 749 stores. IGA/Metcash (whom the MGA represents) have 1365 stores, and 700 Foodworks stores.

"Metcash’s 2012 annual report advises that they opened 58 new IGA stores in the last financial year.

"In the same period, Coles opened 19 new stores and closed 11."

A Woolworths spokesperson told Food Magazine that “given it’s an industry issue, you need to speak to the industry body,” and would not provide any further comment.

Food Magazine then contacted industry representative body the Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA) for comment, but received only a media release singing the praises of Woolworths and Coles.

"A report attacking Australia’s leading supermarket retailers has been rejected as long on accusations and short on facts, by Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA) CEO, Margy Osmond," it states.

“The Master Grocers Australia (MGA) report is designed to be as sensational as possible at the expense of two highly successful Australian companies, Coles and Woolworths,” Osmond said.

The MGA represents the IGA group of retailers and far from ‘fair competition’, what they recommend will tilt the playing field in their favour, at the expense of consumers, she said.

“It is time that IGA came out from behind this myth they are a small business – they have a substantial slice of the grocery and liquor market in Australia.

“Aldi, a foreign owned entrant to the market, has grown from zero to 300 stores in less than a decade, a clear indication of the demand and the level of competition.

“More regulation, as called for in this report will only damage companies that employ more than 300,000 Australians and support hundreds of local businesses.

"The major chains play a critical role in regional communities where they represent jobs and cheaper prices for local consumers.

“The Australian supermarkets are leading the charge to bring the lowest possible prices to consumers, while still supporting local growers and manufacturers.

"Australian families struggling to cope with cost of living challenges like increasing electricity prices benefit from the price cutting competition that exists between the major supermarket chains.

“To suggest that Coles or Woolworths are deliberately establishing loss making stores to limit local competition is a nonsense. It does not make good business sense.

“This IGA-inspired report suggests that Australian shoppers need the Government to make their decisions for them and tell them, where, when and how they can shop.

"Nothing could be further from the truth,” Osmond said.

When we contacted a representative from ANRA to discuss the impact of the supermarket price wars on Australian workers and families who are out of business due to the duopoly, Food Magazine was told they did not speak about the pricing and operations of the business and we should go back to Woolworths for responses.

Here at Food Magazine, we are always hearing the shocking stories from manufacturers, farmers and suppliers about the impact of the supermarket duopoly’s power, but so few are ever willing to go on the record with their complaints.

The Senate Inquiry struggled to get anyone to speak up, because they were afraid of the consequences, we suffered the impact of the same fear campaign in organising the Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit and Coles and Woolworths continue to maintain that what they are doing benefits their consumers.

Unfortunately, it is putting more Australians out of work as facilities move offshore and companies go bust.

Food Magazine was also told by a Coles representative that more favourable coverage of the supermarkets would result in more requests for comment being returned, but we are not willing to bow down to any form of bullying.

Do you agree with us that we need a Royal Commission into the supermarket powers? 

Bread prices to increase due to US drought, but who will absorb the cost?

Australia’s largest baker has confirmed that the price of bread will increase due to the US drought.

Goodman Fielder’s managing director Chris Delaney said the increase in grain price as a result of the drought in the Midwest of the United States  and that “the consumer would have to pay for that increase',” meaning higher shelf prices for shoppers.

Now that the US corn harvest is forecast to collapse by 100 million tonnes to 274 million tonnes due to the drought, prices will increase throughout the rest of the manufacturing process.

The price of wheat, often used as a substitute livestock feed grain, has also suffered as a result of the unseasonable weather.

Since May, the price of Australian east coast milling-grade wheat has increased by almost half, from $214 a tonne to $310 a tonne.

Experts predict it could remain around $300 a tonne by the end of the year.

The company has also 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,” 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.

Delaney said clauses surrounding rises and falls such as grains allowed commodity prices to be factored into product pricing, but Coles’ response to questions by Food Magazine about the cost absorptions and private label pricing came in the form of one sentence that would seem somewhat threatening to suppliers.

"Coles is happy to review any supplier requests for cost price increases that can be appropriately validated,” the Coles spokesperson said.

When pushed further for comment the response was “sorry, not appropriate to speculate on outcomes.”

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

 Goodman's private label contract with Coles will be renewed in the first half of next year.

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.”

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.   

Poultry industry criticised for proposed changes to ‘free range’ rules

The poultry industry is copping criticism for its attempts to change the definition of ‘free range,’ to allow more than 140 000 birds per hectare.

The demand for ‘free range’ poultry and eggs is increasing in Australia, and numerous producers have been caught misleading the public over the conditions the birds are raised in.


GetUp!'s infographic paints a scary picture for the future of free range.

Representative body for the largest chicken meat producers in the country, the Australian Poultry Industries Association (APIA) is now asking the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to allow producers to use the ‘free range’ claim, even when the birds have an area the size of an A4 sheet of paper to move in.

Activist group GetUp! has received an extension on the submission deadline until 10 August, and is calling on consumers to push back against the APIA request, and call  on the ACCC to implement more rigorous regulations regarding free range chickens.

Are you in the poultry industry? Where do you stand on the request?

Little World Brewers boosts sales by 26pc

Little World Beverages (LWB), the boutique beer company recently acquired by Lion, has delivered a 26 per cent growth in profits, an achievement which is sure to impress its new owner.

The result is likely to be LWB’s last result as a public company and the maker of the Little Creatures, White Rabbit and Pipsqueak said strong external beer sales have boosted the sales.

The company has achieved $11.6 million net profit for the year, significantly up from last year’s $9.2 million, an enviable feat in the struggling Australian beer market, which has seen beer sales had drop by 4 per cent in volume.

Craft beers, such as those brewed by LWB, are rising by up to 20 per cent, according to Chief executive Ross Sudano.

"We're in a segment of the market where we have got great engagement with consumers and they're demanding more," he said.

“The success had been fuelled by increased distribution and "pull-through" marketing which created customer demand through brand awareness.

Beer sales were almost entirely the reason for the 22 per cent increase in revenue to $85.8 million, he said.

It is expected that LWB will commission a new brewery in Geelong in early 2013, which is expected to ultimately double output.

In June, Japanese-owned Lion submitted an offer to acquire the company, valuing it at $382 million and shareholders will vote next month on the $5.30-a-share offer.

Sudano some consumers have expressed disappointment in the buyout, but it has not impacted sales.

"A lot of consumers are waiting to make sure nothing changes, particularly around the product profile, which it won't,” he said.

"Then it will just be business as normal and they will forget who owns us, I think."

Image: Sydney Morning Herald