The new Sicily: DPI heat maps used to produce quality blood oranges in Australia

The Italian influences on Australia’s eating habits have become so ingrained in our diets that we forget where they started.

There have of course been positive impacts felt elsewhere throughout the country since our European football-lovers began immigrating to Australia, but the biggest difference to our society has been with food.

Prior to Italian people setting their sights on these sunburnt shores as a new place to call home, the diets here were boring at best.

Meat and three veg was the way of life, not just an option for nostalgic or laziness reasons.

When you think about how extremely diverse our food offerings are nowadays, it is almost an unfathomable concept.

While Aussies have countless countries to thank for this widening of not only our palates but our culture, the Italian influence has been one of the most significant.

Pasta (including the modern staple of Australian households, spaghetti bolognaise), espresso, pizza, lasagne, garlic bread and different cheeses just were not eaten prior to Italian immigration.

Imagining a life nowadays without these options we now almost consider our own is extremely difficult, and makes one grateful for the diversity brought to Australia by these cultures.

Where did you come from, where do you grow?

Blood oranges are a staple of Italian food, which until recently, we have been unable to enjoy in the same way they do across the pond in Italy.

RedBelly Citrus was more serious about ensuring authentic blood orange offerings for Aussie consumers than Leonardo De Vinci was about painting.

Not only did they decline to work with a marmalade manufacturer because its processing wasn’t in keeping with Grandma’s traditional recipes, but they even got the government involved in selecting the best climate in Australia to grow the fruit before settling on land north of Griffith.

“Sicily is renowned for their blood oranges, they are the biggest growers around the world,” Vito Mancini, Director, Redbelly Citrus told Food Magazine.

“The weather gives them the growing benefits compared to other countries that grow them, like Brazil and Florida because they need a very big differential between day and night temperatures.

“The weather in Sicily can go from nights down to about 2 degrees whereas in the day it gets up to 14, 15 [degrees Celsius] and that difference, the trees don’t like it, and it causes stress and that is why it what comes out in the fruit.

Mancini assured Food Magazine that the “stress” the trees face in the extreme variables of the weather does not damage the tree or the fruit at all, and is necessary to create the colour of the fruit.

“It’s just like growing wine grapes, you get a better wine grape with temperature differences like that too.

“Orange trees aren’t as tolerant as grapevines, if it gets too cold, it will damage the tree.

“So we worked really hard at finding the perfect balance.

“If I go towards Victoria, way in the high country it will get too cold and damage the trees and if I got to northern New South Wales, to Bourke or up to Queensland, it gets too warm and the tree doesn’t develop enough stress.”

“They’ll look like a Valencia, and generally you won’t get typical blood orange.

“It’s taken eight years to get to this point, we worker with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) for a couple of years to work out best variations in temperature and they did heat unit mapping to work it out.

“They grabbed the temperature data from Sicily and overlayed it over southern Australia, over New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and there is a very distinct band which passes close to where we are that had similar temperatures to the growing areas in Sicily.

“So with that data, we could see the similarities.

“We always knew blood oranges grew in this area, but with that data were more confident we could match the Italian version.”

For health's sake

The reasons for ensuring the similarities in temperature between traditional growing regions in Italy and those in Australia was simple, Mancini told Food Magazine.

“Were farmers, not multimillionaires, and had to borrow cons money so needed guarantee that it would work,” he said.

Beyond the need to ensure the venture would be successful for business reasons, Vito Mancini and his fellow Director (and brother), Leonard Mancini are passionate about the benefits of the fruit and sharing the taste and health properties with Australians.

“The best way to put it is to think of a mix between an orange and a berry, like a blueberry,” he said.

“You get all the vitamin C and folate that you get from citrus fruits, which also have lots of other benefits,

“But grapefruit, for example, is really good, but they don’t recommend having them when on certain medications because it has high amounts of hesperin, which interferes with blood pressure tablets because it is a natural blood press regulator.

“Blood oranges don’t have the same level [of hesperin] as  grapefruit, but has got the Vitamin C, folate, potassium, calcium, but an added benefit they contain belongs to the berry family chemicals, the main one being anthocynanins, which is a group of plant chemicals that have shown a lot of benefits.

“They’re called Neutrogenicals because of their benefits for the skin; they save against UVA and UVB damage, but another added benefit is the angiogenic inhibitors,” Mancini explained to Food Magazine.

Angiogenic inhibitors are molecules that prevent the growth of new blood vessels, which fights against ageing, obesity and most cancers which are dependant on new blood vessels.

Blood orange brothers Len and Vito Mancini

Just like Nonna used to make

Once the Mancini brothers had decided on the very best spot in Australia to grow their blood oranges, they set about making the fruits come to life in the same way their family had done for generations.

But it wasn’t a job that any average company could do, because they were determined not to sacrifice the quality, flavour or process of their marmalades, cordials and syrups.

“The recipes are quite basic, like any good Italian recipe,” Manini told Food Magazine.

“It’s about the quality of the ingredients, rather than quantity.

“We don’t make the product selves, we got contractors to do it because we don’t have bottling facilities and things like that.

“So we went through the receips with them, and some didn’t want to do our recipes, or didn’t have the gear.

“The marmalade for example, the way my Nonna used to make was with long thin strips of marmalade, but we found one company that wanted to run it through a machine to cube it up, so we said no to that.

“A lot of people we spoke to said they had to use preservatives, and I think that by using more natural and basic ingredients, sure we may not have a shelf life of a hundred years, but we have the quality products and the story behind it that’s going to help push it.

“We could use preservatives so that my great grandchildren can eat that jar, but it’s probably not good for them,” Mancini laughed.

With over 40 hectares to take care of and more than 30 000 tress in the ground, the Mancini brothers have a lot of work to do running their business.

Mancini told Food Magazine he pruned 16 000 tress on his own last year alone.

During picking season, the company will hire a few extra sets of hands to help out, but for the most part, they do it on their own, and are enjoying the ride.

Despite the company’s success and a reputation as the expert on all things blood orange, Mancini is humble about their story.

“We will be the biggest producers around Australia, but it’s not about that, we just want to make produce that consumers can understand and appreciate,” he said.

“What we’ve done here, I call it a prototype farm, a huge prototype.

“I believe the world would be able to accept about 1500 tonnes of blood oranges, and if you look at the largest four producers in the world, Morocco, Spain, Turkey and Italy, we’re able to compete here in Australia, being an alternate season.

“What I’m trying to do is open up opportunities for citrus growers in Australia.”

Olive you glad it's authentic?

Another quintessential Italian product Australians have embraced wholeheartedly is olive oil, and according to Paul Berryman, Chief Executive for Bertolli Australia, consumers are much savvier these days when choosing their ingredients.

“Consumers are becoming more and more aware of how the flavour of olive oil helps enhance their dishes,” he told Food Magazine.

“The good quality Mediterranean olive oils are rich, full of flavour but smooth and not too acidic or grassy.”

He explained that in the last 20 years especially, consumers have redefined what they are looking for, and can tell authentic products from the imitations.

“Australians are generally accepting of foreign flavours and this has certainly developed further in the past two decades,” he said.

“We have such a wide range of cultures making up the Australian culture.

“Italians are a big part of Aussie culture and this contributes to this acceptance of Mediterranean food.

“We must also recognise that the Australians of today are also quite different to 15-20 years ago.

“We are a much more multicultural society and many people have grown up with foreign flavours being considered the norm.

“This leads to a greater acceptance to trying new things and a reliance on the products’ country of origin to produce the best.”

The Bertolli range of olivefg oils are still manufactured in Italy to ensure their authentic taste and production, but when asked by Food Magazine whether the company would ever manufacture in Australia, Berryman did not rule it out.

“It is believed that the Mediterranean countries produce the best olive oil,” he said.

“The olive oil for our spray products come from our growers in the Mediterranean but are packed at a local company in Sydney’s west.

“Since the introduction of sprays on the market, we have seen demand growing.

“However, consumers will always want the option of bottled olive oil as this suits other purposes.

“Bertolli is part of a global olive oil company.

“While we have an Italian heritage, we are always looking for new possibilities.”

More education needed about polyunsaturated fats

Australian medical experts are calling on the leading health research group to include polyunsaturated fats as a necessary new food group.

Polyunsaturated fats, known as ‘good fats,’ are found in foods including avocados, certain types of fish and olives, and are known to improve the risk of heart disease and reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

The fats work by making the membranes in the heart more fluid, making the body more sensitive to insulin.

Australian dietitians and cardio-nutritionists want the National Health and Medical Research Council (MHMRC) to recognise the benefits of polyunsaturated fats and include them to necessary food groups.

One of Australia’s most senior cardiac nutrition experts, Professor Peter Clifton, said the organisation should be proactive in advertising the importance of polyunsaturated fats.

Decades of low-fat diets being promoted as the only way to lose fat have had a huge impact on society’s perception of fat, and many people are unaware of the different types of fats and which ones are crucial to a healthy diet.

Many steer completely clear of any kind of fats in the belief it will reduce or maintain weight, but the experts believe the only way for people to accept and consume the good fats is to educate about its importance.

The calls come after the NHMRC released the draft 2012 Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, which only mentions the five basic food groups and advises us to “limit intake of foods and drinks containing saturated and trans fats” and “include small amounts of foods that contain unsaturated fats”.

The traditional food pyramid, which for decades advised eating cereals and breads more than any other food group underwent a change last year, and the federal government is currently working on a mandatory front-of-pack nutritional labelling scheme, following demand from health groups and consumers.

In June, a study was release that found 95 per cent of Australian children over two exceeded their recommended intake of saturated fat but almost 70 per cent of children did not have enough Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat.

Do you agree that polyunsaturated fats should be added to the official necessary food groups?

Coke’s glass bottles to receive a boost

Coca-Cola Amatil will increase the size of it’s 250mL glass bottles to 330mL and added a resealable lid, in a move the global beverage giant says will add convenience and portability.

The new bigger bottle, which will feature a twist-top resealable cap in place of the current crown seal cap will enter the market next month.

The changes will be across the Coca-Cola, Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Sprite, Lift and Fanta varieties, but each flavour will retain its individual design.

Following extensive consumer research, which found most Australians believe 330mL is the ideal individual packaging size, and that a resealable cap is beneficial in today’s busy lifestyle, the company made the decision to implement the changes.

“By increasing the volume size of the Coca-Cola premium glass bottle range and adding a resealable cap, we are giving our on-premise consumers the size they want of their favourite soft drink, with the extra convenience of portability,” Trent Lilienthal, Coca-Cola Licensed, Customer and Commercial Manager said.

“The unique Coca-Cola design was invented in 1915 and is an integral component of one of the most recognised icons of our time, distinct on the basis of feel alone.

“These packaging changes are part of an ongoing evolution of a classic.”

More food and beverage manufacturers than ever before are embracing the demand for convenient and resealable packaging, and late last week, Taylors Winery’s announced it has developed a screw-top seal that could withstand the pressure of gassed sparkling wine and has releaseda line with the new lid.

What do you think of Coca-Cola Amatil’s decision? Is 330mL a better size, and does everything need a resalable lid these days?

Nestlé Indian factory expansion to create 250 jobs

International food giant Nestlé is making some changes to its businesses in India and the US.

The capacity of its Goa factory in Indonesia will be expanded as part of a three-year US$125 million investment plan in the key emerging market.

Switzerland-based Nestlé said the factory improvements will create 25o jobs.

 “We have been in India for 100 years and have factories in eight locations across the country,” Jean-Marc Duvoisin, global head of human resources at Nestlé said.

 “India is important for us and we have deep roots here."

In the US, Paul Grimwood, Chief executive of Nestlé UK & Ireland, has been appointed to the role of Chairman & CEO of Nestlé USA.

The appointment comes after the current chairman and chief executive Brad Alford, announced plans to retire in October this year after 32 years with the company and seven as chairman and chief executive.

Grimwood has been in his current role for over three years and prior to that, was the head of the  Nestlé UK Confectionery business for three years.

Protect researchers from the perils of public health advocacy

Public health advocates who criticise industries for promoting harmful forms of consumption – the alcohol, food, pharmaceutical, tobacco and gambling industries – increasingly find themselves facing legal action for defamation or other forms of legal harassment.

In 2009, Peter Miller and 50 colleagues (including myself) published a letter in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) stating that we would not accept research funding from the organisation Drinkwise, because we believed that the alcohol industry had undue influence over its research agenda.

Drinkwise was established by the alcohol industry and part funded by the Howard government to educate Australians to “drink wisely”. Many in the public health field were sceptical of its intentions because half of its board came from the alcohol industry and several of the community representatives on the board had worked for or with the alcohol industry.

 

The alcohol industry has a much bigger budget than most researchers and universities. Josh Staiger

 

Although the MJA gave the chair of the Drinkwise board the right of reply, signatories received a personal letter stating that Drinkwise Board members felt they had been “defamed” by the letter. No legal action was forthcoming but the letter was taken as a warning that we could be sued if they continued to criticise Drinkwise.

This kind of threat is not uncommon. The Melbourne public health physician Ken Harvey has been sued for damages by two companies for making a formal complaint to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in which he said that that there was no evidence to support the health claims made for their products.

Neither are these are isolated events. I know colleagues who have received threats of legal action for defamation from industry advocacy groups and “independent” consultants who work for these industries. In another case, senior alcohol industry officials wrote to the vice chancellor of a researcher’s university attacking his personal integrity and professionalism.

It’s easy to say that researchers should refuse to bow to these attempts at intimidation. Unfortunately, it can be expensive to defend defamation actions brought by litigants with deep pockets. Nor can researchers depend on universities to provide legal defence in these cases.

While universities encourage “community engagement” by their staff, they don’t always provide legal assistance to deal with threats arising from public comment. I discovered this two decades ago when threatened with a suit for defamation for comments made on the ABC about the regulation of psychologists. The university’s lawyers declined to represent me because I was not speaking in “an official university capacity”, even though I was commenting on a matter of public importance within my area of expertise.

 

Universities don’t always provide researchers with legal assistance to deal with threats arising from public comment. Jeff Pearce

 

These issues should be of concern to lawyers. Defamation specialists could provide pro bono legal advice to researchers threatened in these ways. Public advocacy lawyers could examine the extent to which these threats occur and consider ways to combat the use of defamation and other laws by vested interests to silence public debate.

Legal remedies worth exploring include laws such as the one passed by the ACT parliament in 2008 imposing civil penalties on companies that attempt to use lawsuits to stop individuals and groups from voicing their opinions. Such laws may include actions, where possible, to seek protective cost orders.

Free public discussion is essential for good public health policy. Public debate is already heavily weighted against public health interests by the greater access that wealthy alcohol, pharmaceutical and complementary medicine industries have to advertising, and utilise the mass media and specialist legal advice. We need to prevent threats of legal action from being used to silence public health advocates and strangle public policy debate.

Wayne Hall receives funding from the NHMRC. He has previously received funds from the AREF (now the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education).

The Conversation

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

PaperlinX to acquire Canterbury Packaging NZ for $2 million

Paper and packaging company PaperlinX has announced it will acquire Canterbury Packaging NZ.

The New Zealahnd comopany has an annual turnover of about $2.9 million as a distributor of industrial packaging consumables, hygiene, safety, and hospitality products.

PaperlinX said the acquisition of Canterbury Packaging will widen its reach in the marketplace.

The acquisition will cost the company about $2 million, and Andy Preece, ANZA region executive general manager, said the move will be a positive development for the company.

“The acquisition of Canterbury Packaging is a small but significant further step in our diversified products strategy,” he said.

"This acquisition will provide a building block for Spicers NZS to diversify….the additional packaging consumables will build on the existing strong market position of Spicers.

The acquisition is expected to be completed by 1 October.

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].”

What does the yuck factor achieve in anti-obesity campaigns ?

The most recent Australian anti-obesity measure, the West Australian LiveLighter campaign, features a series of shocking television advertisements, including one showing a middle-aged man in his kitchen.

The man reaches into his fridge to take out a slice of left-over pizza. As he holds the pizza, wondering whether to go ahead and wolf it down, he glances down at his belly. His other hand squeezes the flesh there and the camera suddenly swoops into the man’s insides. Viewers are treated to images of pulsing slabs of bright yellow fat covering body organs.

The camera goes back to the man as he looks pensively through a doorway at his young sons happily playing a computer game. The voice-over says, “Fat around your waist is bad, but toxic fat around your vital organs is worse.”

The viewer is left in suspense, wondering if this dad will let himself and his family down by indulging his desire for pizza and thereby adding to his “toxic” visceral fat.

 

 

 

This is part of yet another in a series of social marketing campaigns conducted for health promotion purposes and funded by public health authorities. Like many such ads, it seeks to achieve behaviour change by evoking negative emotions. These include fear of disease and an early death, guilt, shame, embarrassment – and in cases such as this one, disgust.

The images of this ad share the “yuck factor” with past Australian anti-smoking campaigns and photographs on cigarette packets. These images have featured gangrenous limbs or digits, blackened lungs full of tar, a mouth disfigured by cancerous lesions, people coughing up blood and so on.

The LiveLighter campaign is replicating the “Every cigarette is doing you damage” anti-smoking campaign by focusing on internal organs contaminated and rotted by tobacco. Here the slice of pizza replaces the cigarette as the poisonous agent of bodily damage.

The health authorities that give the go-ahead to advertising agencies to create such ads clearly believe that provoking shock, horror and repulsion in the viewer is a legitimate and effective means of persuading people to change their habits.

 

 

 

In the case of the LiveLighter campaign, the intention is clearly to invite the target audience – people who have a “grabbable gut”, as the campaign’s print media ads put it – to envisage the insides of their bodies as diseased, poisoned and repulsively overrun with deposits of viscous fat. As it’s noted on the campaign website: “We certainly hope to make a big impact with this new campaign.”

The campaign can be criticised for its very imprecise use of language with such terms as “grabbable gut” as a marker for dangerous weight-gain, and its simplistic representation of internal fat as invariably “toxic”.

Critics of these kinds of tactics in health social marketing campaigns are less than convinced that they are ethical or even effective. They have expressed strong concern that the association of certain types of people with revolting images serves only to position these people as disgusting themselves. And looking at these images of chunky fat strangling body organs is enough to put anyone off their pizza – or their low-calorie salad, for that matter.

The idea that this apparently poisonous stuff is bubbling away inside one’s body inspires revulsion towards that body – both its outward “grabbable” fat and its internal hidden “toxic” fat.

 

 

 

Do such disgust-inducing tactics even work to change people’s behaviour? It’s one thing to arouse controversy by using shock tactics, it is another for such tactics to actually have an effect on entrenched daily habits. Research suggests that although anti-obesity campaigns are certainly capable of drawing audiences’ attention to the issues, and sometimes in inducing them to make short-term changes, they have not often been effective in changing long-term behaviour.

Some researchers have argued that fear tactics may be counter-productive, as they simply encourage people to switch off and not pay attention to campaign messages. Even if fear is induced, if people feel unable to make changes this may lead to unresolved insecurity, anxiety and self-hatred.

While little focused research has zeroed in on evaluating specifically the effectiveness of attempts to induce disgust, it’s likely that many members of the target audience may simply avert their eyes because they find the images so repulsive. The whole emotional reaction of disgust is about aversion, the desire to avoid the sight, smell or touch of the repellent object with which one is confronted. Moral meanings are also central to what we find disgusting.

Whether or not they are effective, it’s difficult not to feel queasy about the punitive, patronising and moralistic attitudes displayed in these kinds of anti-obesity campaigns. In their efforts to inspire negative emotional responses, the agencies that develop and fund such campaigns never appear to acknowledge or take responsibility for their possible unintended side-effects. These may include provoking and perpetuating self-disgust, guilt, shame and dread and contributing to the marginalisation and stigmatisation of certain behaviours, body types or social groups.

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

The Conversation

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

Celebrating? Pop the champagne…or unscrew the top

In an Australian first, a winery has released a champagne range sealed with a screw top instead of the cork that is synonymous with the beverage.

Taylors Winery’s developed a seal that could withstand the pressure of gassed sparkling wine and have now released the wine with the screw top.

Corks in red and white table wine bottles have almost ceased to exist entirely in Australia, and some specialist wine manufacturers have released sparkling wine with crown seals similar to beer bottles.

There have been mixed reactions to the move away from corks, some believe it is a step forward in ensuring the accessibility of such products, while others remain nostalgic about the celebratory pop of a champagne cork.

"Nothing beats the cork when it comes time for a celebration," Master of Wine Andrew Caillard admits.

But while popping a bottle of champagne is an integral part of celebrations, Caillard said the screw top option is designed for the everyday drop of bubbly.

The company is not entirely sure how consumers will receive the new packaging, and as such, only 10 per cent of its first release will have screw tops so it can gauge the reaction.

"A screw cap means you can drink a glass then shove the bottle back in the fridge," managing director Mitchell Taylor said

"It does take away a little from the romance.

"That's why we have been cautious to start."

Taylors was the first winemaker to introduce screw tops on its Rieslings 12 years ago, after it was found that cork taint spoiled one in 10 of the white wines.

In 2004 the winemaker sealed its entire range of red and white wines with screw tops and Taylor said the latest move, to offer crew tops on sparkling wines, ensured it was ahead of the pack.

"Because we have been such a driver in screw caps in the early days, we thought we would like to be one of the first to trial a new seal on sparklings as well,” he said.

"This is the latest frontier.”

Taylor said the company is hopeful the screw top will be well-received and that consumers will be willing to try it, as there is no loss of freshness or gas in the sparking wine from the initial trials.

Can Coles and Woollies change public perception of private label impacts?

Despite apprehension about the impact of supermarket private labels and forecasts showing they will dominate shelves in the next five years, Woolworths has attempted to calm the market by releasing information on its range on its website.

Business information research firm IBISWorld has forecasted that the share of private-label products will account for over 30 per cent of all Australian supermarkets sales by 2017-18 and according to IBISWorld’s General Manager (Australia), Karen Dobie, they have been one of the industry’s fastest growing segments over the past decade.

“In 2007-08, private labels accounted for just 13.5% of total supermarket sales – meaning the segment has grown by more than 85% over the past five years”, Dobie said.

Recent studies found that one in four products purchased in Australian supermarkets are private label, and of those, one in two is imported.

The increase in private label

The debate over private label continues to rage, and the impact of the reduced shelf space afforded other companies has led to countless manufacturers and farmers going out of business.

As both Coles and Woolworths appear to be delivering on plans to double private label products in store by 2020, the availability of anything other than private label becomes far less.

Consumers have little choice but to buy private label, as other brands are replaced by supermarket imitations, and according to IBISWorld data, Australians will spend over $21 billion on private label products in the 2012-13 period.

This is already a huge increase from the $19.7 billion in 2011-12, and an even bigger increase from the comparatively tiny $9.96 billion five years ago.

By 2017-18, Australian spending on private label products is expected to hit $31.8 billion, according to Dobie, which is already a 50 per cent growth from five years ago.

“The recessive economic climate has been a strong driver of private-label growth.

"Households have been reining in spending, paying off debt and increasing savings,” she said.

“This, coupled with an increase in the range of private-label products available, has led many consumers to make the shift to home brands.”

“Branded producers have responded to private-label growth by discounting their products to remain competitive.

“However, the dominance of Coles and Woolworths means that they are likely to give preference to their own brands in terms of spacing and design allocations – placing continued pressure on the big brands.

“This can be detrimental to branded producers as their share of shelf space is eroded by home brand products.

Woolworths attempts to address concerns

To address the competition between supermarket private label products and supplier brands, Woolworths has released an Official Range Profile of brands for its Australian supermarkets.

The supermarket giant said the data will be regularly updated on its website and will allow for a “more informed” discussion on choices between private label and branded rpoducts.

Managing Director of Woolworths Supermarkets, Tjeerd Jegen, said Woolworths wants to  demonstrate how they meet their customers’ needs.

“As part of that commitment, we are releasing a snapshot of data about our range to the market to put our business into a correct perspective,” Jegen said.

“The facts show that in packaged groceries and perishables, Woolworths stocks more than 44,000 lines of which 94 per cent are branded products.

“Just 2,500 are Woolworths Own Brand products,” he said.

Complete dominance

While the supermarket is maintaining that their range is heavy in branded products as a way to alleviate debate on the issue, it does not change the fact that the supermarket duopoly is gaining more control of the market all the time.

The Senate Inquiry set up to investigate the anti-competitive practises of the major supermarkets struggled to get people to speak up, and while many will speak of the record, few will go public with the stories of the power the supermarkets’ wield.

There have been calls for an ‘Australian-made’ aisle in supermarkets, a cap on the percentage of private label products that can be stocked and restrictions on the market share the supermarkets can have.

However, while the awareness about the impact of the price wars, particularly on Australian dairy farmers is becoming more widespread, the supermarkets continue to maintain they aren’t doing anything wrong, but are instead encouraging companies to innovate and looking out for their customers.

We invited representatives from both Coles and Woolworths to attend our Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit in June, but because there was one discussion topic, out of a total of six, planned on the impact of the supermarket price wars, we were told they had “no interest” in being involved in what they called a “get the supermarkets” agenda.

When Food Magazine reported on Coles’ failure to respond to more than 73 000 consumers who had “liked” a post on Facebook detailing the impact of the reduced price milk, we received a call a Coles representative, who wanted to point out that they did respond, albeit three days late and to the wrong person.

Food Magazine was accused of being biased towards food manufacturers, but since  this representative from Coles does not usually return Food Magazine’s phone calls, we pointed out that does make it difficult to report from both sides.

We tried to come to an agreement that when we called for comment on stories, he would respond, and Food Magazine, in turn, would provide their perspective on all such stories.

However, he would only agree to this arrangement if we started reporting more favourably on Coles, saying he would “closely observe” the news section to see if we were doing so, before he agreed to participate in stories on the supermarket price wars.

Unfortunately for the supermarkets, we can’t be bullied into behaving the way they would like us to and will continue to report the true realities of the supermarket environment for food manufacturers and producers.

Do you think there needs to be limits on market share of Australian supermarkets? Do you buy private label? 

Counterfeit items flooding Australian market

Food manufacturers, packaging organisations and consumers have been warned that counterfeit household items including food products are becoming increasingly common in Australia.

Yesterday NSW Police seized 33 tonnes of counterfeit laundry powder labeled as reputable brand OMO, in Sydney.

The seizure is the result of extensive investigations that have run over several months, which aim to track down and intercept the sale of counterfeit items.  

Police are expected to lay a range of charges against the two individuals allegedly behind the importation and sale of this counterfeit product.

“Sadly this is an increasing threat for all Australians,” Mary Weir, General Counsel of Unilever Australia, which produces the authentic product, said.

“The counterfeiting of consumer goods is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry around the globe and it is important that those seeking to engage in this criminal activity understand they will be subject to the full weight of the law.

“The Police action is part of a larger law enforcement drive necessary to protect consumers and ensure they can buy well known and trusted brands like OMO with confidence.

“However, consumer also need to be wary about products claiming to be trusted brands – particularly from overseas- and should always ensure they deal with reputable retailers.

Food brands including Nestle and Kraft are also dealing with brand imitations and working in collaboration with police to stamp out the practice.

Recently, Food Magazine thought Nestlé had changed its infamous Milo jar, by adding a glass bottle to its range, but when we asked Nestlé about the change, they said it was not a new development, but rather a counterfeit product.

The Milo jar appears to be authentic, judging by the labelling.

The nutritional panels also seem to be authentic.


Although on closer inspection, it appears the label on one side is upside down. Mistakes like these, which the authentic manufacturers would not make, are one way to spot counterfeit products.

It is difficult for consumers to be 100 per cent confident that they are not buying any counterfeit products, but should look for the  "Australian Made” logo to make sure, and if they believe it could be a fake, should return the product to the retailer and request a full refund.

 

How anti-obesity campaigns reinforce stigma

Anti-obesity messages are everywhere – in news, in entertainment, and in public health campaigns. We are constantly being told that fat is bad for us, and that in order to be healthy we need to lose weight. But these messages don’t necessarily improve our health, and they certainly don’t seem to result in weight loss. Instead, popular ideas about fatness and health often reinforce social inequalities across class, race, gender, and ability.

Fat is understood as fundamentally unhealthy. Fat bodies are thought of as “diseased”, and as the result of “unhealthy” habits. There’s plenty of research that challenges these ideas.

But the point of this article is not to engage in the frankly tiresome debates about weather fat people can be healthy (they can). Nor do I want to argue about whether being fat is correlated with an increased risk of certain health issues (it is, but as anyone with a high-school level understanding of statistics can tell you, correlation does not equal causation, and risk is no guarantee of outcome – otherwise we’d all be at the casino getting rich).

Instead, I am interested in what these anti-obesity public health messages do, and who they do it to. This is important since obesity is much more prevalent amongst disadvantaged, vulnerable, and stigmatised groups, especially those of low socioeconomic status, non-English speaking backgrounds, and Indigenous people.

Public health is generally seen as a force for good. Ideally, public health messages are a way for the government to educate the general population about potential health issues, and teach us how to best take care of ourselves in order to avoid illness and suffering.

 

Anti-obesity campaigns aren’t telling us anything new. Stocky Bodies Isaac Brown

 

Over the last few years, the Australian government has run two anti-obesity campaigns: Measure Up and Swap It. The new and controversial LiveLighter campaign from Western Australia is another example.

All of these campaigns convey the information that being fat is bad for your health, and that we should lose weight by eating better and exercising more. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in Australia – or anywhere else in the Western world – who isn’t already well aware of this idea.

So if these campaigns aren’t giving us new information about fat and health, it’s worth asking what they are doing, or trying to do. They are trying to do what every advertising campaign tries to do: change our attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviours.

The Developmental Communications Research Report that informed the development of these campaigns categorises people according to “attitudinal segments”, and suggests that those with “undesirable” attitudes are over-represented amongst disadvantaged groups.

The Developmental Communications Report, like much public health research, recognises that there are structural barriers that make it difficult for members of disadvantaged groups to simply change their lifestyles (and presumably lose weight as a result). But the campaigns don’t address these issues. Instead, they simply encourage individual weight loss.

 

Popular ideas about fatness and health often reinforce social inequalities across class, race, gender, and ability. Stocky Bodies Isaac Brown Sitting

 

Leaving aside the overwhelming evidence that suggests significant weight loss via any method is nigh impossible to maintain over the long term, there are several problems with this approach.

Firstly, diseases commonly attributed to obesity are more prevalent amongst marginalised populations regardless of their weight. Despite this, anti-obesity campaigns seek only to change the attitudes rather than the circumstances of those people deemed most at risk.

By focusing on weight as the problem and weight loss as the solution, social and economic inequalities are made invisible. Health disparities between groups are blamed on individuals for not making “healthy” choices, ignoring the ways that the choices available to comfortably middle-class white Australians are often very different to those available to people on low incomes, to recent immigrants, or to Indigenous Australians.

What’s more, the emphasis on individual responsibility amounts to a sort of victim blaming that allows structural inequalities to remain unaddressed. Individuals who don’t or aren’t able to lose weight are branded as non-compliant. Fat people are seen as having a “bad” attitude. And they are seen as undeserving of respect, dignity, or even access to medical treatment, since they apparently have only themselves to blame. If you don’t believe me, just look at the comments section of any story on “obesity”.

As academic Anna Kirkland, argues, these sorts of ideas enable “the pretence that the elites are thriving because of their lifestyles while the poor are miserable because they are fat”. And that is a dangerous message.

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

The Conversation

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

Coles doesn’t respond to 73 000+ consumers concerned about milk price wars

A concerned consumer’s post on Coles’ Facebook page about the impact of its price cuts on farmers has gained more than 73 000 “likes” over three days, but the supermarket giant is yet to respond, despite constant declarations that customers and farmers are its main priorities.

On Friday, Jane Burney posted a heartfelt summary of the supermarket price wars effects on ordinary Australians.

Dear Coles,

Your $1 per litre of milk deal is killing the lifeblood of our dairy industry. The ramifications of it are finally rearing their ugly head. Dairy Farmers has announced it's price for Tier 2 milk at 13 cents per litre. This is not sustainable in an industry where costs of production can be as high as 30 cents per litre. The consumer is paying $1 a litre and the only winner here is the supermarket. It is time for us to go back to the old fashioned way; in which we bought real milk that tastes like milk; no permeate and where our fruit and vegetables were grown in our beautiful country. Stocking garlic from China, Argentina. What is going on? Obviously it is cheaper to buy it from overseas then from our country; grown in God knows what. And for our farmers and the towns they support and encourage capital growth; it is heartbreaking. Your latest ad campaign sprouting that you support Aussie growers in insulting. You are misleading the public in how you support Aussie growers. Not only have you ruined the fresh milk market but you have also lowered the price on your cheese and butter. The only winner here is you. Eventually all the Aussie growers you so called support will be out of business. Dairy farmers who work 7 days a week, 14 hours a day, who have been dairy farming their whole life, whose cows are their whole life will have to stop farming as it is no longer economically viable to continue. Our "fresh"produce will be flown in. The consumer will be stuck buying expensive, overseas produce. What will happen to our economy and our country towns? I urge people to think about what they buy. The more Australian made produce we buy, the more our money stays here and benefits us. Your $1 milk is a nail in an already suffering coffin. I am ashamed to watch you ads and us farmers burn in resentment when we do so.”

Over 4 500 people have commented, supporting Burney’s position about Coles’ decisions, and more than 73 000 have “liked” the post.

But just like its other notable social media fail earlier this year, Coles has failed to respond to the outpouring of support for Aussie farmers and disdain for the supermarket giants actions.

Not the first social media fail for Coles

In March, the supermarket giant copped criticism from consumers, who insisted it stop ripping off farmers and profiting from pokie machines.

"Finish this sentence: In my house it's a crime not to buy…” it wrote, and finish they did.

One responded with “In my house it’s not a crime to buy BREAD AND MILK AT PRICES THAT ALLOW PRIMARY PRODUCERS TO SURVIVE,” while others shared similar concerns about farmers and Australian workers.

The impact of $1 milk

After Coles cut its retail milk price to $1 a litre in January 2010, the flow-on effects of the decision have continued to damage the sector.

“In NSW, my state, I see farmers being asked to sign contracts for three cents a litre than their previous contracts,” Terry Toohey, Australian Dairy Farmers Director said at the Food Magazine Leaders Summit.

“This will have astronomical effects on fund and profit margins.”

"In my case I'll have 40 per cent of my tier 2 of milk [purchased] at 18 cents [per litre]. 

"The cost of producing it is 40 cents [per litre]. 

"So, you start to look and say, I'm only one person, there are 800 dairy farmers in NSW alone."

The current practice is for milk companies to announce what is known as an Anticipated Full Demand (AFD) to Dairy Farmers Milk Cooperative (DFMC), which is bought at a somewhat reasonable price and referred to as Tier 1 milk.

Any milk deemed ‘surplus’ is then paid at a much lower price and referred to as Tier 2 milk.

However, the buyers of the milk produced on Australian farms are deliberately underestimating the amount of milk that each can deliver, meaning they are not obligated to buy a considerable portion of the milk they know a farm will produce at the reasonable price.

There is no transparency at farmer level as to what Tier 2 milk is being sold to other processors for.

"The retail actions are certainly impacting the dairy farmers in a negative way, this combined with the uncertainties and other factors [impacting] dairy or other farming, it's making it unattractive for the next generation, because it's not profitable for my children,” Toohey said.

"If I was old and had children ready to take over the farm, I will tell them blue in the face not to come into agriculture. 

“And that's pretty sad after 107 years on the one farm."

And as farmers leave family farms because they can’t make enough money to survive and Australian food manufacturers continue to go bust because they can’t meet supermarket expectations, Coles recorded a three per cent growth in sales on Friday.

Update: Coles contacted Food Magazine this afternoon to inform us that they did, in fact, respond to the comment posted on Friday afternoon, at 7am this morning.

The supermarket giant did not actually respond to the original comment, but rather one of the many Facebook users who have re-posted the original comment.

They said: Hi Brent, we are committed to paying a fair price for our milk and actually increased the prices we paid to processors before we cut fresh milk prices in store last Australia day. This meant that processors did not have to reduce the price they pay to farmers. Helping Australian families buy more Australian milk is good for the dairy industry. We also have to disagree about importing fresh produce because we only import when products are not available in Australia. We call this our “Australia First” policy and it means that 100 per cent of our fresh meat, all our milk and 96 per cent of our fresh fruit and vegetables are grown right here at home. Why not take a look next time you are in store.”

What do you make of Coles' comments? Do you agree with the original comment posted on Facebook?

 

 

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.

As food producers suffer, Coles reports more growth

As farmers leave family farms because they can’t make enough money to survive and Australian food manufacturers continue to go bust because they can’t meet supermarket expectations, Coles has recorded a three per cent growth in sales.

Coles’ decision to slash the price of milk to $1 per litre in January 2010 has had enormous impacts on the farming industry, forcing them to sell up to 40 per cent of their milk, which costs 40 cents per litre to produce, at around 18 cents.

"The retail actions are certainly impacting the dairy farmers in a negative way, this combined with the uncertainties and other factors [impacting] dairy or other farming, it's making it unattractive for the next generation, because it's not profitable for my children,” Terry Toohey Australian Dairy Farmers Director, told the recent Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit.

"If I was old and had children ready to take over the farm, I will tell them blue in the face not to come into agriculture. 

“And that's pretty sad after 107 years on the one farm."

“It’s an unfortunate reality that milk price is a dollar.

“[It’s] simply unsustainable for all involved in the fresh food market.

“You can see the dairy farmers’ dairy families already suffering for Coles’ tactics.

“Tthe sheer size of the supermarket duopoly, over 75 per cent of the market is between the two powers, and they are wielding that [power].”

The power of the supermarkets

Food manufacturers are struggling to stay afloat, as they compete with private label offerings from the supermarkets, which continue to dominate an increasing amount of shelf space, and unrealistic demands placed on them by the big two.

The Senate Inquiry into the supermarket powers struggled to get people to speak publically about the behaviours of Coles and Woolworths, something reporters, including Food Magazine, know all too well.

The Wesfarmers-owned Coles Supermarket group’s three per cent sales growth over the last quarter of the financial year ended 30 June 2012, placed them ahead of arch-rival Woolworths for sales for the twelfth straight quarter.

The real winners of price cuts

Ironically, while the discounting competition between the big two is the factor putting Australian food workers out of jobs and ruining once-viable farming operations, it is exactly this “value” that Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder attributed the growth to.

 “Coles achieved total food and liquor sales growth of 4.6 per cent for the year and comparable sales growth of 3.7 per cent,” he said.

“The result was driven by sustained strong volume growth during the year, which accelerated in the fourth quarter as ongoing investments in value, quality and service were positively received by customers.

“This was evidenced by improved customer numbers and increased basket size.”

Managing-director of Coles, Ian McLeod, also weighed in with some out-of-touch comments.

“We have been particularly pleased with the continued strong volume growth,” he said.

“This confirms that our determined efforts to provide better quality, service and value are being welcomed by Australian consumers during a period of sustained pressure on household budgets.”

For thousands of Australians out of work due factory closed as a direct result of the supermarket price wars, the strain on their household budgets has only worsened, and while Coles maintains it has the interest of everyday Australians at heart, it is exactly these people that are being forced out of jobs due to the retailers’ actions.

Is the produce industry next?

Coles also reported that it is improving relationships with local fruit and vegetable producers.

“We also deepened our relationship with Australian Growers by becoming the first Australian supermarket to offer 100 per cent Australian grown Coles branded frozen vegetables,” McLeod said.

Despite such declarations, the Australian produce industry is also suffering at the hands of the big two, and have previously admitted the cut-price fruit and vegetable offerings "has the making" of becoming the next milk price wars.

Do you buy Coles’ declarations that it is just working to deliver cheap prices to Aussie families? Or are you someone who has recently been put out of work by the supermarket powers?

The draft National Food Plan: putting corporate hunger first

The Federal Government released on Tuesday the green paper for Australia’s first-ever National Food Plan. According to Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, this plan “will ensure Australia has a sustainable, globally competitive, resilient food supply that supports access to nutritious and affordable food”.

Ostensibly, the plan is for the benefit of all Australians, but on closer inspection it is really a plan for large agri-business and retailing corporations. This should surprise no-one, given it was conceived at the urging of the former Woolworths CEO, Michael Luscombe, for a food “super-ministry” prior to the 2010 Federal Election. The plan’s early development was guided by a corporate-dominated National Food Policy Working Group, established after that election to “foster a common understanding [between the Government and the food industry] of the industry’s priorities, challenges and future outlook across the supply chain”.

The Issues Paper, released in June 2011, contained 48 questions, half concerning the need to develop a “competitive, productive and efficient food industry”. There was only one question about environmental sustainability. The nature of the “consultation” as a top-down, tightly-controlled process was clear, with the Government setting the parameters of acceptable topics, and corporate representatives having an inside and direct channel to decision-makers. The further liberalisation of trade in food and agriculture, for example, was not a matter on which the Government wanted the opinion of the Australian public; free trade was assumed to be of unquestionable public benefit.

Despite this unpromising trajectory, many members of the community engaged in good faith with the public consultation. Two hundred and seventy-nine written submissions were received, with several identifying the need for bold and transformative policy changes if Australia was to develop a sustainable food system. Melbourne University’s Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab, which produced the ground-breaking Food Supply Scenarios report in April 2011, commented that:

Substantial, unavoidable and imminent changes in our food supply systems … require fundamental shifts in how we manage land and resources for food production … These potentially non-linear changes mean the past is not necessarily a reliable indicator of the future and care must be taken in avoiding ‘lazy’ assumptions about the possibility of continuing in a business-as-usual trajectory.

Unfortunately the green paper is largely based on precisely such assumptions. According to the green paper, Australia “has a strong, safe and stable food system” and “Australians enjoy high levels of food security”; our food industry is “resilient and flexible” and we “have one of the best food systems in the world.” The paper focuses on our food industry “seizing new market opportunities”, reflecting the Prime Minister’s recent urging that we become “the food bowl of Asia”. Last week on The Conversation, Allan Curtis gently exposed that claim – which underpins much of the green paper – as a frankly preposterous example of wishful thinking.

Here we discuss some of the more significant flawed assumptions of the draft National Food Plan. These tend to be implicit, reflecting an underlying commitment to the free market, free trade, and constantly expanding production – an unavoidable imperative in a capitalist economy.

 

Flickr/Rainforest Action Network

 

Assumption 1: Food insecurity will primarily be met through increased food production

The green paper makes some concessions to the multidimensionality of food insecurity: poverty, distribution inefficiencies, and political instability are mentioned, for example. Yet the overwhelming message is that more food must be produced, and that such production will, when combined with further liberalising agricultural trade, deal with food insecurity.

When the Food Plan was first announced, it was presented as an effort to “develop a strategy to maximise food production opportunities”. Now the green paper states that the first strategy to ensure Australia’s food security is to “build global competitiveness and productive, resilient industry sectors” positioned to “seize new market opportunities” created by anticipated rising demand.

Yet food insecurity is increasing in a world awash with food. In Australia, conservative estimates indicate that around 5% of the population experience food insecurity, although we produce enough food for 60 million people. Globally, the world produces enough food for 11 billion with a global population of 7 billion, and yet nearly 1 billion people are chronically malnourished, and as much as 40% of food purchased is wasted.

The green paper says little about the fundamental cause of food insecurity: inequality. Hunger – and other related social pathologies, such as the obesity pandemic – are the result of a corporate-controlled food system that distributes resources according to the ability to pay, rather than by need. The over-riding imperative of this system is to generate profits, not to feed people well.

Assumption 2: The future will look much the same as the past

The green paper states that:

even though Australia’s food supply is secure overall, we cannot be complacent in preparing for natural disasters, adverse weather conditions and other sudden and unexpected events … these events have the potential to temporarily disrupt food production and distribution and could expose some individuals, communities or regions to transient food insecurity

These transient risks are the only ones identified as explicitly threatening Australia’s food security. The green paper is equivocal about climate change impacts, citing ABARES models suggesting that agricultural productivity might increase with more rain in some scenarios. This flies in the face of recent detailed assessments by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO which confirm a decades-long drying pattern along the east coast, and south-east and south-west regions.

According to the Minister, “Australian inventiveness” will “find the solutions”; and our excess production will emerge unscathed, even enhanced, if only, it would seem, our farmers embrace bio-technology. Yet the world’s leading agricultural scientists and development experts, and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food have made it clear: we need holistic and systemic change in agriculture. We cannot rely on the same practices that have led us to the current food and resource crises to get us out of them.

Assumption 3: Farm incomes will be higher when more is produced

According to the green paper:

The real value of world food demand [is expected] to be 77 per cent higher in 2050 than in 2007 … This gives our food sector good prospects over the long term, due to our comparative proximity to Asia … and our existing strengths in commodities such as beef, wheat, dairy, sheep meat and sugar

The assumption here is that demand growth will outstrip supply, and so there will be a more or less permanent dynamic of increasing returns to Australian producers through higher volumes supplying niche markets in Asia. But any farmer knows that price-taking commodity producers suffer price reductions in a glut. Targeting niche markets, no matter how big they are, is a response to oversupply and price squeezes. In a free and unrestricted market, lower cost producers, quite likely from South America, will target these niches. The consequences will be more of the same for Australian producers – diminishing returns.

Assumption 4: Food prices adequately embody environmental, health, and social costs

It’s well known that markets externalise, or socialise, many costs associated with production and consumption. Nowhere is this more true than in the industrialised food system, where the “real costs of cheap food” are exceedingly high, but the green paper, with its relentless focus on the need for a competitive, productive, food industry is seemingly oblivious; the phrase “cheap food” is not mentioned, and at only one point is it acknowledged that fresh food is rising in price faster than unhealthy food.

On the basis of work by Australia’s top scientists, the findings of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovations Council Reports of 2010/2011 on water, energy, and food security are at odds with the green paper’s predictions about the costs and reliable supply of food. Unlike Scandanavia, Australia has no junk food tax – nor is any proposed in the green paper – which means that food corporations can receive handsome profits, while the taxpayer picks up the hefty healthcare tab of the obesity pandemic, and our children face reduced life expectancies.

Assumption 5: Food corporations and markets will solve the problems of inequity and social justice

 

 

We’ve noted earlier the central role that Government has signalled for Australia’s food industry in “feeding the world”. Yet by any measure, the food industry has failed to achieve the basic objective of maintaining a healthy population in this country, with current projections showing that nearly 80% of the adult population will be overweight or obese in little over a decade. The principal burden of the associated ill-health falls on lower socio-economic groups. It’s richly ironic that the green paper assigns a major responsibility for redressing this to the corporations who have profited so well from cultivating consumer preferences for unhealthy products:

the food industry has a key role to play in addressing health-related messages and is implementing initiatives to help Australians maintain a balanced diet … The Australian Government will continue to work with the food industry to change the dietary behaviours of Australians

Here as elsewhere, the green paper reads as though the GFC and its continuing reverberations never happened. Its rigid ideological adherence to “market-led solutions” (see below) keeps those companies, who are the principal source of the food system’s social, environmental, and economic dysfunctions, at the helm of the system’s evolution.

Assumption 6: The free market-based food system is efficient

According to the green paper:

The Australian Government’s overall approach to food industry policy is part of a general economic policy approach that aims to foster a flexible economy and a sound and stable business environment … A key objective of the market-based approach is to improve competition and productivity across the economy, allowing resources to gravitate to their most valued use. Competition in domestic industries can, in turn, improve international competitiveness of domestic firms by encouraging improvements in productivity, flexibility, innovation and efficiency

If free markets are the most efficient economic system known, why is it that, in 1940, the more localised short chain food system produced 2.3 calories of food for one calorie of oil; but, after several decades of “market efficiency dividends”, it now takes between 8 and 10 calories of oil – and often much more – to deliver that same calorie of food? What’s worse, in 1940 oil was easily extracted from a few hundred feet at a cost of one barrel of oil to produce 100 barrels. Today the ratio is 1:10, dropping to 1:3 for “non-conventional” oil sources such as tar sands and coal seam gas.

In truth, the “market efficiencies” are largely illusory. Cheap and easily accessible oil allowed the industrial food system to flourish, but this era is ending. Oil is an extremely compact and versatile energy source with no simple replacement. Biofuels are one of the market’s responses to the price rises of this dwindling resource (coal seam gas is another); but the corporate rush to produce them, underwritten by state subsidies and targets in the name of the “green economy”, has been identified as a chief cause of the mass suffering that occurred in the 2008 food crisis.

 

Flickr/Sterneck

 

In short, contrary to the Government’s claims, the green paper is a recipe for increasing vulnerability, lack of resilience, and heightened inequality in our food system. A different approach, based on a different set of values and priorities, is required. That is why the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance is inviting all concerned members of the public to join us in a participatory and democratic conversation to develop a food system that is truly fit for the challenges of this century.

We look to the the Canadian People’s Food Policy Project and the Scottish Food Manifesto as examples of what is possible; and we ask all who think there is more to food policy than meeting the needs of corporations, to join us in the months ahead as we develop a “People’s Food Plan” which will highlight best practice in creating a food system which is sustainable, healthy, and fair.

Comments welcome below.

Nicholas Rose is affiliated with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, a not-for-profit association, incorporated in the Australian Capital Territory, whose mission is to work towards fair, diverse and democratic food systems for the benefit of all Australians.

Michael Croft is affiliated with the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance, a not-for-profit association, incorporated in the Australian Capital Territory, whose mission is to work towards fair, diverse and democratic food systems for the benefit of all Australians.

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.

Workers don’t want their jobs here: Simplot boss

The promise of receiving a sizeable redundancy payout is changing the scope of the working world, and according to Simplot boss Tom O’Brien, 20 per cent of his workers want processing plants to close for this reason.

As one of Australia’s largest food processors, Simplot works hard to stay afloat in the tough retail environment, but O’Brien has told Business Spectator and ABC News that the workers don’t even want to fight for the company and their jobs.

He believes big redundancy payouts are what is encouraging workers to stay in the one company, and that they are detrimental to the food processing industry in its current state.

"Every food manufacturer in Australia is getting ready to close plants in one form or another, it's just a matter of when," he said.

"We're getting no price increases whatsover, we've got the cost of non-tradeables growing rapidly in the market.

"The cost of power and water and everything else is just going up astronomically."

But John Short from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), which represents the workers at Simplot’s Davenport and Ulverstone plants in Tasmania, has slammed O’Brien’s comments, arguing workers do want to keep their jobs.

"I think it's very disappointing. I don't know who he's talking to, but the people we talk to are very much dedicated and committed to the company," he said.

"They don't want to see the jobs lost there.

"When we talk to people, they're the opposite.

“They want permanent jobs."

Keep labelling laws tough: health experts

Health experts have warned that tougher restrictions on misleading labelling of food products may be overturned when food ministers meet today.

With 60 per cent of Australian adults and one in three children currently overweight or obese, the government has been scrambling to find ways to improve education surrounding eating habits and lifestyle.

It is currently working on a mandatory front-of-pack labelling scheme for packaged foods, and has tightened restrictions on claims such as “low fat,” “high fibre,” and “light.”

But food ministers are now considering relaxing the rules around unsubstantiated nutritional claims, leading heart and cancer experts to launch a last-minute appeal yesterday.

The New Zealand and Victorian governments are apparently fighting to get rid of a proposed trans-Tasman standard which would require official assessment of food claims made on labels prior to them being sold.

 

But chief executive if the Cancer Council, Ian Olver, has slammed the suggestions, saying it “could be disaster at a tine when we are urgently encouraging consumers to make healthier food choices.”

 

He believes consumers should have piece of mind that any nutritional claims made on labels have been assessed and found to be accurate, whild chief executive of the National Heart Foundation of Australia, Lyn Roberts, said relaxing the rules would damage all progress that has been made in educating Australians about cardiovascular disease and other obesity-related medical conditions.

''Now we are at serious risk of going backwards, with an obesity epidemic and an unprecedented proliferation of packaged foods making claims of a health benefit,'' Dr Roberts said.

In May the National Heart Foundation of Australia found that if everyone reduced their salt intake by 3 grams per day, 6 000 lives could be saved every year.

Obesity-related conditions including heart disease and diabetes are costing Australia over $8 billion a year in health care and lost productivity.

While the government works on developing regulations around labelling and health, a report in March found that labels such as “reduced salt,” or “low in salt,” made consumers experience a less enjoyable taste, even if the product was not actually low in salt.

Deakin University study, which recruited 50 participants to taste soups with the same salt content, but it labelled some as “reduced salt.”

Those labelled as low sodium actually had the same salt content as the other soups, but participants reported that they found them less tasty.

Do you think nutritional claims should be regulated?

 

 

Are people born by caesarean section more likely to be obese?

A study recently published in the British Medical Journal (project Viva) has found that children born by caesarean section have a higher rate of obesity at age three than children born naturally. At first glance, how someone is born seems unlikely to cause obesity, so should expectant mothers considering a caesarean birth be worried?

The study recruited women during early pregnancy and then followed their children after birth (1,255 in total). Data were collected on a wide range of lifestyle and health factors from both parents and children.

Just over 20% of the children were born by caesarean section. Even after accounting for differences in birth weight and the mothers' pre-pregnancy weight, infants born by C-section had twofold higher odds of developing obesity. The authors postulate that a caesarean birth somehow alters our biology in such a way that there’s a greater risk of developing obesity.

A very basic view of obesity biology is that it’s a consequence of skewed energy balance – if you pump in more calories than your body needs, it will store the excess energy as fat. Although there’s a lot of truth in this model, it’s a gross oversimplification of how our bodies work. It certainly offers no explanation for why rates of obesity should differ between children born by different routes.

So we need to consider what other factors are involved in obesity and how they might relate to birth mode. The prime candidate among these is gut microbes.

 

A sensory survey of healthy people pooing will confirm we all have individual differences. Kevyn Jacobs

 

Obesity can be readily induced experimentally by feeding a high-calorie diet to mice. This makes it sound like a cut-and-dried case for diet being the main factor. But the microbes that live in the gut (the gut microbiota) also contribute to our nutrition.

The involvement of gut microbiota in nutrition has been tested by keeping mice delivered by caesarean section in germ-free isolators to have them grow up with no microbes. Researchers found diet-induced obesity was extremely difficult to generate in the absence of microbes.

The killer experiment, however, was when researchers re-introduced microbes into these previously germ-free mice. Mice that were colonised with microbes from fat mice (who’d been fed the high-calorie diet) put on a lot more weight than those that were colonised by microbes from lean mice. This indicates that the microbes in our gut influence how much of the food we eat actually gets turned into fat.

So the risk factor is what gut microbes you have and what we really need to be asking is whether a caesarean birth change our gut microbiota. Addressing this question requires you take a great interest in poo, since much of it is basically gut microbes.

In healthy adults, the microbial community is stable over time, but individually distinctive – each of us has a unique collection of microbial mates. Even a brief sensory survey of healthy people pooing will confirm we all have individual differences.

How we get these differences is essentially a combination of what microbes we are exposed to (our environment), what food we give them (our diet) and time (our developmental stage). Babies born by caesarean section will definitely have a different initial exposure to microbes and this latest study forces us to consider the possibility that this initial difference could cause lifelong differences that predispose some to obesity.

 

A stable microbial community isn’t formed until we have a fully developed immune system and an adult diet pattern. Steven Depolo

 

Although birth is when we first encounter microbes, the process of acquiring a stable gut microbiota takes time. As any parent knows, an infant’s poo will change dramatically in texture, smell and even colour over the first year and introducing anything new to the diet often precedes an interesting experience. A stable microbial community isn’t formed until we have a fully developed immune system and an adult diet pattern – well after age three.

To assess the risks of a caesarean birth for later obesity we need to know the relative importance of birth mode and postnatal environment on microbial colonisation. Studies in both animals and humans suggest that diet and environment over the postnatal period are more important than events immediately around birth.

Those aspects of the postnatal environment that appear most important are infant diet (especially breastmilk as opposed to formula milk) and the gut microbiota of the people most closely exposed to an infant (both parents, any siblings and childcare).

Interestingly, the Project Viva study also found significant differences between paternal and maternal body mass index (children delivered by caesarean were more likely to have overweight parents) and breast-feeding patterns (children delivered by natural birth were more likely to have initiated breast-feeding and to have been breastfed for longer).

This fascinating study shows how environmental factors influence our insides. Whether caesarean deliveries drove the difference in obesity observed in the Project Viva cohort or were simply associated with other postnatal environmental factors is a question that requires further study. For now, I wouldn’t let worry about obesity trump other reasons for considering a caesarean birth.

Andrew Holmes receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Health & Medical Research Council.

The Conversation

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