ABARES Outlook 2021: Agriculture conference to commence this week

The ABARES Outlook 2021 will be held as a virtual conference for the first time beginning from the 2 to the 5 of March. With over 1200 delegates registered, the conference will focus on navigating the challenges and opportunities for Australia’s growing agriculture sector, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The bountiful harvest at our doorstep

Food and beverage manufacturers, whether they are an SME or multinational, are always looking for new ideas, new recipes – the next big thing in terms of trends within the industry. Every part of the world has its own speciality that is associated with its region – the spices of the Indian subcontinent, the processed meats of northern Europe, the chilli sauces of central and South America, and the rice-based dishes of southeast Asia are just a few.

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Food Park set to open doors to Asia

A major food producing state in Australia is on the hunt for large-scale tenants to anchor a premium food hub and take its products to the world.

The South Australian Government will spend $7 million to attract anchor tenants to the Northern Adelaide Food Park, and to promote the use of renewable energy and energy storage solutions at the hub.

The 40ha food park will be built in the Parafield Airport precinct and will provide food manufacturers, food packaging specialists, cold-chain suppliers and transport companies with the opportunity to co-locate on the one site, with access to common infrastructure and services.

South Australia is renowned for world-class wine, seafood, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat products and grains. Its food and wine industries generated a record $18.2 billion in revenue in 2014-2015. Finished food and wine exports increased by 17 per cent in the past financial year.

The food hub site is located next to an airport and major road and rail freight routes.

Professor John Spoehr is director of Flinders University’s Australian Industrial Transformation Institute in Adelaide. He said there was exponential growth in demand for clean, green food, particularly in China.

“We’re wanting as much as possible to export not just the raw produce but also food that has a significant value-add associated with it, that’s where we can build a sustainable food industry and a manufacturing industry around a horticulture industry,” Prof Spoehr said.

“South Australia is respected as a place that is producing clean green food but the challenge is to scale up and improve quality and readiness for export in a way that also transforms the clean green food into manufactured food goods.”

Prof Spoehr said the government would be looking to secure an anchor company with “deep market connections into Asia and one that is also capable of working to the international food standards that are necessary to do that successfully”.

“The food industry is one of the brightest spots we’ve got for growth over the next two decades so we just have to get better organised and cluster together some of the companies that can really do it well to international standards,” he said.

Food SA Chief Executive Officer Catherine Sayer said the hub would encourage world’s best practice, collaboration and the opportunity to reduce manufacturing costs through new, efficient facilities and shared services.

“The South Australian food industry is very well networked and a hub, such as the Food Park, will continue to bring the industry together and will benefit those inside the precinct and other industry players who will want to use the facilities,” she said.

The $7 million government funding is part of a broader $24 million investment in new initiatives for northern Adelaide to drive economic and social transformation in the region ahead of the closure of General Motors Holden’s car manufacturing plant in 2017.

Other initiatives in the Northern Economic Plan include:

$10 million for a Small Business Development Fund for northern Adelaide, to help small businesses to grow and create sustainable jobs;

$4 million for a new Disability Employment Hub to train former automotive workers, upskill existing workers, and encourage university students to work in the disability sector; and,

$2 million to support an alliance of northern businesses to trial electric/diesel bus prototypes, manufactured in northern Adelaide.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said Adelaide’s northern suburbs were dynamic and diverse and the investment would generate opportunities for the people who lived, worked, studied, and invested in the region.

“The plan identifies key industry sectors that could help to deliver a viable future for northern Adelaide and new careers for auto workers – agriculture, food and beverages; health, ageing and disability; construction and urban renewal; defence; tourism, recreation and culture; and mining equipment and technology services,” Weatherill said.

Printed with permission of https://www.theleadsouthaustralia.com.au/ 

FSANZ detects ‘potentially concerning’ amounts of phthalates in food from packaging

Food Standards Australia New Zealand has found worrying levels of plastic softeners in samples of popular foods.

Fresh bread, takeaway hamburgers and meat pizzas are some of the foods in which chemicals may have migrated from packaging into food are a low risk to public health and safety.

Out of the six takeaway hamburgers tested for the phthalate DEHP, four contained between 67 and 180 per cent more than the amount permitted under European Union laws to be released from packaging into food, which is 1.5 milligrams a kilogram.

In samples tested for the phthalate DINP, Food Standards found a takeaway hamburger sample had 14mg a kilo and a pizza topped with meat and vegetables had 16mg a kilo –both exceeding “tolerable daily intake” levels.

According to Food Standards chief executive Steve McCutcheon, the Australian Total Diet Study into chemical migration from packaging into food detected very low residues of some chemicals in a small number of samples.

“After undertaking a very conservative safety assessment on these very low levels, FSANZ has concluded there are no safety concerns,” McCutcheon said.

“The screening study identified that further work was required for two of the chemicals tested for [phthalates] and FSANZ will be sampling a wider range of foods for these chemicals so a full dietary exposure assessment can be undertaken.”

Phthalates are plasticisers that can be found in PVC tubing, gaskets, cling wraps, printing inks, paper and cardboard packaging and laminated aluminium foil.

A University of Michigan study published in the medical journal JAMA Paediatrics found increased levels of some phthalates in urine during pregnancy correlated with higher odds of premature birth.

Catherine Itman, a research lecturer in physiology at the University of the Sunshine Coast, said Food Standards' results were "potentially concerning", considering the conclusions of various animal studies.

"However, we must recognise firstly that we are exposed to phthalates from many different sources, so it must be considered whether the phthalates present in some foods do substantially contribute to our overall phthalate exposure," Itman said.

"Secondly, we actually have very little direct information about the human health impacts of phthalates, as most toxicology studies have been performed using concentrations that do not reflect typical exposure levels and our knowledge of the effects of exposure to combinations of phthalates or phthalates plus other chemicals is wholly inadequate," Itman said.

"Until more is known, we should be cautious with regard to how much phthalate exposure we consider to be acceptable."

Australian share markets hit by Chinese need for baby formula

Shares in some of Australia’s most-popular infant formula brands have been caught up in the market woes about the health of China’s economy.

Amid increasing concerns that the world’s second-largest economy will cool further in 2016, Beijing said China’s economy had only expanded 6.9 per cent in 2015, the slowest pace in 25 years.

Bellamy’s Organic has eased to 14.6 per cent while trans-Tasman producer a2 Milk has fallen 26.7 per cent in the past four weeks.

Despite struggling to keep their products on Australian supermarket shelves, infant formula makers are still reporting strong sales.

According to NAB agribusiness economist Phin Ziebell, demand for infant formula in China should continue to remain strong, particularly as the country moves from a manufacturing to consumption-led economy.

“There was the melamine scandal in 2008 and understandably people were terrified about that because food safety is a serious problem. That means for your infant formula there is going to big demand for product that isn’t adulterated with poison,” Ziebell said.

China continues to step out of the global dairy market in the past 18 months while it ran down inventories of milk powder, triggering a halving of prices for key dairy commodities.

NAB is forecasting a "slow recovery" of global dairy prices this year, which will be bolstered by a lower Australian dollar that it expects will hit 66 US cents by June.

"Australian prices are also likely to be supported by the ongoing international interest in our products," said NAB regional agribusiness manager Dave Davies.

"Free trade agreements such as the China Free Trade Agreement will only help this trade, especially if we can operate on a more level playing field with the New Zealand industry."

NZ government objects to Australia’s new country of origin food labels

New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries has said it is concerned about the cost for the nation’s food producers to comply with Australia’s new proposed country of origin labelling laws.

Announced in July 2015, the proposed laws will require food sold in Australia to include a labelling statement identifying where the food comes from.

Supporter of the labelling reforms, Australian Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce has however said that New Zealand has nothing to worry about.

The labelling changes are currently being considered by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) with its members (which includes New Zealand) allowed to provide feedback on the possible changes up until 5th February 2016.

The general Australian public have until the 29th January 2016 to submit their opinions to the Country of Origin Labelling Taskforce.

New Zealand previously exempted itself from Standard 1.2.11 in the Australia-New Zealnd Food Standards Code that required mandatory labelling of country of origin information in Australia.

Other criticisms of labelling changes

Australia’s consumer advocacy group CHOICE and the horticulture growers representative body, AUSVEG are each amongst the organisations that welcomed the new labels with reservations when they were announced in July 2015.

At the time of the announcement, these groups said that consumers will not really know where ingredients come from, since it will only be optional to list the actual country of origin for many important ingredients that come from outside Australia.

Country of Origin Labelling changes overview

The amendments to Australian Country of Origin Labelling include the following:

  • The introduction of a new Information Standard, requiring businesses to provide clearer information about the origin of food;
  • Removal of the Food Standards Code country of origin standard (Standard 1.2.11);
  • Changes under the Australian Consumer Law to be better aligned with the new Information Standard; and
  • Changes to the Commerce Regulations country of origin marking provisions –similarly to better align with the new Information Standard and the revised Australian Consumer Law. 

Supply and demand: How Australia could solve China’s baby formula problem

Economic experts at Deakin University are highlighting the images of angry parents unable to buy baby formula for their children as a need to better regulate the impact of trading practices in Australia.

According to results of research conducted by Deakin Business School’s Department of Economics, products brought in one country and sold in another without the permission of the manufacturer by people travelling between the two countries is presenting a challenge not only for Australia but also other countries and territories such as Japan, Hong Kong and the United States.

Department of Economics senior lecturer Dr Xuan Nguyen says researchers considered the impact of parallel trade on the financial welfare of the home country (based on a combination of the financial benefits to consumers, producers and government revenue) and what actions could be taken to ensure no one was disadvantaged.

“In this situation there is a demand in China for high quality baby formula. This demand is being met by parallel traders who travel to Australia, buy large amounts of baby formula and then sell the product back in China. Here we see that the manufacturers of the baby formula benefit from the sales because of the increased demand and the parallel traders make a profit from selling the formula at a higher price back in China,” Dr Nguyen said.

The researchers found it was possible to get the balance right with parallel trade, rather than outright banning the practice.

“A key recommendation from our study is the implementation of good government policy measures to control the quality of product people can take out of Australia via the parallel trade channel. This would involve a change of policy for many players from the producers, to the pharmacies and supermarkets, as well as customs,” Dr Nguyen said.

The research paper Cross-border Travellers and Parallel Trade: Implications for Asian Economies is the first theoretical attempt in the economics literature that studies parallel trade by cross-border travellers. 

Arnott’s takes a bite out of possible Tim Tam super-stores

Whilst participating in a price war with supermarket giant Coles, Arnott’s has been seeking to promote its top Tim Tam product with a foray into building a standalone store.

With almost 3,000 biscuits made every minute, Arnott’s clearly have a loyal customer base as Australians eat approximately 670 million Tim Tams per year.

According to Tim Tam Marketing Manager Claire Kesby-Smith, despite the fact that there are twelve different varieties of Tim Tams, the original flavour is still the most popular.

“In the last few years, we’ve brought Tim Tam trees to Martin Place, a Tim Tam plane to remote Central QLD, a bus delivering Tim Tam packs to regional towns and collaboration with Adriano Zumbo, Australia’s foremost patissier, to supermarket shelves across the nation,” Kesby-Smith said.

“A standalone Tim Tam store sounds like something we should investigate! Perhaps a place with chocolate waterfalls and a never-ending pack of Tim Tam bikkies for sharing!”

There is good precedence for flagship stores becoming a major part of product marketing in the internet era. While fewer physical outlets are required close to people’s homes, one major destination store is often retained as a tangible reminder of the brand’s presence.

M&Ms may provide Tim Tams with a positive source of inspiration. M&M’s have flagship stores all over the world which act as both a sales outlet and a theme park. The intent is to make the product as unique as possible, where visiting the outlet is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to browse through all twelve varieties of Tim Tam flavours.

A Tim Tam store, as Kesby-Smith suggests could be a great source of community enjoyment where consumers can demonstrate the art of the Tim Tam Slam with one another as Tim Tam cake is readily served. 

Consultation for Country of origin food labelling to close soon

Consumers are being urged to have their say on the Government’s proposed Country of Origin Labelling reforms before the consultation period closes on 29th January.

A new reform agenda for country of origin food labelling issues were combined into the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement late last year.

According to the Minister of Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne, feedback and opinion received from consumers and businesses will ensure the reforms are based on the best information available.

“Since the consultation opened in December we have heard from food manufacturers, retailers, agricultural producers and consumers –but we welcome more feedback,” Pyne said.

In creating a clear and unambiguous country of origin labelling system, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce said he expected the reforms to hit the mark.

“We are looking to finally address an issue which has existed in the Australian food industry for a long time. That’s why it is important that everyone who is interested and has views on this is able to consider the proposals and to make a contribution,” Joyce said.

The consultation period also includes an opportunity to comment on a draft information standard that sets out the rules around food products and the proposed new labelling requirements.

Once the reforms have been finalised, a national campaign would be developed to inform Australians and businesses about changes to country of origin labelling for food.

Comprehensive user testing prior to release will ensure the tool is easy to use and effective. An accompanying style guide will outline the new labelling requirements and origin labels will be available in a range of formats to suit business needs. 

Asian consumers angry at Woolworths for blocking baby formula orders

Woolworths has been accused of racially profiling customers after Woolworths cancelled three online baby formula orders and suspending their accounts.

Within the past month, Sydney parents Adrian Cheng, Reginald Dong and Sarah Kong had their online orders for tins of baby formula cancelled –something they blame on their Asian surnames.

Australian parents have become increasingly concerned about a baby formula shortage of preferred brands, such as A2 Platinum and Bellamy’s Organic, calling for Woolworths and Coles to enforce purchase limits and clamp down on bulk buying.

According to Korean-Australian mother Sarah Kong, her account was suspended after she ordered four tins of formula on New Year’s Eve and received a confirmation email and the expected time of arrival.

“At every point in this process you have failed in customer service. At worst it is fraud to have accepted the order, taken the money, imply that I contacted you for a refund and then block my account,” Kong said in a complaint to Woolworths.

Following consumer pressure late last year, Woolworths lowered its baby formula purchase limit to four per transaction, while Coles lowered it to two.

A Woolworths spokesman said the chain was trying to manage its supplies of formula for its online customers in a period of high demand.

“In some cases we suspend accounts pending a confirmation that the order fits within our terms and conditions. In any case where a customer has had a poor experience, Woolworths apologises for this,” the spokesman said.

Erin Chew, spokeswoman for the Asian Australian Alliance, said following the widespread media coverage of the baby formula shortfall late last year, a "xenophobic spotlight" had unfairly focused on the Chinese.

"We need a change in how Australians view those of Chinese ancestry. The really unfair aspect is that families like Cheng and Dong are well integrated Chinese Australian families," she said.

Chinese demand for Western baby formula rocketed after a string of food scares, including the 2008 melamine contamination that killed six babies and made 300,000 seriously ill.
 

Billboard calls for Assistant Treasurer to end the free-range uncertainty

A consumer-funded billboard has been unveiled in the Victorian electorate of Assistant Treasurer the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer by CHOICE, calling for the delivery of standards amongst free-range eggs to meet consumers’ expectations.

The billboard was funded by 866 individuals who donated over $26,000 to get the message across to Minister O’Dwyer and her state and territory colleagues as they are set to make a decision on a free-range egg standard early this year.

According to CHOICE spokesperson Tom Godfrey, the Assistant Treasurer has the opportunity to create a meaningful egg standard.

“Consumers want free-range claims to mean something in Australia. At the moment, many claims are little more than cynical marketing slogans used to contrive a price premium,” Godfrey said.

“The support for the billboard further highlights how passionate consumers are about this issue and their firm views on what free-range should mean. They want a standard to reflect these expectations.”

Some egg producers have been actively lobbying for a standard that sets a lower benchmark for free-range production than the definition established through case law.

By mobilising Australia’s largest and loudest consumer movement, CHOICE fights to hold industry and government accountable and achieve real change on the issues that matter most.

What CHOICE wants

At a minimum, a national information standard should require that eggs labelled ‘free-range’ are produced in farms where:

  • The majority of chickens actually go outside regularly
  • Birds have room to move comfortably when outdoors
  • Birds have room to move comfortably inside the barn
  • Farmers undertake animal welfare practices 

Any products that don’t meet these minimum requirements should be labelled in a way that accurately reflects how they were produced, for example ‘access to range’. 

Kathmandu founder bids for ownership of Tasmanian diary company

Kathmandu founder Jan Cameron is preparing a bid to buy Australia’s largest dairy farm in an attempt to stop overseas buyers taking control.

Cameron is the third party to come forward for the dairy producer, alongside majority Australian-owned food consortium TasFoods and Moon Lake Investments, which is owned by Chinese billionaire Lu Xiangfeng.

Despite being established in 1824 with an operation including 25 dairy farms and a standalone Heifer Rearing Operation, the company has never been Australian owned.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Cameron said she will lodge a formal expression of interest, “commercially similar” to the Moon Lake bid by Friday.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring the magnificent Van Diemen’s Land property into Australian ownership for the first time,” Cameron said.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said in a statement that the current New Zealand ownership and the fact a Chinese investor is trying to purchase it is “entirely irrelevant”.

“The fact that this is a commercial asset of strategic proportions and it would be irresponsible in the extreme for the Government to miss this opportunity to bring VDL into Australian ownership,” Wilkie said.

Second bidder TasFoods had their $250 million offer rejected and is set for a hearing at the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria on February 21.

According to the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act, federal Treasurer Scott Morrison or the Foreign Investment Review Board are required to take alternative local bids into account when making foreign investment decisions.

The Australian dairy Industry is estimated to be worth $13 billion, with more than 6000 dairy farmers producing 9.7 billion litres of milk each year.

Prosecco corks keep popping in Australia

Australians are increasingly turning to sparkling wine, as statistics from Wine Intelligence indicate a spike in popularity for Prosecco throughout the past few years.

The percentage of Australians drinking Prosecco has increased from 5 per cent in 2011 to 14 per cent in 2014, and the industry is expecting another rise for 2015.

According to Zonin Vice President Francesco Zonin, Prosecco has established its place on bottle shop shelves as an accessible sparkling wine in the Australian drinks market.

“We feel the Al Fresco drink and dine scene of Italy has a wonderful synergy with Australia and Prosecco fits perfectly with the Australian climate,” Zonin said.

Contributing to this sales rise is the current trend of the European-style ‘aperitif’ culture, which has especially taken Sydney by storm and with Prosecco’s reasonable price point, it is expected to last.

Australian consumers debate the switch to free range eggs

New research from Canstar Blue has shown that there is a major difference in the egg-purchasing preferences across Australia as consumers decide between free range or cheaper, caged eggs.

There has been confusion amongst consumers over the distinction made between the two types of eggs in recent light of the changing labelling laws. As a result, Canstar asked 3,000 people to choose which type of eggs they tend to buy.

Of the 2,599 respondents who had bought eggs from a supermarket or grocer in the last three months, 51 per cent favoured free range were found to favour free range/organic eggs while 22 per cent said they buy caged eggs.

The survey found that consumers in Queensland are significantly more likely to buy caged eggs than those in any other part of the country -29 per cent compared to the national average of 22 per cent. Elsewhere in the country, New South Wales was 22 per cent, Victoria 21 per cent, South Australia 18 per cent and Western Australia was just 12 per cent.

Queenslanders were also found to be the least likely to buy free range eggs -44 per cent compared to the national average of 51 per cent. Consumers in Western Australia (59 per cent) and South Australia (58 per cent) were most likely to buy free range. The figure for New South Wales was 52 per cent and Victoria 51 per cent.

The vast majority of consumers (94 per cent) agreed that they buy caged eggs because they were cheaper, although 90 per cent said they would switch to free range eggs if they cost less.

On the other hand, respondents that bought free range eggs did so due to the higher quality (86 per cent). 90 per cent of consumers cited not wanting to support the caged egg industry as a reason for buying free range, whilst 84 per cent were happy to pay more for their free range eggs.

Ultimately, the Canstar research showed that the majority of consumers are favouring free range eggs and even those who do buy caged indicate that they would prefer to switch. Caged eggs generally cost half the price of branded free range eggs, although supermarket label free range eggs have narrowed the price gap.

The emphasis is usually put on the industry to improve standards, but some of those on the front line insist that Australia’s huge demand for eggs simply can’t be met without caged eggs, with claims there could even be an “egg shortage” when supermarkets phase out caged eggs.