Allergy free milk produced by cloned cow

Allergy free milk could soon become a reality after New Zealand scientists successfully produced hypoallergenic milk by using a genetically modified cow.

In a world-first breakthrough, New Zealand’s largest research institute AgResearch has bred the first cow in the world able to produce high-protein milk with reduced amounts of beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), a whey component known to cause allergic reactions.

"It's a very significant result," the institute's research director Dr Warren McNabb said.

Further studies on the milk is needed before it can be tasted by humans, but McNabb said it could eventually be produced commercially and marketed as a low allergy substitute.

"If this milk is to be hypoallergenic, as we suspect it will be, then we've got to get over the hurdle of social acceptance of this type of technology before you can then apply it in the national herd.”

"It's going to come down to what this country decides. It's more of a social issue than a scientific one."

The researchers from the University of Waikato and AgResearch in Hamilton have been working on the project since 2006 and first found success using mice. They then produced Daisy using a technique called ‘RNA interference’ which basically inhibits the expression of the BLG protein.

Next steps for the project include breeding from Daisy and producing more cows like her to see if the same results can be reached.

However GE Free New Zealand has slammed the research calling it a ' "frightening development not a breakthrough".

"This is a depraved macabre experiment that is the worst type of animal cruelty," GE Free New Zealand president Claire Bleakley said.

Bleakley called on the New Zealand Ethics Board to shut down the research "immediately".

"AgResearch after 12 years of failure and hundreds of dead embryos has developed one calf, expressing less [BLG] than normal milk cows.

''BLG is an essential part of milk. It lowers blood pressure … It is essential for healthy digestion, immune system function and the formation of healthy bones skin, teeth and muscle development."

Work to reduce the allergens in milk and other products is also underway in Australia with research at the University of New South Whales aimed at altering the properties of the allergenic proteins.

As Food Magazine reported in May, the food allergy research group at UNSW, led by Dr Alice Lee, is working towards developing nano-sensors that can better detect allergens in food and indentify how these allergens change after harvest during food processing, and eventually result in an adverse reaction when consumed by humans.

“Food allergy has been an emerging food safety concern especially in developed countries,” Lee, a senior lecturer in Food Science and Technology, said.

UK supermarket giant increases price paid to dairy farmers

Following extensive industrial action, UK supermarket giant Tesco has increased the price it pays farmers for milk, albeit only slightly.

Dairy farmers in the UK have embarked on strikes and blockades this year, as they call for the major supermarkets to pay a fairer price for their product.

From 1 October, the 700 dairy farmers who supply Tesco’s private label non-organic milk will be paid an extra 2 pence per litre.

Despite the miniscule increase, the price rise, which brings the possible earnings up to 31.58 pence per litre for farmers, will make Tesco one of the highest payers of the biggest five supermarkets.

Tesco’s rivals Morrisons and the Co-Operative Group have also increased the price they pay for milk to remain competitive.

While Tesco says the price increase was due to bi-annual review, and not a reaction to the protests, the fact that other supermarkets are raising prices is good news for farmers.

The problems in the UK dairy market mirror those being ensured by Australian farmers, but as Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) director, Terry Toohey, told the Food Magazine Industry Leaders Summit earlier this year, it is not a coincidence.

“Given the sheer size of the supermarket duopoly, over 75 per cent of the market is between the two powers, and they are wielding that Australian marketplace and the majority of Australian suppliers, particularly to the fresh food industry,” he said.

“In the United Kingdom, they have already experience this [impact of pricing on dairy industry].

“This is a Tesco model, the people that have been brought in by Coles have come from Tesco.

“I had to go over there to do a study 4 years ago, and I came back with an alarm bell saying, ‘it’s not what’s going to happen in Australia, it’s when it’s going to happen in Australia.’

“We believe from the grocery supply code of practice, the grocery code could provide a good starting point on the basis of Australia legislation, establish a mandatory code of practice and an ombudsman with the ability to levy financial penalties,” Toohey said.

“We are sure that Coles’ actions impact on the visibility of the brand of dairy products and would lead to less variety of dairy products on supermarkets shelves as has happened in the United Kingdom.

“It’s our organisation’s view that Coles’ actions will ultimately less competitions consumers, decrease product choice as the experience of the UK has shown.”

Toohey told the Leaders Summit that the current supermarket environment is driving farmers out of the business, as they struggle to make ends meet.

“In NSW, my state, I see farmers being asked to sign contracts for 3 cents a litre than their previous contracts," he said.

“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 products 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.”

Do you think Aussie dairy farmers should embark on industrial action to improve the price they get for their milk?

China seeking to invest in Australian dairy company

China’s sovereign wealth fund is looking to seek a piece of Australia’s largest dairying operation, The Van Diemen’s Land Company, operating in Tasmania.

The company, which has 250 000 dairy cows, 6 500 beef cows covers 19 000 hectares employs 160 people.

It is now proposing to double its production and workforce with an investment of $180 million, Business Day reports.

The move comes after Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings met with the president of the China Investment Corporation, Gao Xiqing, to discuss trade and investment opportunities.

Following the talks, Giddings said the company was particularly interested in exploring agricultural opportunities in Tasmania.

If the Chinese investment goes ahead, it would become another sticking point within the coalition after the unease expressed within the National Party about Chinese state entities buying into Australian farmland.

A poll conducted earlier this year found that 81 per cent of people were opposed to foreign investment, with over 60 per cent saying they were strongly opposed.

The poll also found almost 60 per cent of people thought the federal government was allowing too much Chinese investment in Australia.

The chief executive of the Van Diemen's Land Company, Michael Guerin, told The Age last night it had been seeking to raise equity capital domestically and internationally for some months but would not reveal if a deal had been struck with the Chinese sovereign wealth fund.

He said the estimated $180 million the company was seeking would about double the current equity.
''There has been a lot of interest. We remain confident that we can raise the money for our plans,'' he said.

"There are a number of investors potentially interested in our project.''

China invests $200m in WA’s dairy industry

China's beverage billionaire, Zong Qinghou, is considering investing $200 million in a milk processing plant in the Western Australia.

Last weekend, Qinghou, talked about possible sites in Busselton and met City of Busselton top brass and Department of Agriculture officials, reports au.news.yahoo.com.

The Bloomberg Billionaire Index released this week put Qinghou worth at $21.6 billion, making him China's wealthiest person.

His Hangzhou Wahaha Group is one of China's main drink companies and produces juice, soft drinks, food, and children's clothes.

Busselton mayor Ian Stubbs said “the discussions with Qinghou were confidential.”

"It was a lovely experience to meet Qinghou and we gave him a briefing on the City of Busselton," Stubbs added.

An agricultural tour included the University of WA future farm and a Pingelly grain farm.

According to a department spokeswoman, one Chinese agro-enterprise was interested in dairy processing and potentially other products and met local contacts in the South West.

Agriculture Minister Terry Redman, who is encouraging foreign investment in WA’s dairy industry, said “certainly in my broad discussion with farmers, they tell me there are more opportunities than issues with foreign investment and they support foreign investment in the supply chain and support us at the State level playing a greater role in that.”

The meeting was organised as a part of a four-day visit from September 1 by 300 delegates from Zhejiang province for the 25th anniversary of its sister-state relationship with WA.

Soy versus dairy: what’s the footprint of milk?

Are soy milk’s environmental attributes based on substance or froth? Is soy a sustainable solution in the dairy debate?

Comparative environmental analysis of different food groups is like comparing, well, apples and oranges.

Reports such as the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Livestock’s Long Shadow document the negative environmental impacts of cattle and dairy production and consumption.

If cattle are major emitters of the intensive greenhouse gas methane and use large amounts of water, are protein alternatives such as soy less harmful to the environment?

Soy, of course, is much more than soy milk. According to the CSIRO, “60 per cent of all products at the supermarket already contain soybean”. (Look at the ingredients lists on breads, flours, oils, pet food and sausages, for example.)

The Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry’s (DAFF’s) Australian Food Statistics (2011) report states that Australia produced 47kt of soybeans in 2010-11 and imported $36M worth of oilseeds in 2010-11 (soybean is classified as an oilseed rather than a pulse).

 

In 15 years, world production of soya has doubled. Carol Von Canon

According to Dr Andrew James, who leads CSIRO’s soybean breeding program, the vast majority of whole-bean soy products Australians consume – such as tofu, soy milk and many baking products – derive from Australian grown beans. However, the soy components used in processed foods generally come from imported soy protein powder, isolate or lecithin.

“We also import 500 to 800,000 tonnes of soybean meal. A crude guess is that would cost about $600 a tonne. That’s $500 million or more,” says Dr James.

Australians have been developing a taste for soy milk over the last decade. A Soy Australia report showed in 2009 Australians drank three litres each of soy milk a year. This is a 50% increase on 1998.

The report also claimed that most of the soy milk production in Australia is based on imported soy protein or soy protein isolate, a refined form of soy protein made from defatted soy flour.

Says Dr James: “If the milk is made from whole beans it will be Australian-grown beans that are used. If made from protein powder or isolate then that will be imported.”

In 2010-11, Australians drank 2296 ML of “dairy milk”, and 2061 ML in 2005-06. The annual average 2005-07 milk consumption per Australian was 230kg (approximately 223 litres).

Soy milk, soy-based drinks, soy dairy-free products and energy bars showed the strongest growth. Traditional foods like tofu have seen a decline in the past couple of years.

 

It takes less energy to produce soy beans than cows' milk. Melissa Powers

Australian data on the environmental impact of the dairy and soy industries is not as comprehensive as from other countries such as Sweden, Denmark and the United Kingdom. While there are international differences in production, life cycle analysis research is informative.

A recent Swedish study showed a span of 0.4 to 30kg of CO₂ equivalents produced per kilogram for different food items. The lowest emissions per kilogram were from legumes, poultry, and eggs. The highest were from beef, cheese and pork.

Cornell University scientist, David Pimentel, has found it takes about 14 kilo-calories (kcal) of fossil-fuel energy to produce 1kcal of milk protein using conventional milk production. Organically produced milk might require a little less than 10kcal of fossil-fuel energy per kcal.

In comparison, Pimentel’s data suggests that in a conventional soybean production system, one kcal of fossil energy invested produces about 3.2kcal of soybean. For 1kcal of fossil energy invested in organic soybean production, you get an average of 3.8kcal of soybeans. This means it takes between .26 and .31kcal of fossil fuel to make 1kcal of soybeans (contrasted with 10-14kcal to make 1kcal of dairy milk protein).

Pimentel states that soy protein accounts for about 35% of those kilocalories, so it appears that making soy protein is more energy-efficient than dairy protein.

Soy milk, of course, is the sum of its parts and whether using ground soy beans or soy isolate, other ingredients are added to make the liquid that consumers use in their coffees and cereals. These extras include calcium and oil. So the production process and its energy and water components need to be considered.

 

Soy beans have a low and energy footprint, but then there’s the footprint of converting beans to milk. gallixsee media/flickr

A 2010 “current and possible futures” study into greenhouse gas emissions across the top 45 food commodities in the UK recommended dairy milk and products be replaced by soy-based milk products.

A recent Dutch study comparing the water footprints of soybean and equivalent animal products found that soy milk and the soy burger have much smaller water footprints than cow milk and the average beef burger. The water footprint of the soy milk products analysed in this study was 28% of the water footprint of the global average cow milk. The water footprint of the soy burger examined was 7% of the water footprint of the average beef burger in the world.

Another important environmental parameter to consider is how much phosphorus is used to produce food. Modern agriculture is dependent on phosphorus derived from phosphate rock. It’s a non-renewable resource, and current global reserves may be depleted in 50 to 100 years. Meat and livestock production are associated with high phosphorus use and a vegetarian diet demands significantly less phosphate fertilizer than a meat-based diet.

The genetic modification (GM) debate is a series on its own, but it is relevant to note that all soybeans grown in Australia are GM-free, according to CSIRO’s Dr James. He compares this to the US, Canada, Argentina and Brazil, where over 90% of the soybeans grown are genetically modified.

Dr James says that if the soy milk bought in Australia states it is made from whole soybeans, it is “most likely” made from non-GM Australian soybeans. If the label says it is made from soybean isolate, it is “most probably imported from the US”.

Coffee anyone?

Judith Friedlander 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.

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? 

UK dairy farmers continue blockades to overturn price cuts

Despite three milk processors ending plans to cut the farm-gate price for milk, farmers in the UK have pledged to continue blockades of processing depots until all price cuts are rescinded.

“We will continue the protests at depots until everyone has rescinded the price cuts,” David Handley, chairman of Farmers For Actions (FFA) said.

“We also want to track the money that was taken from us in May/June.

“We have given them four weeks to show us their accounts so we can see where the money went and we want some of it back.”

Protesters wave goodbye to a milk tanker which is forced to turn around and leave the Dairy Crest milk processing at Foston, Derbyshire after farmers blocked entrances with their tractors.

 

The UK dairy farmers are suffering similarly to their Australian counterparts, and have been calling for the price cuts to be abandoned, as they are left unable to break even on their operations due to the low farm-gate prices.  

Farmers and the FFA have been blockading plants since last week, over what they say are unnecessary cuts.

“The decision too reverse the price cuts totally vindicates our action and shows there was no need for what they did,” Handley said.

Do Aussie farmers need to embark on similar action to get a response from our major supermarkets? As we reported earlier today, Coles has failed to respond to more than 73 000 consumers who are concerned about the impact of the milk price wars.

Katter criticises National Food Plan, Coles returns fire

Bob Katter’s criticism of the National Food Plan (NFP) has been slammed by Coles, but many of his suggestions would drastically improve the current food industry if they were implemented.

The government released the discussion paper on the NFP, which examines consumer concerns regarding food safety, land use and foreign ownership, last week for public consultation.

One of the key recommendations of the paper was implementing steps to improve relationship between suppliers and supermarkets, and the Queensland MP has declared his support for the move.

In a statement to media last week that discussed foreign investment in Australia and the supermarket domination, Katter predicted that within three years Australia would be a net importer of food and “unable to feed ourselves”.

His comments are not at all outlandish, considering other industry experts, including union members, food companies and produce growers have all said the same thing in the last year.

If elected, Katter’s Party would create legislation that would impose labels on imported produce with potential health hazard warnings (as chemicals used in foreign farms have often been banned in Australia for decades) reduce the duopoly’s supermarket share to no more than 22 per cent and return arbitrated prices for milk.

Katter says that reducing Coles and Woolworths’ market share would drastically improve the rights of farmers and small business “against the might of a supermarket share concentration, unseen anywhere else in the world”.

“The Americans are screaming blue murder because WalMart and their competitor have now reached 23pc market share,” he said.

“Here we have two supermarkets with 92pc; so if they decide to cut down the amount of money they are going to pay farmers, they can, because there is no competition.

“On top of this, they are bringing in product from overseas, yet it has been revealed that the Chinese are putting formaldehyde into cabbages.

“And we all know that the antibiotic streptomycin is being used on foreign-grown apples to fight fire blight; and that water contaminated with raw sewage is being put in overseas prawn farms.”

Katter called on all Australian farmers to appeal to their local MP’s to vote for the measures his party is putting forward.

“It’s fighting time,” he said.

“This country will no longer accept a pell-mell rush into not being able to feed itself.

“And this country will not accept a continuation where two giant supermarket chains are able to cut the price to the supplier and increase the price to the consumer, because there is no free market where there is a duopoly.”

Coles Corporate Affairs general manager Rob Hadler said Katter's criticism of the NFP should be ignored, saying it is “xenophobic fearmongering, old-fashioned jingoism, protectionism and false claims about our national food situation”.

While he argued that  Australia has been a net food exporter for well over 100 years, he admitted that ensuring we maintain that position for coming decades would only happen  “if we get the right policy settings in place”.

“Our strong belief is that a strong and competitive domestic food production system is required to support export growth in the longer term,” he said.

“Coles has an ‘Australian first’ sourcing policy that gives preference to Australian grown and made products where they are available.”

But as food manufacturers, producers and farmers will tell you (off the record), while the supermarkets pledge to source food locally, the prices they pay are not sustainable for the future, although Hadler denies this.

“Coles has funded lower prices from being more efficient, not by squeezing farmers and food manufacturers,” he said.

Katter also slammed the increase in foreign investment, saying it is tragic that the government will sit down and talk with Chinese interests but won’t do the same with Australian farmers.

“It is a great tragedy indeed that we have to sell our own country out to get any investment in food production.

“The average Australian may well shake their head – we’ll sell our country off to the Chinese but not develop it ourselves.”

UK govt spending £5 million on improving dairy industry

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the government will spend £5 million (AU$7.6 million) on a program to improve competitiveness for dairy farmers.

The funding is part of the UK Government’s Rural Economy Scheme, and the announcement came on the same day as dairy farmers across the UK gathered at a summit in London, calling on  processors to reverse a reduction in farmgate milk prices.

The Department for Environment & Rural Affairs (Defra) will hear bids for funding in the coming months, but have not revealed exactly what they will be looking for.

"We are looking for high-quality bids from the dairy industry to help unlock growth through game-changing investments," a Defra statement said.

"The dairy grant funding is to help producers to increase their competitiveness and added value.

“The details regarding what it is available for support, intervention rates etc are not yet available, but will need to meet current RDPE (Rural Development Programme for England) funding requirements.

The dairy farming industry has suffered similar problems as their Australian counterparts, as cuts to base prices impact farmers’ incomes and businesses.

Coles’ decision to slash milk prices to $1 per litre last year had huge flow-on effects for the industry, and farmers left the industry in droves.

Last month, the dairy industry announced that name-brand milk, which is slightly more expensive than the private label offerings, will now be permeate free.

The additive, which is much cheaper than whole milk, dilutes the milk and allows it to be sold cheaper, but as consumers become aware of the presence of permeate, they are looking for products without it.

The move by the dairy industry provides an obvious point-of-difference for consumers, which it hopes will result in more sales of the additive-free milk.

In May Dairy Australia received $1 million from the Federal Government to conduct research to assess energy efficiency on dairy farms nation-wide, but do you think the Australian dairy industry needs a similar scheme to the UK?

Image: The Guardian

Is anyone really listening? The Murray Darling and the limits to community consultation

On 28 May 2012 the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) handed down its long awaited revised blueprint to restore health to the Murray Darling Basin.

The plan was the result of a 20-week community engagement process launched in October 2011. The consultation process involved 24 public meetings, 56 round table and technical meetings, 18 social and economic briefings for representatives from rural financial organisations, five regional briefings on water trading issues, and an Indigenous consultation process. There were also 31 bilateral and working group meetings with basin states.

At the conclusion of the process almost 12,000 submissions had been received, resulting in 300 alterations to the draft plan.

This stage of the MDBA’s public consultation process was, however, only the formal phase of its engagement strategy, as required under section 43 of the Water Act 2007 (Cwth). Even before the formal consultation process had been initiated, the MDBA had convened 110 round table and technical meetings and more than 200 multilateral and bilateral meetings and working group sessions with state and territory government officials. It had even consulted on the best way of consulting with stakeholders.

Robert Lisle

 

Community consultation mechanisms have become a familiar fixture within the policy maker’s tool kit. Such strategies became increasingly popular both in Australia and internationally in the 1990s, even if government rhetoric about their purported value has not always lived up to reality.

Public engagement strategies can assume a variety of formats and they can run for varying lengths of time. They are almost always costly exercises in financial terms.

Any assessment about the likely benefits and risks associated with public consultation is deeply rooted in particular conceptions about the preferred role of the citizen in the democratic process.

Proponents say these arrangements are inclusive of the body politic (and thereby extend democratic forms of participation). They can also (re)energise and mobilise disaffected citizens back to the political mainstream.

Public consultation can serve as a useful information-gathering tool that draws ideas from a diverse array of perspectives. This can improve the quality of policy outcomes because decisions are informed by a more comprehensive fact finding endeavour. But it also subjects the policy making process to a modicum of transparency that is otherwise lacking in the more traditional model of policy making.

When deployed effectively, public consultation can even enhance the legitimacy of outcomes. The bringing together of the protagonists may produce a more rounded understanding of the complexities of the matter in dispute. This may, in turn, enhance voluntary compliance once a decision is reached. The shared ownership that comes with being granted a voice can help motivate affected parties to comply with the final outcome.

But public consultation does carry risks. It can slow down decision-making. Outcomes may have to be deferred until the consultation process has been exhausted and the views of participants collated. The agents who are most likely to benefit from time delays are policy makers grappling with contentious decisions.

 

ECO IMAGES PTY LTD

 

Moreover, implicit in support for public consultation is the assumption that citizens are not only inclined to engage but that they are equipped to do so.

The MDBA’s consultation process, along with its resultant recommendations, exemplifies some of the complexities associated with public engagement.

The concerns of stakeholders have hardly been assuaged by the MDBA’s final report. Not only has the consultation process been denounced as a farce but there have been substantive criticisms of the Authority’s final recommendations.

Nor has the process facilitated rapprochement among the duelling stakeholders. All sides agree that a sustainable basin is critical in both environmental and economic terms. The stakeholders further recognise that the basin has not been managed in the national interest. But this is the extent of the consensus. With the basin stretching one million square kilometres from Queensland to South Australia, the diversity of views held by the stakeholders are as diverse as the area is extensive.

Although the MDBA claims that the feedback it received during the consultation process has strengthened the revised report, little appears to have altered from the original draft plan. The one substantive modification is the imposition of tougher limits on the amount of groundwater that should be extracted over the long term. Yet to the consternation of many, the MDBA adopted a status quo position on the volume of water that should be returned to the river system. The consultation still does not mark the end of the decision-making process. This plan is now subject to ministerial and parliamentary processes across two levels of government.

The future of the basin plan seems bleak. The Victorian State Government has declared it to be “a death warrant that will force agricultural industries across northern Victoria out of business”. The NSW Government has denounced the plan for its failure to clarify its environmental outcomes and its huge impacts on local communities. The depth of the South Australian Government’s displeasure has resulted in preparations for a High Court challenge if the plan is instituted in its present form.

While community engagement has significant merits, it is far from a panacea to resolve contentious policy matters; particularly when the gulf that divides the stakeholders is immense. This is not to say that such processes are a waste of time, only that the outcomes are likely to be mixed.

Narelle Miragliotta 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.

Smart label remembers the use-by date you forget

A revolutionary “smart food label” developed by European scientists, which would take the guess work out of use-by labels, could be mass produced by the end of this year, if it gets enough support.

The UWI Label, which can be used on a range of foods, contains a chemical-based indicator strip that tells you exactly how long that product has been opened.

Developed by Pete Higgins, in conjunction with scientists from Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the inventors say the system could save countless food poisoning cases and significantly eliminate food wastage.

“The label on the back might have small print that says something like “once opened, use within 4 weeks” (or whatever the period might be) but, how do you remember when you first opened the jar?” the creators ask.

You don’t, that say, you forget and you then either take a risk or throw it away. Sound familiar?

“The label reacts as a soon as a food jar or packaging is opened, then gives a visual warning when the product is no longer safe to consume,” Higgins said.

The UWI Label knows when you opened the jar for the first time  shows you how long it has been opened tells you when it has reached its “use within” period and when it may no longer safe to use or consume.

Indicator panels in the label progressively turn green to show the elapsed time from the opening of a product and a red panel alerts consumers when the “use within” period has expired.

UWI Label time ranges can be set as hours, days, weeks, months up to a six month and is pre-set during manufacturing of the product.

The inventors have made it to the final of the Barclays Take One Small Step competition, which helps entrepreneurs in Great Britain to turn their ideas into reality, with £50,000 funding, exposure and support.

The public voting starts 30 May and concludes 27 June, and the inventors say they “will be working tirelessly throughout this four week period to get as many supporters as possible.”

They say while the label would be extremely beneficial for food products, it could offer significant improvements to various industries.

 “Beyond the obvious application for food production, the technology is also suitable in other sectors where products have a critical shelf life once opened – including industrial glues and sealants, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, blood transfusion services and veterinary,” Higgins said.

 

Federal Government provides $1m funding to improve dairy technology

Dairy Australia has received $1 million from the Federal Government to conduct research to assess energy efficiency on dairy farms nation-wide.

As the national services body for dairy farmers and the industry, Dairy Australia helps farmers adapt to a changing operating environment, and work towards a profitable, sustainable dairy industry.

The funding will provide over 900 farmers with information and support to improve farm energy efficiency, hopefully cutting costs for individual farmers and larger organisations, who are struggling to compete in the current retail environment.

Earlier this month, dairy farming was rated the second worst job in the world, based on physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. 

In April, Western Australian farmers met with Wesfarmers boss Richard Goyder to discuss the impact of the milk price wars on production and try to find a solution.

The farmers want fairer pricing strategies from the group, which includes Coles, and last week the WA Farmers Federation passed a motion to boycott Wesfarmers and its subsidiaries.

The WA Farmers Dairy Council say the “predatory pricing” by the major supermarkets have devalued the industry.

The Australian Dairy Industry Council’s project is also supported by the Australian Dairy Industry Council, milk processors and state agencies.

Manager of Dairy Australia’s Natural Resource Management Program, Catherine Phelps, said the cost of using energy is a major concern for farmers and other workers in the dairy industry.

 “The conditions are right for a very effective national project,” she said.

“The secured funding would help deliver energy assessments to all eight dairy regions across Australia, tailoring it to meet local needs.”

Some of the recommended options will most likely include changes to management practices, optimisation of current equipment and capital investment, Phelps explained.

UNSW, Korea join forces to reduce allergens during food and drink processing

Australian researchers have identified processing techniques which will minimise the adverse effects of allergens in milk and other food products.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) food scientists are working on altering the properties of the allergenic proteins, and have signed a memorandum of understanding with the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering, as well as Korea’s National Institute of Animal Science (NIAS).

The collaboration is part of the Rural Development Administration Department, which will export potential benefits of various food safety technologies.

The food allergy research group at UNSW, led by Dr Alice Lee, is working towards developing nano-sensors that can better detect allergens in food and indentify how these allergens change after harvest during food processing, and eventually result in an adverse reaction when consumed by humans.

There are various proteins contained in animal milk which can cause humans to have adverse immune responses, and reactions range from slight intolerances to potentially life threatening anaphylaxis.

“Food allergy has been an emerging food safety concern especially in developed countries,” Lee, a senior lecturer in Food Science and Technology, said.

“The current collaborative research project we have with the National Institute of Animal Science is focused on reducing the health risks of milk allergens by a means of high pressure processing.”

Lee said the food safety research at UNSW is largely focused on developing novel detection technology and new methods to improve the safety of foods, at both the farm and at the processing levels.

Under the new agreement, a NIAS researcher is working closely with the UNSW’s Food Science and Technology group, which is also looking at microbiological risks including E.coli and salmonella, as well as chemical risks posed by traces of things like antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.

Lee said antibiotics are often administered to livestock in very low doses to fend off bacteria growth, but leftover residues can sometimes be present in meat, leading to damaging health impacts when humans are exposed.

He explained that Korea’s Rural Development Administration Department is comparable to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and has a broad research focus, with a range of possibilities for future research collaborations in the areas of food safety.

“Korea and Australia share a common interest in food security, global food availability, and food safety – especially around livestock hygiene,” Professor Rob Burford, head of the School of Chemical Engineering, said.

“This is an exciting partnership for UNSW.”

300 more jobs slashed in dairy sector: Murray Goulburn’s profit declines

Australia’s biggest dairy foods processor will slash 300 jobs to lower costs in the increasingly difficult dairy industry.

Murray Goulburn, a co-operative owned and controlled by dairy farmers turns a third of Australia’s milk supply into diary products which are then sold domestically and to export markets.

It recently achieved praise and appreciation as a price leader in the local market, after increasing the price it paid for milk products at the farm gate.

But the pressure on the dairy sector from supermarkets and importers has led to a decrease in Murray Goulburn’s profits.

Murray Goulburn, the maker of Devondale butter and Cobram cheese will cut the 300 jobs to lower costs in the increasingly difficult dairy industry.

It conducted a detailed review of its head office and processing operations before deciding to eliminate 12 per cent of its workforce.

 

The 300 jobs will come from various parts of the business, with 168 positions from processing sites and distribution centres lost, 59 from the head office and the remainder through natural attrition.

Those in processing and distribution roles will be made redundant by the end of June and the head office roles will become redundant by September.

Managing director Gary Helou blamed the decline in world market prices as a result of higher global milk supply as the main reason for the job losses.

He said the company needs to improve its manufacturing efficiency, slash head office costs, increase its global competitiveness and deliver higher farm-gate prices, and these changes will begin some of these improvements.

"These are difficult but necessary decisions to ensure that Murray Goulburn can remain competitive,'' he said.

“It is in the interests of our suppliers, shareholders, employees, communities and customers that MG remains a strong business into the future.''

The company has promised employees full entitlements.

Image: The Herald Sun

Good culture: how the rise in yoghurt consumption is helping Aussie farmers

Yoghurt is one of the fastest-growing food categories in Australia, and the increased consumption is not only improving health, it's helping Aussie farmers.

Whether its health consciousness on the part of consumers, or the range of flavours and types that manufacturers are producing, the rise in popularity cannot be ignored.

A mere few years ago, the Greek yoghurt category was almost non-existent in the Australian market, but the current demand is something that is not being ignored by manufacturers.

As dairy farmers struggle to survive the milk price wars and more dairy products become private-label domain, yoghurt and in particular, Greek yoghurt, is offering Aussie dairy farmers some hope.

“Greek yoghurt uses about triple the amount of milk compared to other yoghurts and the hope and expectation is that this will change the local milk consumption drastically,” Peter Meek, Managing Director for Bead Foods, which is launching Chobani Greek yoghurt in the Australian market, told Food Magazine.

Since launching Chobani in the US five years ago, the consumption of Greek yoghurt has risen dramatically, and Meek anticipates a similar story in Australia.

“There really wasn’t a Greek yoghurt category back in 2007, there were a couple of small niche players and then Chobani came along and almost created the mainstream category,” he explained.

“It’s gone from one per cent of the total yoghurt market to about a third of the market in five years.

“In Australia the greater yoghurt segment is not tracked by retailers, but based on our estimations, we think [Greek yoghurt] is about 15 per cent of the market, and it has seen strong growth in the last few years, mostly the plain variety because people like to add it to cooking and other things.”

Back to basics

The difference is the way the yoghurt is made, which takes on an old-fashioned, traditional approach to making Greek yoghurt, which Meek believes is the main reason it has been so widely adopted in the US and will also be in Australia.

“I think firstly because almost all of it is natural and organic and properly strained. We call ours ‘Greek yoghurt,” not ‘Greek-style” because we strain our yoghurt and it takes three litres of milk to make one litre of our Greek yoghurt,” he told Food Magazine.

“The standard Greek yoghurt available in Australia is 10 per cent fat because it is just full cream milk with cream added and then it is fermented.

“But we start with lots of skim milk, we strain it and remove the fat, which makes it incredibly thick and creamy naturally because there are tons and tons of proteins in there.

“I think the health and wellness trend is growing and consumers are looking for products that are authentic.

“Our yoghurt is milk and cultures, what we don’t use is the stuff consumers are saying they don’t want: gelatines and thickeners and artificial additives.

Chobani has invested $20 million into building what Meek describes as “basically a whole new factory alongside our existing [Gippsland] one,” to make the Greek yoghurt locally.

“We’re putting in a whole processing plant to make the base yoghurt, as well as new filling lines, warehousing and storage capacity to store and ship,” he explained to Food Magazine.

“In the process, we’re also recruiting people for the development and there will be about 25 more peopled when it’s up and running, so we will have an impact on the wider community with employment too.

Milking the dairy industry

“The hope and expectation is that this will change the local milk consumption drastically.

“We currently source all Gippsland dairy from Victoria, so we’re already buying that and once we start making Chobani locally, we will obviously increase the amount we’re buying dramatically.”

“Anything that uses local milk has got to be a great thing.

“One reason we will make the milk here is that we will have access to a wonderful quality of milk.”

When Food Magazine asked Meek for his take on the supermarket price wars and its impact on the dairy industry, he was hesitant to comment.

“It’s a very complicated issue and I don’t have all the information on it,” he said.

“All I know is that for my business to be successful, I need a viable farming community behind me anything that will support that, I am definitely in favour of.”

Dairy farming second worst job in the world

This month, a US survey rated dairy farming as the second worst job you can have.

The findings of the American survey might not come as a surprise to most Australian dairy farmers, who are facing a slump in profits as the major supermarkets continue to sell milk for $1 per litre, despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into what the industry calls “unsustainable”prices.

Australian Dairy Association president Chris Griffin told Food Magazine earlier this year that farmers are leaving the industry in droves because they cannot manage to make a profit, or in many cases, break even.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

The only profession deemed to be worse than dairy farming is being a lumberjack, according to the results collated by American HR group, CareerCast’s.

The five key categories were used to determine the best and worst jobs were physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook.

The importance of five

With Greek yoghurt going from strength to strength, one may wonder whether there is any room left in the market for more mainstream varieties. And the answer is ‘yes there is.’

So much so, that from a big idea became an even bigger development for an entrepreneur and his yoghurt brand, which had a buyer before he even had a working factory.

David Prior has a unique take on the adage ‘make the most out of your day’.

Having started his day at five o’clock in the morning for over a decade, Prior treasures this moment each morning where he feels he can pause and create his day.

It was this philosophy that fuelled Prior to capture what he calls this ‘five:am-ness,’ and bottle it.

And so, the five:am organic yoghurt brand was born, but Prior also wanted to ensure his operation was environmentally sustainable.

At this stage of pipe dreams and grand ideas, the unimaginable happened: a major Australian supermarket decided to buy his product.

Only problem was, they wanted it by March 2011 – just eight months later – and at this stage Prior didn’t even have any equipment, let along a sustainable manufacturing operation.

“When the contract was signed to produce and distribute our yoghurt within an eight month timeframe, all we had was a 35,000 square foot site located just south of Melbourne, Victoria,” explained Prior.

“Our site had no manufacturing system in place, inadequate air flow and water supply, and none of the technology needed to produce organic yoghurt.”

Despite the short time frame, Prior did not want to sacrifice the environmentally sustainable factory he had dreamed of for his yoghurt brand.

In May 2010, five:am engaged Process Partners, a specialist dairy engineering and process improvement group, to help manage and execute the project, who conducted a detailed audit of five:am’s requirements, taking into account its need to produce more variations of the product than was initially required to meet its March 2011 distribution deadline.

From this, they developed a manufacturing strategy for the plant and evolved the strategy based on budget and business objectives.

Process Partners joined forces with Schneider Electric to provide a full suite of automation and control technology in the small timeframe.

“Nobody can believe how quickly we got it up and going,” Craig Roseman, Schneider Electric’s food and beverage specialist, told Food Magazine.

He agreed that the focus on health has opened up doors for more players in the yoghurt category, including Prior.

“I guess why there has been such an increase in the market in Australia versus the UK is that our consumption per capita is less than them so there was always scope to increase it.

“There is definitely a trend towards more wholesome foods and yoghurt is one example of that.

The milk used in five:am’s yoghurt is an important part of it’s organic processing, which Roseman said is sourced from a farm in Victoria.

“It is a certified organic farm, and it went through rigorous process to get it that certification,” he said.

Roseman told Food Magazine that while the supermarket duopoly is impacting the market, the yoghurt sector is proving to be a hopeful case.

“I guess we have, apart from the independents, a strong duopoly between Coles and Woolworths so they are always going to have pretty strong market power and I think basically having market power means they can dictate a lot about what they want.

“There is that element of end users, some are more susceptible to that [supermarket power], while some can push back a little.

“I certainly agree that it’s not conducive to a healthy local sector in the long run, it is going to put strain on the businesses that are already struggling.

“We’re not that different to ‘a dollar a litre’ farmers, a lot of our business is cut out or improved on too.

“Fortunately the yoghurt sector is one of the few dairy derivatives that is not home branded to the extent that milk and cheese.

“The profit is driven out for manufacturers when a category becomes dominated by private label, but yoghurt has somehow managed to stay strong.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WA farmers meet with Wesfarmers to discuss milk price

Western Australian farmers have met with Wesfarmers boss Richard Goyder to discuss the impact of the milk price wars on production and try to find a solution.

The farmers want fairer pricing strategies from the group, which includes Coles, and last week the WA Farmers Federation passed a motion to boycott Wesfarmers and its subsidiaries.

The WA Farmers Dairy Council say the “predatory pricing” by the major supermarkets have devalued the industry.

"Unsustainable" pricing

Australian farmers have been fighting the major supermarkets over the price wars since Coles slashed the price of its private label milk to $1 a litre in January last year.

Woolworths quickly followed suit, and despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the supermarkets were allowed to keep trading at the reduced price, which the industry has slammed as “unsustainable.”

But president of the Australian Dairy Farmers Association, Chris Griffin, told Food Magazine earlier this year that the financial pressures placed on farmers through the price wars has led to many leaving the industry.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, dairy farming was rated the second worst job in the world last week, based on physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. 

Many WA farmers wanted to support the proposed boycott immediately, but the motion was passed on to the executives of the association for assessment.

Managing director of Wesfarmers, Goyder, met with WA Farmers president Dale Park and senior vice president Tony York this week to discuss some of the issues, including the impact of the pricing on the industry, which it says has lost it $25 million.

Who absorbs the price cut?

Coles has continually denied that its low-priced milk is impacting the dairy industry, claiming it is absorbing the costs, but those in the industry know that while that may be the case for now, in the long run producers will be taking the financial hit more than they already are.

“What it comes down to, according to the supermarkets, is that it comes down the them looking after us as consumers by cutting prices, but it comes at the expense of quality and also, they’re not asking consumers if they’re OK with this, they’re just deciding for us,” Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) food and confectionary secretary, Jennifer Dowell, told Food Magazine earlier this year.

“Invariably they say it is not absorbed by the grower or the manufacturer when they cut the prices but in the end it always does.”

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs, including the carbon tax, would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

Fear campaign

While the meetings between farmers and the major supermarkets are a step in the right direction, hopefully it will pave the way for other suppliers to follow suit and start talking about the impact of the price wars, because up until now the Senate Inquiry into the power of Coles and Woolworths has been met with fear from producers to afraid to criticise the supermarkets.

“WA Farmers wants to work with all food retailers to develop a supply model which ensures locally available product is their preferred source, pricing structures are sustainable and to develop a program which highlights to consumers the source of their product,” Park said.

More meetings are planned between the executives in coming weeks.

Image: News Limited

Bega finalises 5-year private label supply deal with Coles

Bega Cheese and Coles have officially signed on the dotted line, confirming the cheese maker will supply for the supermarket giant’s private label for the next five years.

The deal was first revealed in September last year, amid controversy over the impact of private label increases on Australian food producers.

It is expected Bega will produce about 19 000 tonnes of cheese for Coles within the period.

Are you a dairy farmer? Your job is the second worst in the world

Dairy farming has been rated the second worst job in the world.

The findings of the American survey might not come as a surprise to most Australian dairy farmers, who are facing a slump in profits as the major supermarkets continue to sell milk for $1 per litre, despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission into what the industry calls “unsustainable” prices.

Australian Dairy Association president Chris Griffin told Food Magazine earlier this year that farmers are leaving the industry in droves because they cannot manage to make a profit, or in many cases, break even.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

The only profession deemed to be worse than dairy farming is being a lumberjack, according to the results collated by American HR group, CareerCast’s.

The fourth worst job is working on an oil rig, while the fifth worse is a newspaper reporter.

The best job, according to the research, is a software engineer.

The five key categories were used to determine the best and worst jobs wre physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook.

Image: The Australian

Fear campaign damaging Supermarket Senate Inquiry

The bullying behaviours and fear campaigns used by the major supermarkets to wield complete power over suppliers is still getting in the way of the Senate Inquiry into the issue.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) are collaborating on the Inquiry into the anti-competitive practises of Coles and Woolworths.

The decision to take the matter to the Senate came after the dairy industry voiced its concern over the  milk price wars which resulted in both the major supermarkets selling milk for just $1 a litre, pushing farmers out of the industry as they struggled to make a living on such small payments.

Countless Australian food companies are either closing down completely or moving their operations overseas, as the influx of private-label products on supermarket shelves leaves them with two choices.

They can try to compete with the supermarkets who are able to sell similar products at ridiculously low prices because of the power they have over suppliers, but the chances of surviving, let alone making profits, are slim.

Or, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Many Australian food companies have reluctantly agreed to cease operations as they were and instead use their factories and workforce to supply products for the supermarkets’ private label products.

But if they thought were at the mercy of the supermarkets before, they haven’t seen the worst of it until they relinquish any kind of control they had over their destiny by signing such an agreement.

Because when Coles and Woolworths decide they want to put a product on special, or they need a huge amount of a certain product, you have to deliver.

And if a company can’t deliver on time, or at the price they want to sell the product at? Too bad, Coles and Woolworths say.

“Invariably they say it is not absorbed by the grower or the manufacturer when they cut the prices but in the end it always does,” Jennifer Dowell, National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union Food Division, told Food Magazine.

“Companies can’t even transport their own stuff to Coles and Woollies!

“They transport it for you and then just bill you with their high transport prices later.

“And they won’t store stuff that is within a certain timeframe from its use-by date.

“They make the producers store it then tell them they need it within so many hours.

“So producers are in this quandary where they can’t afford to produce stuff and keep it in storage because if Coles and Woollies decide they don’t want to take it they are out of pocket.”

“They have to produce everything at such short notice so they are never able to get a long term view and a stable situation at their factory.”

Nobody willing to speak up

Dowell said the fear campaign the major supermarkets operate with makes it impossible for food companies to criticise them.

“The public doesn’t have enough information about what’s really going on in the industry.

“It’s completely ridiculous that they can’t come out and publically say ‘Coles and Woolworths are killing us’ because they just ensure that they will go out of business.

“If you publically criticise Coles and Woollies, your products will just no longer be put on the shelves, and they’re getting away with that!”

Countless food producers and farmers have discussed the impact of the supermarket dominance with Food Magazine, but almost all are too afraid to go on the record with such claims.

With Coles and Woolworths controlling 80 per cent of the grocery market in Australia, if one or both decided to stop stocking a companies’ product, it really has nowhere else to turn.

Journalists and workers in the industry are all too aware of the dire situation our food sector is in, but nobody is willing to put their name or company to the claims.

The ABC’s Lateline made over 100 calls to get comment from a food producer, and when they did find one willing, he would only speak with the promise of anonymity.

“But after more than 100 phone calls, just one Australian supplier was willing to speak to Lateline about alleged abuses of power by Coles and Woolworths as long as we agreed to hide his identity, like this, (vision shows unidentifiable silhouette of man) and even hide the kind of product he supplied,” Margot O’Neill says in the story.

“But after sleepless nights the supplier pulled out, leaving us to use only his words about why he’s so scared.

“ANONYMOUS SUPPLIER (male voiceover): "It’s quite common for the majors to stop dealing with a supplier … and suppliers to have little chance of a viable business unless they’re serving the two major supermarkets, … so it’s too big a risk to expose myself.

“But I think the power of the big supermarkets is now too large for the proper functioning of our food supply."

And while the ACCC has promised to keep all claims made to it in regards to the supermarkets confidential, few are willing to speak up, for fear they will be found out and punished.

“Without doubt there is a climate of fear when it comes to farmers and food processors speaking out about practices of the big two,” Nick Xenophon, Senate select committee food processing, told the ABC.

“When farmers and food processors tell me that they feel a bit like medieval serfs, they’re beholden to Coles and Woollies as their medieval landlords, then you know there’s something seriously wrong.”

Something has to be done

When asked if she would support a Supermarket Ombudsman, as suggested by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), Dowell was welcoming of the idea.

“I’ll support anything at this stage!” she told Food Magazine.

“We have been talking about this for years and I’ve watched it get worse and worse.

“They own just about everything; they’ve got petrol, pharmaceutical, pokie machines and alcohol so essentially they have this massive political influence so they intervene in those areas too.”

With so much control over various industries and governments in Australia, the scary reality is that the major supermarkets may not be stoppable, at least not without specific laws and regulations to stop the behaviours.

“If we get more powers given to the ACCC, any power to an Ombudsman, and get people the ability to raise issues without losing their job, then that is a step in the right direction, because right now they cannot,” Dowell explained.

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

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

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

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

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

“We will be reliant on importing food.

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

How concerned are you about the power held by Coles and Woolworths? How do you think they can be stopped?

AFGC finalises draft legislation calling for Supermarket Ombudsman

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has announced it is finalising the draft submission for a Supermarket Ombudsman to be a key part of the next Federal Budget.

The peak industry body has been urging the government to instate an Ombudsman and establish a Trading Code of Conduct, to stamp out the anti-competitive, behaviours of the major supermarkets, which are pushing Australian food manufacturers and small businesses out of business.

The AFGC announced it would be starting on its draft legislation to present to the government back in January and has enlisted the help of international law firm Baker and McKenzie in its bid.

The AFGC wants the Supermarket Ombudsman to ensure Coles and Woolworths are fair and transparent in their pricing and do not push more Australian companies and industries out of business, as they have done with the dairy and fresh produce industries, among others.

The AFGC also announced last month that it would be extending its representative reach to also include small to medium enterprises.

It will be consulting all stakeholders on the draft legislation this week, before the matter is referred to the government for approval.