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.”

Big Olive Company fined for misleading “extra virgin” labelling

A South Australian company has been fined $13 000 for misleading labelling, after it’s olive oil was not extra virgin as claimed.

The Big Olive Company, located in Tailem Bend, produced the oil concerned between December 2012 and March 2011, which was sold in 600ml bottles under the Oz Olio brand.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims said consumers are being tricked into buying an inferior product which is falsely labelled as “extra virgin.”

"All we can do is take action against people who are engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct," he said.

"So when someone brings out extra virgin olive oil that fails the fatty free acid standard, we can take action, because in our view, clearly, it's not extra virgin olive oil."

The fine handed down to the Big Olive Company is part of a wider investigation into mislabelling of olive oils by the ACCC.

It is the only company to be fined for misleading advertising so far, but according to South Australian olive grower, Richard Whiting, the $13 000 fine is not enough.

In a protest against the ACCC’s fine, Whiting bathed in olive oil outside Parliament House in Canberra earlier this month.

"The Australian Olive Association has given them many examples of oils that don't meet the standard," he said.

"Both the Australian standard and the International Olive Committee standard, they don't seem to have taken up the testing necessary to check the validity of those oils."

"People think they're doing the right thing by buying extra virgin olive oil, which they are, but sometimes it's not really what they're paying for.

"So to that extent we've all been taking a bath, and I'm here to try to push the point home to the Parliamentarians, and especially the ACCC, for them to start taking some action."

The Big Olive Company is refusing to comment on the fine.

Junk food ads aimed at children fall 60 per cent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New regulations to ensure welfare of animals in NSW abattoirs

New South Wales has unveiled new regulations in state abattoirs to ensure the wellbeing and welfare of animals.

The new legislation will require a designated Animal Welfare Officer to be on the premises of any abattoir to oversee and be accountable for the welfare of animals.

Yesterday the NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson the new “animal welfare package” will significant improve the treatment of animals in abattoirs and Animal Welfare Officers will be required to undergo thorough training.

“Only employees that have undertaken specific animal welfare officer training will be eligible to be designated”, she said.

By 1 January 2013, all domestic abattoirs will be required to have a trained Animal Welfare Officer on the premises while processing is occurring.

The appointment of Animal Welfare Officers is part of a range of changes being implemented by the NSW government.

The treatment of pregnant sheep has been widely criticised, and the use of gestational pens has been slammed by welfare advocates.

Many operators have already begun phasing out the gestational crates, and the industry had pledged to have their use completely stopped by 2017.

Despite calls from Animals Australia to bring the changes forward, a spokesperson from Australian Pork Limited told Food Magazine it is “not as simple as walking into a room and turning off the light.”

“And for producers to make changes within their own infrastructure, they need authority approval, from local councils and state regulatory services, and that takes time,” the spokesperson said,

“Then they need finances to undertake the changes.”

Other conditions to be imposed on domestic abattoirs include all NSW domestic abattoirs complying with the mandatory adoption of Section 2 of the “Industry Animal Welfare Standards for Livestock Processing Establishments preparing meat for human consumption”, 2nd Edition.

All relevant employees will also be required to complete training in the “stunning, sticking and shackling” code set out by the Australian Meat Industry.

Several abattoirs have hit headlines in the past year over allegations of cruelty and mistreatment of animals.

The Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors has been ordered to pay $5 200 and will be placed on the Food Authority’s Name & Shame register after a NSW government investigation found the abattoir was breaching its licence conditions.

In February the state government launched a full investigation into operations at the meat processor located in Wilberforce, following the release of footage showing pigs being beaten with metal bars and sheep being skinned while still conscious.

The RSPCA investigation into alleged mistreatment of animals is still ongoing.

The revelations followed the discovery of an illegal slaughterhouse in Victoria  which led to criminal charges, as well as a broiler farm that was found to be underfeeding chickens causing them removed from the premises.

There is also much debate about the increase in meat being produced to meet Jewish and Muslim requirements, both in Australia and overseas, with opponents saying the slitting of the animal’s throat without stunning to comply with religious beliefs is cruel.

But Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy general-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said earlier this month that there is a "lot of confusion" over Halal meat.

He said animals can be stunned before slaughter and still be labelled Halal.

"Over 90 per cent of Halal meat is stunned before slaughter," he said.

In October, Australian agriculture ministers failed to resolve discussions over ritual slaughters, meaning exemptions that allow some Australian abattoirs to conduct slaughter without prior stunning will continue.

There are 12 abattoirs in Australia that are exempt from the regulations that say animals for consumption must be stunned before they are slaughtered.

The exemptions are on religious or cultural grounds, but animal welfare groups want to practice stopped altogether.

The council released a statement following the meeting, saying ministers have reviewed the results of a two-year consultation process with stakeholders and have considered the science involved and the views of religious groups, but could not reach a conclusion.

Up to 250,000 animals are killed without prior stunning in Australia every year under the religious slaughter exemptions and the RSPCA has rejected claims that stunning is not allowed on religious grounds, saying stunning is accepted by the Islamic community and Jewish community and no reason existed for un-stunned slaughter to continue.

The new measures in New South Wales will ensure the meat industry is heading in the right direction, Hodgkinson said.

“These tough new measures are being introduced to foster a culture in which abattoir management and employees fully understand and implement procedures that consistently comply with animal welfare standards.

“The NSW Government will also introduce an additional annual audit specifically focussing on animal welfare compliance and develop a sanctions policy to address any non-compliance with these requirements.”

 “This Government has listened to community concern about animal welfare standards in domestic abattoirs following the incident at Hawkesbury Valley Meat Processors in February this year, and now we’re acting to ensure animal welfare standards in domestic abattoirs are improved”, Hodgkinson said.

Reducing daily salt consumption by 3 grams could save 6000 Aussie lives every year

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

High intake of salt has been linked to heart disease high blood pressure, often referred to as “the silent killer,” which can lead to stroke.

The average Australian eats about d nine grams of salt a day per day, despite the Heart Foundation’s recommended maximum of six grams for healthy people and four grams for people with existing high blood pressure or heart disease.

Dr Robert Grenfell, Clinical Issues Director at the Heart Foundation said that merely cutting down salt by 3 grams per day could prevent 6 000 deaths per year.

 “Research suggests that if we cut the nation’s salt intake by an average of three grams a day, we could prevent 6,000 deaths in Australia every year.

“Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.”

The misunderstanding about where salt is found has been a contributing factor to the increase in diseases, as many people are unaware how much salt is in supposedly ‘healthy’ foods, including bread, soups and sauces.

Extremely high levels of salt are also found in processed foods like chips, crisps, dips and fast foods, and while people know these foods are not good for them, many do not understand the impact of high salt consumption, or how much is a healthy intake.

The Federal Government’s Food and Health Dialogue, which the Heart Foundation is part of, is working towards making processed foods healthier by reducing salt levels in breads, soups, sauces, and other foods.

About 1000 tonnes of salt is already being removed from the Australian food supply every year due to the Dialogue, but Grenfell said more needs to be done.

“While the Dialogue has made a good start, increased funding is desperately needed to really super-charge the food reformulation agenda by introducing targets for more food categories more quickly and supporting that work with public education campaigns.”

In September, a report in the Australian Medical Journal (AMJ) showed more improvements could be made to salt levels in breads, because voluntary reduction across Australia and New Zealand was not enough.  

“While there has been some improvement in sodium levels in New Zealand, and while the companies actively engaged in salt reduction efforts are to be congratulated, our data also highlight the need for continued action,” the report said.

“Better results are likely to be achieved if the governments of Australia and New Zealand take committed leadership of these programs.”

 

However, a Deakin University study released in March found that a “reduced salt” label on a food product will make a consumer experience a reduced level of taste, even if it is not in fact lower in salt.

Participants were asked  to taste soups with the same salt content, but it labelled some as “reduced salt.”

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

While it is clear that salt levels need to be reduced, the study found, better initiatives are needed to encourage lower intakes.

 

AFGC rejects tax on fast food outlets, study finds 20pc needed to make impact

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has rejected a proposal from a suburban Melbourne council that called for major food outlets to be taxed up to 400 per cent more on commercial rates than other businesses.

The Darebin City Council’s proposal became public this week, inspiring comment and opinion from all sides.

Some argue it would be a step in the right direction of tackling rising obesity rates in Australia and, while others, including the AFGC say it would not achieve such an objective.

A report by local councillors said the introduction of the tax on fast food outlets including McDonald’s and KFC would “curb the increase” of people developing Type 2 diabetes.

But the AFGC’s acting chief executive, Geoffrey Annison said the move is “ill-conceived, impractical and would have no impact at all on obesity levels”.

 “Proposals like Darebin Council’s are simplistic and add nothing to either the debate or the outcome. The Henry Tax review said differential taxation was a poor regulatory option for influencing food choice.

“If you were to go down that line, you would have to include a range of food outlets including supermarkets, petrol stations, bakeries, coffee shops, fish and chip outlets, and Thai, Indian and Pizza restaurants as they all sell fast ready-to-eat takeaway foods and not to do so would be inequitable.”

The suggestion of a “fat tax” began last year, when Denmark developed a model to put a tax on foods high in saturated fats.

Many believe Australia needs a similar tax, to address rising obesity rates, and raise funds to prevent and cure obesity-related diseases including Type 2 diabetes.

Australian researchers examined three options for beating obesity and discovered they could prevent about 220 000 cases of type 2 diabetes nationwide by 2025, which was released this week.

https://www.foodmag.com.au/news/220-000-cases-of-diabetes-could-be-prevented-by-20

The team from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute identified a high-risk prevention strategy to begin tackling the obesity epidemic and rise in the number of type 2 diabetes.

They modelled future diabetes cases that could be averted using one of three strategies, the ‘junk food tax,’ counselling and gastric banding.

It found a nation-wide tax on unhealthy foods could lead to body mass index decreasing by around 0.5kg/m2.

A tax on high-sugar drinks has also been suggested, which a study in January found could save 26 000 US lives per year.

But new research out of the UK today has found that any tax on unhealthy foods or drinks would have to be more than 20 per cent for it to have any effect.

Researchers from the University of Oxford found that while more countries are introducing, or considering introducing taxes on unhealthy food and drinks, existing evidence suggests that taxes on a vast range of unhealthy foods would be more effective than focusing on just one.

In the UK, for example, the current “fat tax” regulations stipulate that only hot foods high in saturated fat are subject to the tax, leading to the largest baker, Gregg’s Bakery, to contest its application in court.

It says that because it does not make any effort to keep its sausage rolls warm after they are cooked, they should not be classified as ‘hot food,’ and therefore should not be taxed.

The Oxford study found that the most effective food group to be taxed would be sugary drinks.

“For example, a US study found a 35 per cent tax on sugar sweetened drinks in a canteen led to a 26 per cent decline in sales,” Oliver Mytton, leader of the study, said.

“Meanwhile, modelling studies predict a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks in the US would reduce obesity levels by 3.5 per cent, and suggest that extending VAT (at 17.5 per cent) to unhealthy foods in the UK could cut up to 2,700 heart disease deaths a year.

“Opinion polls from the US also put support for tax on sugary drinks at between 37 per cent and 72 per cent, particularly when the health benefits of the tax are emphasised.”

The researchers also found that education surrounding energy intake, exercise and nutritional content is important for policy makers to consider when implementing changes.

New sustainability digimag provides practical industry solutions

Australia’s largest B2B media company, Reed Business Information (publisher of Food Magazine), will launch its new digital sustainability magazine, Stream, today.

Delivered straight into the inboxes of over 45,000 key Australian industry professionals, Stream’s unique and innovative design sets out to engage, inform and educate some of Australia’s most valuable industries on sustainability issues, technologies and solutions.

Showcasing practical solutions that businesses can learn from and implement, Stream will feature products, case studies, technical tips, opinion pieces, and updates on standards, regulations and government grants.

The digital mag will draw upon the experience, knowledge and expertise of Australia’s leading publications including:Mining AustraliaManufacturers’ MonthlyFactory Equipment News (FEN)Process and Control Engineering (PACE)Food MagazineArchitecture & DesignBuilding Products News (BPN)Logistics & Materials HandlingElectronics NewsSafety First magazine and Safe to Work website.

Are Coles and Woollies bullying the major TV networks too?

While everyone in the Australian food manufacturing industry is aware of the bullying behaviour of the major supermarkets, it seems they are also now impacting Australian TV networks, which are declining to screen ads criticising Coles and Woolworths’ stake in pokie machines, but refusing to say why.

The advertisement, which point out that Coles and Woolworths own “more dangerous pokie machines than the five largest Las Vegas casinos,” shows a woman unwittingly spending excess money at the supermarket checkout, which has been changed to look like one of the gaming machines.

It also targets the “Fresh Food People,” slogan, changing it to “The Pokies People,” and also uses the Woolworths Everyday Rewards logo, which it launches today.

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The advertisement, created by GetUp! is not being screened by the major TV networks in Australia, but none of the stations have explained why.

A spokesperson from the advocacy organisation told Mumbrella they have not been given a reason why they won’t show the ad.

Food Magazine has contacted Channels 7, 9 and 10 this morning, but nobody was able to provide any answers.

As the Senate Inquiry into the impact of Coles and Woolworths’ anti-competitive behaviour is having on the food industry struggles to get witnesses to comment, for fear of being punished, it seems the major supermarkets are throwing their weight around in an increasing number of sectors.

Calls to Coles and Woolworths have not been returned.

The far-reaching impact of Coles and Woolworths has long been documented, and many are highly critical of the stake they have in various sectors.

The Senate Inquiry is slowly gaining some information about the issue, but most food companies are still too afraid to comment on the actions of the supermarkets.

Do we need a Royal Commission into the power of the major supermarkets in Australia?

How sugar is damaging your brain

We know sugar is not very good for our waistline, but new research out of the US has found the negative impacts of sugar may extend even further: to your brainpower.

And don't think that because you don't add sugar to your coffee you're immune, because you're probably consuming more than you think.

An American study on lab rats, which appeared in the Journal of Physiology, found that a diet with consistent amount of high-fructose corn syrup effectively ruined their memories.

Researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) fed two groups of rats a solution with the syrup as drinking water for six weeks.

Corn syrup is produced using enzymes and acids sometimes used to break down corn starch into fructose, glucose and simple sugars.

The chemical composition of corn syrup closely resembles table sugar, sucrose.

It is made up of half glucose and half fructose.

High fructose corn syrup commercially used comes in two rations, 45 percent glucose to 55 percent fructose used in soft drinks, 58 percent glucose to 42 percent fructose used in sweetening ice cream, desserts and baked goods.

They have the same number of kilojoules.

High-fructose corn syrup is a common ingredient in processed foods, particularly soft drinks, condiments, baby foods and other snacks, and has gained interest over recent years as doctors and dieticians warn against consuming too much of the additive.

Earlier this year, a US study found that a tax on high-sugar drinks could save 26 000 American lives per year.

It is estimated that the average American consumes 45 gallons of sweetened drinks each year, while the US Department of Agriculture estimates they that more than 18 kilograms of just high-fructose corn syrup each year.

While both groups of rats were fed the high-fructose corn syrup, only one also consumed flaxseed oil, an omega-3 fatty acid, which has been shown to improve brain balance and function, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Prior to consuming the corn syrup, and for one group the flaxseed oil and DHA, the rats were given a five-day training session in a complicated maze.

After six weeks of consuming the additives, they were placed back in the maze to see if their abilities to manoeuvre it was the same, with some frightening results.

“The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity," Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.said.

"Their brain cells had trouble signalling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier."

Of even more concern, further examination found that those rats who were not fed the DHA supplements appeared to have developed a resistant to insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates brain function, which Type 1 diabetics lack, while those with Type 2 diabetes produce insulin but is less efficient at moving sugar out of the bloodstream than healthy people.

Many years ago, Type 2 diabetes was often referred to as “sugar diabetes,” as it was known to be caused by lifestyle factors including obesity, high consumption of sugar and fat and low levels of exercise.

"Because insulin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss," Gomez-Pinilla said.

And it’s not just memory that feels the effect of the sugar, with  thoughts and emotions also impacted as the fructose interferes with insulin’s ability to regulate cells.

"Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning," Gomez-Pinilla said.

"Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body.

“This is something new."

While it is not clear what the equivalent amount of high-fructose corn syrup a human would have to consume to suffer the same consequences in the brain, the study does raise questions and concerns over the amount of the additive we are consuming without knowing it.

"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," Gomez-Pinilla said.

"Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information.

“But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimise the damage."

Do you think Australians need more education about high-fructose corn syrup? Do we need better labelling around this additive?

Image: High-fructose corn syrup

Undeclared “meat glue” used in countless American products

First it was “pink slime” horrifying consumers in the US, now it’s emerged that millions of Americans are also consuming “meat glue” each week.

The additive is used to produce not only meats found in fast food outlets, but also supermarkets, local delis and restaurants.

Even vegetarian foods have been found to contain “meat glue.”

The two main types of "meat glue"

The “meat glue” is made up two major types, the first transglutaminase Activa, a white powder form of a natural coagulant-like enzyme called transglutaminase.

The other type is Fibrimex, which is made of enzymes extracted from pig or beef blood by a process developed in the Netherlands.

According to the companies who make the “meat glue” they were designed to bond pieces of protein or irregularly shaped meat so it can be cut and cooked evenly by the food-service industry.

Food scientists told Scripps News Network the two cold-binding agents are used to reduce the use of sodium phosphate, sodium alginate, carrageenan, sodium caseinate and other chemicals that had been used for decades to form and mold meat.

Despite US laws requiring labelling to disclose the inclusion of the two brands of protein adhesive are apparently being ignored, according to an investigation by Scripps Howard News Service, which found almost none of the companies tested declared the additive.

Over five months, Scripps examined over 130 meats and deli products in Seattle, Milwaukee, Omaha and Denver which food scientists found contained the adhesive mixtures, but only four of them had the word “enzymes” on the ingredients list.

No companies would discuss the use of the additive, but it is estimated by food scientists that it is found in up to 35 per cent of all sliced ham, beef, chicken, fish, pizza toppings and other deli meats.

Cold cut processors and fast food outlets including McDonald’s and Arby’s were contacted by Scripps to discuss the use of the additive, but all declined to comment, on whether they use transglutaminase or blood-extract products,  raising concerns over the use of processing products.

While the government regulates that the use of the product should be included on a product’s ingredient list, producers can use a loophole which defines binders as a “processing aid.”

Is this the next "pink slime?"

Similarly to the “pink slime,” which is used as a cheap ground-beef filler, meat glue is not considered a health risk by federal food watchdogs, but consumers are disgusted and frightened by the inclusion of such additives.

After much publicity in 2011 and 2012, the use of pink slime has fallen in the US, although there are reports it is still being used in school lunches.

Experts say the US food industry needs to be accountable for it’s actions and be more transparent with consumers.

“For decades, the meat industry has conveniently operated in the dark, not sharing the dirty details of their practices with the public, while the federal government looked the other way,” Michele Simon, a policy consultant for the Center for Food Safety, told Scripps.

“But now, consumers are demanding to know the truth about what they are.

"We need more transparency in a food system that puts profits before people.”

The impact on religion and diet

The undeclared use of Activa and Fibrimex can cause issues for people with beliefs or dietary restrictions.

Jewish or Muslim consumers could be eating pork products chicken or fish pieces without being aware and vegetarians could be unknowingly consuming meat in their apparently “meat-free” products.

“There may be economic adulteration going on here, and the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) or the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) needs to look at whether laws are being violated,” Tony Corbo, legislative representative for the national consumer group Food & Water Watch said.

“We are especially appalled that certain consumers’ religious beliefs may be unknowingly violated because food manufacturers are hiding what goes into the production of these binding agents.”

The Australian standards

A spokesperson from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) told Food Magazine in a statement that the use of the enzyme, transglutaminase, as a processing aid is permitted under the Processing Aids of the food standards Code.

“Like all processing aids, the safety and function of this enzyme was thoroughly assessed before it was permitted to be included in the Code,” the spokesperson said.

Clause 6 of the Meat and Meat Products of the Code states that “Where raw meat has been formed or joined in the semblance of a cut of meat using a binding system without the application of heat, whether coated or not, a declaration that the meat is either formed or joined, in conjunction with cooking instructions indicating how the microbiological safety of the product can be achieved must be included on the label; or if the food is not required to be labelled, must be provided to the purchaser."

“This mandatory information requirement applies to all raw meat that has been formed or joined and is available for retail sale,” the spokesperson told Food Magazine.

“Where there may be compliance concerns, for example raw meat that is joined or formed being sold without the required labelling, consumers can approach the relevant enforcement agencies with their concerns.

“In addition, where the physical form of the formed or joined meat is labelled in a manner that implies the meat is a whole cut (for example, raw formed or joined meat labelled as ‘steak’), such representations could be considered deceptive or misleading to consumers and would fall under  Australian Consumer Law.

“This legislation is administered and enforced jointly by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the state and territory consumer protection agencies.”

What do you think of these kinds of additives? Are they necessary? Should there be more stringent labelling rules?

Calling time on alcohol taxation in Australia


Australia’s approach to alcohol taxation is riddled with inconsistencies:
  • Alcohol is a prime target for taxation. It’s a good source of government revenue 
  • it allows governments to recoup costs for providing services to drinkers (such as accident and emergency care and policing) 
  • it provides a mechanism for drinkers to pay for the harm they impose on others as a consequence of their drinking
  • it helps discourage excessive drinking due to information failure (not all drinkers are aware of all the risks of drinking and some harms are not yet understood) and drinkers’ tendency to discount the long-term harms of alcohol
  • and reduced consumption of alcohol has known public health benefits.

Moreover, a recent Australian review of the evidence clearly showed alcohol taxation is cost-effective.

Given the utility and cost-effectiveness of alcohol taxation, the challenge is to identify an optimally efficient tax system: one that maximises the potential benefits of restrained alcohol consumption for the least amount of cost to those who don’t consume alcohol to excess.

If an economist was asked to design the least efficient alcohol taxation system imaginable, it would more or less approximate the current Australian system.

It would be blatantly unfair to lay the blame for this situation at the feet of any particular Commonwealth government.

The current system is, ahem, a cocktail of mixed methodologies, ideologies, idiosyncrasies and the remnant battle-lines of long-forgotten policy negotiations.

Essentially, alcohol can be taxed as either a fixed amount per volume of alcohol (a fixed rate of tax per standard drink) or as a proportion of the wholesale price.

Australia has both at the same time. Wine is taxed as a proportion of the wholesale price (called the wine equalisation tax), which means the tax applied to cask wine (around 60 cents per litre) is much lower than bottled wine (around $2.60 per litre) because it has a lower wholesale price.

All other types of alcohol products are taxed as a fixed amount per standard drink, although the fixed rate varies, not only between different types of beverages (beer and spirits, for example) but also between different types of containers (such as kegs and stubbies).

In other words, you pay between 5 cents and nearly $1 in tax on your alcohol, depending on whether you buy draught beer, bottled beer, mid or high-strength beer, cheap wine, expensive wine, cider, straight spirits, pre-mixed spirits or brandy.

Although tinkering with the current alcohol tax system is tempting – because it is easier to negotiate amendments than an overhaul – perhaps it is time to draw breath and go for broke: take the lead from Apple’s army of geeks and scrap the current operating system in favour of a new, more efficient one.

What might this look like?

Let’s go back to our definition of optimal efficiency: maximise the benefits (in other words, reduce harms) and minimise the impact on those who don’t drink to excess.

Since alcohol harm is not beverage-specific (drinking too much is drinking too much), the most efficient method is to tax the alcohol, not the beverage type or its price.

That would remove perverse incentives that currently distort drinkers’ choices between beverage types and would optimise the compensation paid by drinkers for increasing risks of harm and government costs, and reducing public health.

Taxing the alcohol content, known as a volumetric tax, requires a decision about the appropriate rate of tax per unit of alcohol and moving to this system will inevitably create winners and losers (essentially wine and beer would be relatively more expensive, while spirits would be relatively cheaper), but the principle is infinitely closer to optimal efficiency than is currently the case.

Our modelling shows a volumetric tax would deliver both significant health gains and increased taxation revenue, compared to the existing taxation system.

However, a volumetric tax is not the only price control mechanism that could sensibly be utilised, for two reasons.

First, although drinkers are sensitive to changes in alcohol prices, they are relatively price inelastic (that is, demand remains relatively strong despite price rises), which means there is a limit to how high the volumetric tax could be set before it unfairly impacts on relatively light drinkers.

Second, there is more than one type of harmful alcohol consumption: drinking too much on average; and drinking too much on one occasion (getting drunk).

Our modelling suggests that in response to a price increase, Australians will increase the number of days on which they do not drink at all (and reduce the number of days on which they only drink a bit) in order to preserve their financial ability to drink more heavily on the weekend.

This suggests some people just like to get drunk, and you can do that quite a few times and still work out that the most financially savvy way to get drunk is to drink the cheapest alcohol.

A volumetric tax would help inhibit such drinking but could be reinforced by complementary pricing controls, such as a minimum retail price (or floor price). Scotland and England have indicated they will introduce this strategy in 2012.

Unlike the current situation, this mix of price control strategies is not attempting to idiosyncratically amend one taxation system: it is a synthesis of two separate and equitable approaches.

A volumetric tax would effectively transfer funds to the government to compensate them for the cost of mopping up the harms from excessive drinking, while a floor price would inhibit the availability of cheap alcohol.

The practical difficulties of negotiating the introduction of a more optimal alcohol tax system are daunting and will require skilled politics, but it is time to untangle the mess.

And it seems fair that researchers advocating for change ought equally be accountable for measuring the impact of a more optimal alcohol tax system.

To paraphrase Dostoevsky: drinkers, politicians and researchers are all responsible for all.

Anthony Shakeshaft is an Associate Professor at National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

 

Josh Byrnes is a research fellow in health economics at Griffith University.

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

AFGC releases Packaging White Paper

In a bid to ensure a more strategic and proactive packaging sustainability sector, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has released a White Paper on the ‘Future of Packaging.’

The white paper has been developed in consultation with retailers, government, recycling companies, retailers and consumers.

It aims to provide more strategic and realistic action for packaging sustainability.

The AFGC and its stakeholders have committed to going ‘beyond compliance’ with the APC, addressing broader waste and sustainability issues and identifying opportunities that will increase sustainable packaging.

The AFGC says that while significant progress has been made towards sustainability, with higher recycling rates and more lightweight packaging, more needs to be done to ensure a sustainable future for the packaging industry.

They want the focus on waste and litter to be expanded on and an improvement to the poor level of understanding about the important role that packaging plays in delivering products to consumers and the implications of this for sustainability.

In December 2011 the Packaging Impacts Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) was released for comment, aiming to identify new measures with potential to increase packaging resource recovery rates and decrease packaging litter.

The government is now considering new packaging policies to address not only recycling and sustainability, but also to provide a simple front-of-pack nutritional labelling system to curb obesity rates.

Dick Smith fronts Senate Inquiry into food industry

Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith will front the Senate Inquiry into the food processing industry and supermarket dominance today.

The Inquiry has come up against problems getting people and companies to participate in the process, as the supermarkets bully them into silence through their market control.

Smith is one of the few who is openly critical about not only the anti-competitive practises of the supermarkets, but also the government policy that is ruining the entire Australian food industry.

The case against ALDI

He  has taken a slightly different angle in his submission to the Inquiry, effectively blaming foreign-owned supermarket ALDI for most of the problems in the supermarket sector.

“ALDI’s lower prices primarily come from having lower labour costs, that is, they employ less Australians,” Smith writes in his submission. 

“When Coles and Woolworths follow this particular trend, (as they will be forced to) where in a large supermarket you might only have one or two Australians employed our food prices may be slightly cheaper but in the long term our taxes will  very likely go up to pay for the social services of people who no longer have jobs.

“When ALDI stocked a limited range of products there was hope that the Australian owned retailers could survive because they could sell the other necessities that were required, place a higher price on those and obtain an extra margin to cover their extra staffing overheads. 

“The alternative was to go broke.

“That’s  now  all changed.  

“ALDI have announced that they are going to increase their product range so a typical Australian family can buy all of their products in an ALDI store. 

“This will result in Coles and Woolworths either following ALDI further on this lower cost, 90% private label, “lack of choice” model or losing substantial market share and eventually failing.”

Woolworths and Coles are already increasing their private-label products at a rapid pace, pushing Australian companies out of business and placing unfair demands on producers and transporters.

Supermarkets killing drivers

Yesterday the Transport Workers Union (TWU) accused the major supermarkets of causing road deaths by forcing truck drivers to drive for unsafe lengths of time and meet unrealistic deadlines.

"The union is saying very clearly to Coles and the other retailers that [their] practices have to change, that they are literally killing people on our roads because of the economic pressure," TWU federal president Tony Sheldon told ABC News.

"What happens with Coles and other major retailers with dominating the market at 32 per cent of road transport tasks, is that they say to manufacturers, they say to farmers and they say to transport operators that you've got to do this work the cheapest and the fastest way you possibly can.

"They're price takers, which means the trucking industry either makes the decision to do the work or they don't have a job."

Collapse of Australia's beetroot industry

Smith points towards the beetroot industry as a prime example of the damaging impact the ridiculously low prices have on Australia.

“As an example, for many decades, a simple can of Australian grown beetroot has sold for about $1.50 in our supermarkets and this has allowed a viable farming and  processing industry to exist,” he said in his submission to the Inquiry.

“The cost price of such a can is about 90 cents, the remainder being the supermarket overheads and profit margin. 

"Not at any time in the past few decades have I  heard of consumers complaining about the price of a can of beetroot. 

“In fact, it’s about half the price of a cup of coffee and I find it truly amazing that it could be so cheap, considering that Australian award wages and conditions are included in the price.

“Notwithstanding the lack of pressure on price, ALDI started to sell beetroot at 75 cents a can.   Immediately, Coles and Woolworths matched the price, as they had to.  

“ALDI proudly claimed that the beetroot they were selling was from Australia however they did not state that this would basically sound the death knell to our beetroot growing and processing industry.

“Within a short period of time, Heinz announced the closure of its beetroot processing plants in Australia, sacking hundreds of workers and Australian farmers were ploughing their beetroot crops back in the ground. 

“Heinz announced that their beetroot from now on will be grown and processed overseas.

“At the present time, there are still stocks of Australian beetroot at 75 cents a can, but it’s obvious that once these go, if the price is to remain the same, all beetroot in future will come from overseas. 

“We will have lost a complete industry, but this didn’t happen  because of pressure from consumers. 

"This is an important point. 

“It happened because one of the most astute examples of modern “extreme” capitalism, fully foreign owned ALDI, decided to flex its power.”

Smith said another differentiating factor between ALDI versus Coles and Woolworths is that the latter two are publically-listed companies, dependant on and accountable to shareholders, whereas ALDI is privately owned by a German company.

The “highly secretive” ALDI is therefore creating an uneven playing field, he said in his submission.

"Intentionally vague" labelling

He also takes aim at the labelling laws for country of origin, claiming they are deliberately misleading.

 “The current food labelling laws in Australia are intentionally vague so the requirements are accepted by the large multinational companies who  have political clout,” he said. 

“Although there have been campaigns such as the “Australian Made” mark, this was in reality an indication that the majority of the cost of production of a product was made up with Australian content. 

“For example, if the cost of a jar, a lid, label and an ingredient such as sugar represented greater than 50% of the total cost, but the primary ingredient (say, the strawberries in strawberry jam), was imported, the label could  still  state  “Australian Made”.

“In more recent times many labels bear the words “Made in Australia from imported and local ingredients”.  In this case, the local content may be very small.”

Smith’s own company, which produces food ‘as Australian as you can get” has felt the impact of the obsession with cheap, often imported food, and is personally watching his products getting pushed out of the market.

“Turnover peaked at $80 million per year in 2002 and has now dropped to $8million per annum as most Australians move to lower prices,” he said of his company, Dick Smith Foods.

“It’s interesting to note that the prime reason Coles have refused to stock our products is that  they are about 30 cents more expensive, and they believe Australian consumers will not  support this extra cost.”

A statement from Senator Richard Colbeck, the Liberal Senator for Tasmania who called for the Select Committee last year, said he is pleased that the Inquiry has secured both Coles and Woolworths to appear as witnesses at a subsequent meeting in Canberra next week.

The committee is due to release the findings of the Inquiry by 30 June.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

220 000 cases of diabetes could be prevented by 2025

Australian researchers have examined three options for beating obesity and discovered they could prevent about 220 000 cases of type 2 diabetes nationwide by 2025.

The team from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute identified a high-risk prevention strategy to begin tackling the obesity epidemic and rise in the number of type 2 diabetes.

Over 11 per cent, or just over two million people, will have diabetes in Australia by 2025, if current trends continue, the researchers found.

They modelled future diabetes cases that could be averted using one of three strategies, the ‘junk food tax,’ counselling and gastric banding.

The junk food tax – or fat tax – as well as a tax on sugary drinks have all been suggested in the last six months as possible ways to curb obesity rates.

A nation-wide tax on unhealthy foods could lead to body mass index decreasing by around 0.5kg/m2.

Preventing diabetes in those at high risk of developing diabetes would include behavioural modification programs, which would include six counselling sessions to monitor a reduction of fat and saturated fat in the diet, an increase in fibre, participation in at least four hours of moderate physical activity per week, culminating in weight loss of more than five per cent over 8-12 months.

This strategy was found to be the most effective, averting 220,000 of diabetes cases by 2025, which equates to a 10 per cent reduction, meaning 10 per cent of the population would be sufferers, down from 11.4 per cent.

The third strategy, for those who are already morbidly obese and therefore at the highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Gastric banding of those in the morbidly obese category who had newly diagnosed diabetes would see a 73 remission rate of type 2 diabetes, according to the study.

The surgically induced weight loss interventions prevented about 65 000 cases of diabetes in 2025 respectively. Combining the three interventions would avert around 253,000 cases.

On of the lead researchers, Dr Kathryn Backholer, said preventing the prevalence of diabetes would be more financially viable than continuing current treatments.

“Given the costly complications associated with diabetes, reducing the burden of diabetes by even 10 per cent is likely to have a profound influence on Australia’s health care system,” she said.

“The costs of managing diabetes are likely to increase over time as the population ages and people with diabetes are receiving better treatment and thus living longer.”

“We need to focus preventive efforts towards intensive lifestyle intervention programs to ensure the best success of reducing the future burden of diabetes.”

The findings will be presented today at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Obesity in Lyon, France.
 

Federal Budget 2012: Did the government forget the food sector?

The Gillard government has left the food processing industry reeling with its Federal Budget, channelling little money to the sector and ignoring calls for a Supermarket Ombudsman.

Farming groups have slammed Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s declaration that Australia can be a ‘foodbowl’ for Asia, saying current policies are killing their businesses, not helping them.

Despite the fact that hundreds of workers in the food processing sector have lost their jobs in the last two years as SPC Ardmona, McCain, Heinz and National Foods, amongst others, close their doors or scale back their businesses, Gillard announced earlier this week that the future for Australian food should be in export.

The high Australian dollar, supermarket price wars and lack of new recruits in the sector are making it impossible for food manufacturers to make a profit, or in many cases even break even.

Dairy, produce industries in trouble

The infamous milk price wars is leading dairy farmers to leave the industry in droves, and with the average age of an Aussie farmer about 65 and no new workers coming through the ranks, the future of the farming sector looks dire.

With the dairy industry still reeling, Coles slashed the price of produce in half in Fenruary and AusVeg spokesperson Simon Coburn told Food Magazine it “had the making” of the milk price wars.

“Long term this could deliver lots of damage to the industry,” he told Food Magazine.

“Depending where the reduced retail price is going to be absorbed, whether it’s a small grower or a big business, this will damage them long term.

“Eventually it will come back to growers and that’s where they’ll get into trouble.

“These prices aren’t sustainable if they’re passed onto growers, small operations and even big ones won’t survive this.

When asked whether the price cuts shows a lack of knowledge or respect for growers from Coles, Coburn said that will be determined by Coles’ behavior going forward.

“It depends on how these costs will be set up,” he said.

“If they absorb the costs within their own structures, it could be good, but if it is going to be passed onto growers, which it probably will, it shows mass disrespect to growers.

Murray-Darling Basin impacts

Australian Dairy Farmers Association Chris Griffin voiced similar concerns about the impact of the supermarket when he spoke to Food Magazine in the same month, saying the dairy industry is not only losing workers, but will be further damaged by the carbon tax and Murray-Darling Basin plan.

“The carbon tax will also cause problems when it’s implemented on the 1st of July; we’ve done work to find the costs that will be incurred and they are largely electrical costs,” he said.

“The average increase for dairy operation will be between $5000- $7000, and that will be an overall direct increase in cost that will have to be passed on somewhere.”

The cost increase cause by the carbon tax will have to be absorbed by the farmers in the milk export market, Griffin told Food Magazine.

“It will have to be absorbed by the farmer because our price is governed by a royal export set price.

“Australia has come out ahead of the game in a way with implementing the carbon tax, but farmers can’t go to their overseas customers and saying ‘we need extra money because Julia has put on a carbon tax,’ the customers would just go elsewhere.”

The Murray Darling Basin plan, which is tipped to see farmers sell 2750 gigalitres of water back to the Government, will mean less water available for the same number of farmers in the region, Griffin explained.

“Given that the government has a national food plan they’re trying to roll out and we believe the dairy industry is a massive part of that, we would like to consult with them about the plan,” he said.

“Australia has been very fortunate that we have been able to produce enough dairy products not only for domestic consumption, but also for export, which then generates wealth for the country.

“This plan is going to jeopardise that.”

“At this stage we say a certain amount of water has been taken out already and we need to have a strategic look, working with the government to see where it is going to come from in the future rather than using the ‘Swiss cheese approach’ currently being used.

“It means less water for the same amount of farmers, and maintenance costs will be higher because there are not as many people contributing to the maintenance.”

National Irrigators' Council chief executive Tom Chesson said if the Gillard government wants to feed the Asian middle class, it will need to ensure "water to produce food,” and  “unless government gets its act together, we won't have a food processing industry left.”

Declining produce output

AusVeg chief executive Richard Mulcahy voiced similar concerns about the government’s view of exporting to Asia, saying there simply isn’t enough.

"Only 7.7 per cent of our ]vegetable] production goes offshore,” he said.

“We need to address that before coming up with ambitious plans about feeding hundreds of millions of people in Asia.”

In the last two years fruit and vegetable exports have declined $200 million to $497 million.

The Federal Budget, announced this morning, revealed funding for the Murray-Darling Basin will be reduced, and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, which manages the government’s water rights, will be slashed by $13.2 million over the next seven years.

The Caring for our Country program, which aims to improve biodiversity and sustainable farming, which many feared would be cut in Wayne Swan’s budget, was retained.

A further $2.2 billion will be invested into the program’s second phase, to run until 2018.

Part of the money will concentrate on ensuring the health and sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef, which will get an extra $12.5 million over four years to fund research on the impact of climate change and how to deal with global warming.

Over six years, $58 million will be delivered to develop and maintain marine reserves to protect oceans surrounding Auustralia.

But submissions to the senate inquiry into food processing are painting a bleak picture for the rest of the industry, saying the sector is "going backwards at a rate of knots".

The Australian Food and Grocery Council has also been lefty disappointed by the Budget, after calls for funding for a Supermarket Ombudsman were not delivered on by the government.

The AFGC wants an Ombudsman to oversee the anti-competitive and bullying behaviour of the major supermarkets to ensure a future for Australia’s food sector.

Anti-obesity program fails to reduce BMI’s of girls in low-income areas

An Australian-based program to tackle obesity has failed to reduce the Body Mass Index (BMI)’s of adolescent girls in disadvantaged areas.

Researchers from the University of Newcastle conducted a year-long study with a trial group, which aimed to prevent girls living in low-income communities from becoming overweight.

Funded by a grant from the Australian research Council and published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, the study included 357 girls aged 12 to 14 years.

Of those girls, 148 received a program that included increased school sport sessions, physical activity during lunchtime, nutrition workshops and text messaging for social support.

After 12 months on the program, BMI’s showed some positive changes, but were not statistically any different from those in the control group.

In March, a similar program was launched by the Murdoch Children’s Institute (MCRI), and tapped into the mobile and internet technology in an attempt to reach teenagers with the anti-obesity message.

The participants, aged between 12 and 17, will have their height, weight, blood pressure and waist circumference measured when they sign up, with follow-ups at three, six and 12 months.

They will undertake 12 one-hour online sessions which will include motivational messages, information on healthy lifestyles and also have access to a confidential chat room where they log their food diary and levels of activity.

Last month, a US study found conclusive evidence that the community where a child lives will impact their chances of becoming obese.

Lead author of the study, Dr David R. Lubans said this study resulted similar findings.  

 “The intervention effects on body composition were small and not statistically significant but have potential clinical importance,” he said.

“Girls in the intervention group spent 30 minutes per day less in screen-based activities than their control group peers.

“High levels of screen time are associated with a range of adverse health consequences, and our findings have important implications that may help address the increasing burden of pediatric and adolescent obesity observed in areas of social and economic disadvantage.”

Victorian Shire wants CSG banned on agricultural land

A Victorian food region west of Melbourne has joined the list of shires and towns arguing against coal seam gas (CSG) exploration and development.

Colac Otway Shire says it wants to protect its position as a flourishing food bowl, and has joined forces with other local and state governments pushing for a moratorium on CSG.

At last week’s council meeting, the Western District Shire Council voted unanimously on a move to encourage the state government to conduct more research on the impacts of CSG on the environment and economy before allowing mining companies into their region.

The Bass Coast Shire moved a similar motion last month and has also held public meetings to address growing concern over the impacts of CSG and coal exploration on agricultural land, the environment and lifestyle.

In December one of Australia’s major CSG explorers defended the practice, saying it can coexist with food security and agriculture.

Chief executive of Santos, David Knox, told ABC Radio he supports further scientific research but drilling should continue while it is conducted.

A senate report concluded the CSG industry is moving too quickly and is not allowing for research to be conducted on the impact CSG projects have on groundwater and food security.

Knox has denied the moratorium on CSG exploration wanted by the government is necessary, saying the only way more information can be found is to conduct the drilling.

But the community concern over the impacts of CSG exploration and drilling continues to increase, and last year a moratorium on all new coal and CSG projects was implemented.

Colac Otway Shire Councillor Stuart Hart pointed to the experiences of Queensland and New South Wales landholders who are fighting with the mining companies as a reason they want the practise halted until further research is conducted.

“This industry (CSG) is a significant threat to the Shire,” he told Stock & Land.

“I consider this to be a pristine food bowl…we do not want mining companies pouring carcinogenic chemicals into our waterways.”

He explained that agriculture and tourism were the two main industries in the region, which stretches from Birregurra and Colac to the Great Ocean Road, and includes Apollo Bay.

Friends of the Earth has welcomed the Shire’s move and says more regional communities should be doing the same.

“While the state government continues to peddle the line that current laws are sufficient to protect landowners when it comes to coal and CSG, clearly regional communities are not buying it” Friends of the Earth campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker said.

“This intervention by Colac Otway has special significance given that the state government Inquiry into Greenfields Mineral Exploration and Project Development in Victoria is due to report next week.

“The minerals industry has been lobbying for a ‘streamlined’ approvals process for minerals such as coal and CSG.

“The Minerals Council believes there is ‘enormous potential for a coal seam methane industry in Victoria.’

“Clearly rural communities do not share their vision of an expanded fossil fuel industry being rolled out across southern Victoria”.

Sales of fair trade certified products still rising

Sales of products carrying the Fair Trade Certified logo have increased by almost 40 per cent, as consumers become more informed about work conditions for foreign workers.

Saturday marked the beginning of Fair Trade Fortnight, which aims to bring more awareness to the free trade cause.

Fairtrade Australia New Zealand (Fairtrade ANZ) said the increase in Fair Trade certified products in 2011 represents just over $165 million for the cause, which helps to ensure decent working conditions for employees.

In 2010, over AU$63.8 million in additional Fairtrade Premium payments were made globally to farmers for investment in growing their businesses, improving the quality of product and providing their communities with essential services such as healthcare and education.

Fairtrade ANZ chief executive Stephen Knapp said the growth shows Australian shoppers and businesses continue to believe every choice matters when it comes to giving farmers in developing countries a fair go.

 

“Whether it’s your morning coffee or the products your workplace uses for the office canteen, every choice matters,” Knapp said.

 

“Unlike any other third party certification system, Fairtrade works in partnership with small-scale farmers in developing countries to provide fairer prices, better terms of trade and additional funds for business and community development.

“Making a choice that matters and choosing Fairtrade is now easier than ever for Aussies shoppers with the number of Australian businesses licensed to sell products carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark rising by over 13% per cent to 220 and a range of Fairtrade Certified products now readily available on major supermarket shelves across the country,” he said.

Last year a number of large food brands started offering Fairtrade choices to Australian consumers including Starbucks and San Churro, which both now serve 100 per cent Fairtrade Certified espresso in their stores throughout the country.

Fairtrade Certified coffee on the supermarket shelves also continued to grow with brands including Republica, Oxfam, Global Café Direct and Grinders and Marco offering Fairtrade Certified and organic coffees.

“The choice of these businesses to support and offer Fairtrade Certified products is reflective of the continued demand by consumers who more than ever know that every choice matters, even in harder economic times,” Knapp said.

“Even in tough times Aussie shoppers understand the sense and importance of a fair go for all.

“They are continuing to make the choice to buy Fairtrade Certified products because they know they are making a choice that matters – one which makes a real difference to the lives of millions of farmers and their communities in some of the world’s poorest countries,” he said.

 

In October last year , a global poll has revealed  more Australians not only recognise the Fairtrade label, but are also actively looking for it when making purchases.

Of the 17 000 consumers Fairtrade surveyed from 24 different countries, over half said they believed buying certified free trade would help farmers in developing countries.

Over six in ten surveyed said they trust the Fairtrade Label and use it to make decisions.

Do you look for Fairtrade Certified products when shopping or eating out?

Garlic compound can prevent food poisoning

An ingredient in garlic has been found to be 100 times more powerful than two popular antibiotics at fighting one of the most common causes of food poisoning.

The researchers from Washington State University had their findings published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, and believe the discovery could provide revolutionary approaches to food safety.

They say the diallyl sulphide compound in garlic could provide new, more natural, approaches to the way raw and processed meats and food preparation surfaces are treated.

Dr Xianon Lu and Dr Michael Konkel  examined how the compound could kill bacterium when it is protected by a slimy biofilm, which makes it 1000 times more resistant to antibiotics rthan a free floating bacteria cell.

It can easily penetrate the protective biofilm and kill bacteria cell by combining with a sulphur-containing enzyme, they found, which then changed the enzyme’s function and shut down cell metabolism.

They discovered diallyl sulphide is 100 times more effective than regularly prescribed antibiotics erythromycin and ciprofloxacin and could often would work in half the time.

The study’s co-author Dr Michael Konkel said the compound is extremely potent.

“This compound has the potential to reduce disease-causing bacteria in the environment and in our food supply. This is the first step in developing or thinking about new intervention strategies.

“This compound has the potential to reduce disease-causing bacteria in the environment and in our food supply,” Konkel said.

“This is the first step in developing or thinking about new intervention strategies.”

Konkel did caution people against getting too excited, however, as the work is still in early stages, and far away from actual application.

He also advised people not stuff themselves with garlic in the hope it will prevent all food poisoning, because while garlic is healthy for you, it will not necessarily prevent against Campylobacter-related food poisoning.

If the findings result in applications to ward against food poisoning, it will be in the form of a scientifically created products produced from the active compound.