Who’s funding Woolies’ Jamie Oliver campaign?

VIDEO: This week’s news wrap-up is all about Woolworths' Jamie Oliver campaign, which AusVeg says is being funded by the supermarket giants' growers.

According to the lobby group, Woolworths is hitting producers with a 40 cents per crate charge on top of the up to five percent fee they already pay for promotional activities.

Woolworths denies the claim, however, arguing participation in the campaign is voluntary.

Hear all about it in our latest The Week in Focus video below.



Thousands rally against PepsiCo’s use of conflict palm oil

Earlier this week, thousands of people across the globe participated in over one hundred coordinated demonstrations calling upon PepsiCo and other multinational food and beverage manufacturers to eliminate the use of “conflict palm oil”.

Conflict palm oil, is a term used to describe palm oil that has been sourced from industrial palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia that have taken over millions of acres of formerly lush rainforest – the natural habitat of the orangutan.

Demonstrators gathered on university campuses, public squares and outside multiple PepsiCo factories to send a common message; “PepsiCo, the Power is #InYourPalm to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil.”

Gemma Tillack forest campaigner at environmental activist group, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) said that the level of enthusiasm to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil by people all across the world has increased dramatically.

“From the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia to cities across Australia, the U.S. and the UK, to the beaches of San Francisco and Brazil, students, families and ordinary people have organized themselves in droves today to send a clear and united message to PepsiCo and its peers: the time to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from your products is now,” said Tillack.

PepsiCo is one of the “Snack Food 20” group of companies targeted by RAN in their Conflict Palm Oil campaign. According to the group, PepsiCo consumes over 450,000 metric tonnes of palm oil annually for its snack food brands in the US, Mexico, Latin America, Asia and Europe.

Several of the major Snack Food 20 companies, including Mars, Kellogg, General Mills, Unilever and Nestle have recently responded to the heightened consumer awareness of palm oil production by announcing new commitments and strengthening their palm oil purchasing policies/ sourcing practices.

According to RAN, PepsiCo, still has no truly responsible palm oil purchasing policy.

PepsiCo recently issued a strengthened palm oil commitment on May 17th, however RAN together with Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists and SumOfUs.org say that PepsiCo’s new commitment does not go far enough.  

“While it is encouraging that PepsiCo has acknowledged it has a problem with Conflict Palm Oil, the company’s recent commitments fall short in several key areas,” said Tillack.

“For PepsiCo to meet consumer expectations, it must adopt a binding, time bound policy with an action plan to eliminate Conflict Palm Oil from its products that includes full traceability of palm oil back to its source and verifiable safeguards for human rights, forests and peatlands.”


Illegal workers found at WA chicken factory

Mt Barker Free Range Chicken in Western Australia has been raided for allegedly using illegal workers, with one child and 14 other suspected workers removed from the facility.

The raids took place on Thursday last week, Perth Now reports, and most of the suspected illegal workers are Malaysian.

The child, a young boy, had been taken to an alternative place of detention while the Immigration Department tries  to locate the two relatives that travelled to Australia with him.

A spokesman for Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Michaelia Cash, said 13 of the 14 illegal workers had been identified as “unlawful non-citizens” were transported to Yongah Hill and Perth immigration detention centres.

The fourteenth worker is being granted a bridging visa.

Michael Tarling from Mt Barker Free Range Chicken said the company and GRANND Processing, its main contract company, had been checked by the Department of Immigration and found to be compliant. He added, however, that some workers supplied to GRANND by another labour hire company didn’t have valid work visas.



Big food lagging in climate change initiatives: Oxfam

Oxfam released a report today calling out ‘laggards’ within the food and beverage industry who they say need to do more to address climate change.

The report titled Standing on the Sidelines – why food and beverage companies must do more to tackle climate change, lists Kellogg’s and General Mills among 10 global food brands that need to “up their game” on reducing emissions within their supply chain.

Kelly Dent, Oxfam Australia’s food policy specialist said that the top 10 food and beverage companies emit more greenhouse gases than Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined.

“If they were a single country, they would be the 25th most polluting country in the world,” said Dent.

“The ‘Big 10’ companies could cut their emissions by 80 million tonnes by 2020 – when global emissions need to start reducing in order for the world to stay within a safe climate – which would be the equivalent to taking all Australian cars off the road.”

The report lists the “Big 10” as Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever. According to Oxfam, half of the emissions from these companies come from the production of agricultural materials from their supply chains, however these emissions are not covered by the reduction targets that the companies have set.

According to Dent, a number of the companies listed have admitted that climate change was already starting to impact on their profitability.

Unilever allegedly loses around $444 million per year, while General Mills reported losing 62 days of production in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 alone due to extreme weather events that are a result of a changing climate.

“Too many of today’s food and beverage giants are crossing their fingers and hoping that climate change won’t disrupt the food system, imagining someone else will fix it,” says Dent.

“As companies that are deeply exposed to climate impacts, it’s in the interest of food and beverage companies to see a more ambitious national and global response. We are therefore urging them to also speak up for stronger government policies and programs to tackle climate change.”


First PNG Fairtrade cocoa beans expected soon

Confectionery brand Cadbury is expecting the first shipment of Fairtrade cocoa beans from Papua New Guinea to arrive in Australia in the coming weeks.

In partnership with Fairtrade ANZ and Monpi Cocoa Exports, Cadbury has been supporting Club 3000, a group of 629 cocoa farmers in Madang Province on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea, to sell its cocoa under Fairtrade terms.

The 12 month project, delivered by Monpi Cocoa Exports, is training Club 3000 farmers to produce high quality Fairtrade certified cocoa in order to bring a sustainable income to farmers, their families and the community.

According to the Fairtrade website, the initiative delivers a better deal for farmers and producers in the developing world through:

  • A fair and stable price for their produce
  • Security of long-term contracts
  • Investment in local community development
  • Improved working conditions
  • Environmentally sustainable farming methods
  • Support in gaining the knowledge and skills needed to operate successfully in the global economy

Stephanie Saliba, Cadbury spokesperson said, “While relatively small in terms of the global cocoa market, the PNG cocoa industry offers great potential.  Sustainability initiatives like Club 3000 are helping farmers to improve the efficiency of their farming, increase their yields and in doing so improve their livelihoods and lives.”

Following on from the Club 3000 project, Cadbury and Monpi have announced a further partnership to provide training and support to 1,000 farmers in the northern Morobe Province of Papua New Guinea, under the banner of the $400 million global Cocoa Life program.  An NGO will also join the partnership later this year to work with Morobe farmers and the community on a holistic approach to improving the region’s cocoa industry and the lives of farmers.

“Our vision is that in partnership with Monpi Cocoa Exports, and our NGO partner, we will work with farmers, their families and local communities to address areas of need with a particular focus on empowering women. Those needs will be identified by the farmers and communities involved in the project,” said Saliba.

Shareholders to benefit from Woolworths cage eggs phase-out: VFF

Shareholders will benefit most from Woolworths’ decision to phase out caged eggs, according to Victorian Farmers Federation egg group president Brian Ahmed.

The supermarket plans to remove caged eggs from its shelves by 2018,  a move welcomed by animal welfare lobby groups as a win for battery hens.

According to The Weekly Times, Ahmed said the move is simple a way for Woolworths to capitalise on welfare concerns and increase their return to shareholders.

“They want to sell more free range eggs because there is more money in them,” Ahmed said. “That’s what it basically comes down to — $3 for a carton of cage eggs versus $5 or $6 for free range.”

Ahmed said the cage egg industry had introduced major changes in the past 10 years, in line with concern from animal welfare organisations.

“That’s what frustrates me more than anything else. People need to know the amount of work farmers do — the work that goes in to producing the eggs that are put on those shelves. It is a passion, it’s a big commitment and we don’t like being portrayed as these cruel people that are taking the advantage of animals to reap the rewards,” Ahmed said.

The plan to phase out eggs by 2018 was criticised in January as “no longer achievable” by a NSW Farmers spokesman, due to a 2013 bird flu outbreak. The outbreak near Young saw all 400,000 hens from a Langfield Pastoral Company property, as well as 50,000 from a neighbouring property destroyed, seriously affected the supply of free range eggs.


Scarlett Johansson’s SodaStream deal “incompatible” with Oxfam partnership

Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson has walked away from her role as global ambassador for Oxfam, with the aid group claiming the partnership is incompatible with her recently announced deal with drinks carbonation brand, SodaStream.

In mid-January SodaStream announced that Johansson would be its first ever global brand ambassador, with a multi-year partnership kicking off with an advertisement airing during the Super Bowl on 2 February (see below).

Oxfam has announced that this role is “incompatible” with her work as global ambassador for the aid organisation, adding that Johannson has walked away from the role.

According to SMH, SodaStream is an Israeli firm that has a factory in the occupied West Bank.

Oxfam issued a statement announcing Johannson’s departure, which reads "While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms Johansson's role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam global ambassador.

"Oxfam believes that businesses such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements, further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”


Game Farm fined $20,400 over false ‘range reared’ claims

Multi-species game bird producer, Game Farm, has paid two infringement notices totalling $20,400 and has provided a court enforceable undertaking to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The penalties relate to claims on Game Farm’s packaging and website stating that its birds are ‘range reared’, which in fact they were grown in commercial sheds and had no access to the outdoors.

The ACCC considered that the ‘range reared’ representation was likely to lead consumers to believe that birds were allowed to spend a substantial amount of their time outdoors on an open range.

“The ACCC continues to warn the poultry industry that claims made on packaging and in advertising must be true and accurate and not mislead consumers,” ACCC chairman, Rod Sims, said.

The ACCC issues two $10,200 infringement notices to Game Farm, which supplies quail, spitchcock, duck, chicken and turkey to supermarket chains, wholesalers, restaurants, hotels and specialty butchers. The first infringement was for the ‘range reared’ representations on the packaging of Game Farm’s Gourmet Quail product, and the second was for the ‘range reared’ representation on its website.

As part of the court enforceable undertaking, Game Farm will send a corrective notice to its major customers and will establish and implement a trade practices compliance program to ensure this type of conduct does not occur again.

The ACCC has cracked down on credence claims this year, with a number of other companies receiving similar penalties. Earlier this month Luv-a-Duck was ordered to pay $360,000 for also making false representations about how its ducks are reared, and at the end of October, Baiada Poultry and Bartter Enterprises, the suppliers and processors of Steggles chicken products, has fined $400,000 over misleading ‘free to roam’ claims. Pepe’s Ducks had to pay a similar amount in January and was ordered not to use the phrases ‘open range’ or ‘grown nature’s way’ on its packaging or marketing material for the next three years.


Coke redirects advertising budget in the Philippines to typhoon relief

Coca-Cola has announced it will be suspending all advertising in the Philippines and donating the advertising budget to relief efforts following the disastrous Typhoon Haiyan which hit earlier this month.

In addition to this, the beverages giant has also donated more than US$2.5 million in cash and in-kind contributions.

“We would like to express our deepest sympathies to those affected by this tragic disaster in the Philippines,” said Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO at The Coca-Cola Company.  “Our dedicated associates are on the ground offering assistance, and we are committed to helping the communities rebuild.”

Immediately after the storm hit, Coca-Cola Philippines and its bottling partner, Coca-Cola FEMSA Philippines, through the Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines, began donating water to the Philippines Red Cross, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Guillermo Aponte, president and general manager of Coca-Cola Philippines said "From day one, we have mobilized our system to provide water and resources to the survivors of the super typhoon.  Immediately after the disaster, we worked with our partners, the Philippine Red Cross, the DSWD, and the AFP to be able to provide water to the affected areas.

“Our business is deeply rooted in these communities, therefore we will provide assistance during this time of need.”

Caged hens are less stressed than free range: UK study

A UK study has found that hens living in "enriched cages" are less stressed and have lower mortality rates than their free range counterparts.

While demand for free range chicken and eggs has grown substantially in recent times, with consumers increasingly concerned about animal welfare standards, Professor Christine Nicol, who led the research at the University of Bristol, said many free range farms in the UK have poor welfare standards.

According to dailymail.co.uk, shoppers concerned about welfare standards should look for caged hens or free range hens that are pat of a farm assurance scheme.

"It would be nice to think the current free-range system gave the birds the best welfare, but the problem is that the management of free-range systems in the UK is so variable. Although you get some brilliant farms, you get some that are really not good," Nicol said.

Battery farming for chickens was outlawed in 2012 and replaced with 'enriched cages' which have 70 or 80 birds living in stacked enclosures with access to food, water and scratching posts.

In regards to the Australian market, Woolworths has committed to phasing out its caged eggs within the next four or five years, after which it will stock RSPCA or other certified fresh chickens. This move has been welcomed by Animals Australia, but president of the Victorian Farmers Federation egg group, Brian Ahmed, said it will be costly for Australian farmers and consumers.

He said many farmers converted to new cage systems only five years ago, which were then fully compliant with industry standards, and is doubtful that farmers will receive any compensation for moving away from caged systems. 

In September this year, the ACT introduced an animal welfare bill to the Legislative Assembly, which if passed will prohibit the use of battery cages, sow stall and farrowing crates. This would make the ACT the first state in Australia to legislate against factory farming.


Farmers should be able to veto CSG exploration: VFF

Victorian farmers should be able to veto gas exploration on their land, says the Victorian Farmers Federation, arguing the importance of a "level playing field" between the farming and mining industries.

Gerald Leach, chairman of the VFF's land management committee spoke at a Deakin University coal seam gas forum yesterday and said at the moment farmers can object to gas exploration mining licences, but have no power to actually stop it, weeklytimesnow.com.au reports.

"At the moment landholders do have the right to object to exploration mining licences but it's not a level playing field," he said.

"VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) determines the conditions of entry not whether or not the entry can occur, that is something landowners cannot stop."

Leach said farmers should have the right to veto use of their land under the Mining Act.

Shadow agriculture and resources minister John Lenders said if elected in November next year a Labor government would conduct an inquiry into whether or not a coal seam gas industry should proceed in Victoria.

Earlier this year, the NSW state government approved a two kilometre exclusion zone for new coal seam gas exploration and production activities around residential areas, but NSW Farmers said more can be done, arguing that mining of other coals and minerals should be including in the exclusions – not just coal seam gas mining.


Climate change causes greatest risk to food supply, says climate body

The greatest threat to the future of the world’s food supply is climate change, according to a draft report by the UN-appointed group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The warning, which was found in a leaked draft document on Friday, states that the effects of climate change are likely to intensify as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, The SMH reports.

Although the draft document is still in its preliminary stages, the report explains that as water levels rise due to land ice melting, coastal communities will be at risk of flooding, placing plants and animals at great risk – with many predicted to become extinct.

In order to protect a significant part of the world’s biodiversity, the report suggests that aggressive human management of natural systems may be required.

The report found that rising temperatures could potentially benefit northern countries which traditionally have marginal food production capacities, but overall, the impacts of climate change has the potential to reduce agricultural output by up to 2 percent per decade, while food demand concurrently rises by 14 percent a decade.

The shortage of food is believed to impact of the world’ poorest the most as food prices rise and supply become scarce.

Agricultural risks “are greatest for tropical countries, given projected impacts that exceed adaptive capacity and higher poverty rates compared with temperate regions”, the draft report states.

A spokesperson for the Intergovernmental Panel, Jonthan Lynn told the SMH that the report was still a “work in progress.”

''We don't have anything to say about the contents. It's likely to change,” he said.


Thankyou founder named Victorian Young Australian of the Year

Daniel Flynn, managing director and co-founder of the social enterprise, the Thankyou Group, has been named Victorian Young Australian of the Year for 2014.

The Thankyou Group created by Flynn six years ago, manufacturers a range of products including bottled water, muesli, muesli bars and quick/ rolled oats. All profits from the sale of these items (after business expenses) go towards funding aid projects in developing nations.

In June this year, the company launched a multi-layered marketing campaign which included a strong social media presence to encourage both Coles and Woolworths to stock its range of products, and in Flynn’s words ‘help change the world’.

Flynn said that he was humbled to achieve the title of Victorian Young Australian of the Year.

“It’s an honour to be put in a category with finalists of this calibre. When I look at the impressive achievements of each person, it’s safe to say I feel a little undeserving of this award,” Flynn said. 

Thankyou has assisted over 60,000 people gain access to safe water through over 100 projects across Cambodia, Uganda, Myanmar, Haiti, Timor Leste, Kenya, Burandi, India and Sri Lanka.

“It’s a great feeling to go to work every day and know that what I’m doing is helping people in need. Already we’ve been able to make a huge impact overseas through the support of Australians, but the reality is that there is still so much more work to be done. 

“This is the reason I’ve got a passion to see Thankyou become a household name. The more Australians who get behind what we’re doing, the more work we can do for people in need.”

Other finalists in the running for the title included Luke Owens – musician and advocate for homeless people, Benson Saulo – youth representative and Joel Taylor – mental health advocate. 


John West launches conservation projects with WWF

John West in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has launched two new conservation projects to help communities within the Pacific Islands and the Maldives protect reef ecosystems, and promote sustainable fishing methods.

The projects are part of John West’s commitment to a responsible seafood supply chain by 2015, and will see the company invest $600,000 over a three year period under its John West Conservation Program.

In partnership with WWF, John West will be contributing to the Pacific Islands Conservation Project which is designed to support community based fishing and mirco-financed projects in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. The overall goal of the project will be to protect over-exploited reef ecosystems, creating food security, boosting local economies and providing greater business opportunities for women.

The project will also receive some additional support from AusAid, who together with John West and WWF will be working with local communities to build and deploy small fishing rafts that are anchored to the seafloor close to shore. These rafts will attract non-reef species of fish and provide relief to overfished reef areas.

The second project – The Maldives Conservation Project with see both John West and WWF incorporate the development of a new tuna stock assessment modelling system for a leading pole and line Kipjak tuna fishery in The Maldives. The goal of this particular project is to increase the availability of responsibly sourced tuna and renew the fishery’s Marine Stewarship Council certification.

“Taking a cue from our sustainability commitment Our Oceans Forever, these exciting new projects are all about working closely with our partners, communities and suppliers to safeguard our oceans by contuinually improving fishing practices, now and for generations to come,” said John West’s group marketing manager, Stuart Sterling.

Dermot O’Gorman, WWF chief executive officer said that the projects marked an important step forward towards sustainable fishing.

“The small floating rafts create a win-win situation. Local communities get a new source of fish and income while the over-fished reefs get a chance to replenish,” said O’Gorman.

“In the Maldives it’s crucial we support a fishery using a more sustainable method that reduces by-catch.

“The world’s oceans are not an inexhaustible source of food. We’re working with companies like John West to transform the market and create demand for products that contribute to the long term health of our oceans.”


Baiada underpayment claims are “bullshit”, says labour company

Workers at Baiada's chicken factory near Newcastle are claiming they've been underpaid, with one employee potentially owed $7,000 in backpay.

The workers concerned are supplied to the chicken processor by a labour hire company, Pham Poultry.

Both current and former employees are claiming they've been paid as little as half the legal minimum in cash, and with no payslips, the ABC reports.

Pham Poultry supplies foreign labour the Baiada – the umbrella company for brands including Lilydale and Steggles, and its director, Binh Nguyen, says the claims are "bullshit", arguing staff are paid in-line with the industry award.

Casual workers in the chicken processing industry are legally entitled to around $20 an hour, but two Chinese workers, Steve and Kelly, are claiming they were paid $12.50 an hour for men and $11.50 an hour for women.

Kelly is potentially owed $7,000 in backpay for 11 weeks work.

The workers are also claiming they worked six days a week, sometimes for up to 16 hours a day.

Kelly said the workers were paid $100 to live in a house with up to 30 people, with up to 12 people sharing a room.

"It's very dirty in the house. You have got mice, ants," she said.

The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, which earlier this year complained to Baiada about Pham Poultry, believes underpaid workers are probably owed $160,000 a month in backpay.

This isn't the first time Baiada's been in the headlines for less than admirable reasons. In July the ACCC found the company had misled consumers by claiming its chickens were 'free to roam', when really their movements were restricted to an area comparable to an A4 piece of paper.

In 2011 images supplied to the SMH from Baiada's poultry plant in Laverton North in Victoria brought the company's food safety standards into question, with some of the pictures showing uncovered raw chickens palced on top of plastic bags filled with chicken, as well as cockroaches in storage containers.

Not long after, workers at the plant engaged in industrial action for 13 days with a round-the-clock picket line, demanding better pay and working conditions while also putting the spotlight on the death of Sarel Singh, who was decapitated when cleaning a chicken packing machine.


Prioritise agriculture and support small producers: lessons on World Food Day

Australia can help alleviate world hunger by investing in its agricultural industries and supporting small-scale producers, says Oxfam Australia's food policy advisor.

Kelly Dent's comments come on World Food Day, 16 October – a global movement to end world hunger.

Dent said although the number of hungry people in the world had recently dropped slightly – from 870 million to 842 million – the challenge of tackling hunger should remain a government priority.

"Despite an overall decline, some regions have experienced a rise in hunger in the past few years because of pressures including repeated food crises and food price rises,” Ms Dent said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) 2011-13 hunger figures, released this month, show that the number of hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa increased by 1 million compared to 2008-10 estimates.  As a region, sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest prevalence of hunger – with an estimated one in four people not having enough to eat.

Closer to home, FAO statistics suggest that 38 per cent of people in Timor Leste  – more than one in three – do not have enough to eat in terms of dietary energy intake, and this number appeared to have increased in recent years.

"According to FAO data, about 22 million people in Indonesia don’t have enough to eat – that’s almost the entire population of Australia,"Dent said.

"Australia has the ability to be a leader in tackling hunger, investing in agriculture and in particular, prioritising small-scale producers, who play a critical role in feeding millions around the world," she said.

Dent said that 80 percent of the world’s hungry were from communities involved in food production, including small-scale farmers, fishers and labourers. 

Meanwhile, women made up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force, and played the greatest role in ensuring that their families had enough food, yet women had unequal access to land, credit, markets, education and support services.

Dent said poor people often spent a large proportion of their income on food, making them vulnerable to high and volatile food prices. 

"In a world that produces enough food for everyone, one in eight people should not be going to bed hungry every night," she said.

"At a time of belt-tightening and budget cuts, the Government must not forget that investments in food security and small-scale agriculture can reap massive benefits in the fight against hunger, which is essential if we are to contribute to a more prosperous region.

"We know that eradicating hunger is possible and we know what needs to be done – the question is whether we are determined to make this happen."

Kellogg Australia is throwing its weight behind World Food Day by asking its employees to take time out of their day to build Christmas hampers for the hungry, which will then be distributed by food relief organisation, Foodbank.

Kellogg helps tackle world hunger with Breakfast for Better Days [video]

In support of World Food Day, food manufacturer, Kellogg Australia, has launched its Breakfast for Better Days initiative.

World Food Day, to be held on 16 October, was established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations to help fight against global hunger.

Kellogg Australia is throwing its weight behind the initative by asking its employees to take time out of their day to build Christmas hampers for the hungry, which will then be distributed by food relief organisation, Foodbank.

The company will also give away a serve of food for every share or 'like' that its World Food day YouTube video receives over the next month. This forms part of Breakfasts for Better Days' commitment to provide 1 billion serves of cereal and snacks to children and families in need around the world by the end of 2016.

Launching on 16 October, the video highlights Kellogg's efforts to help tackle global hunger, and consumers can post the video to their social media sites, along with stories of their own hunger relief efforts, using #feedingbetterdays.

This campaign is similar to once launched by iconic spread, Vegemite, to help celebrate its 90th birthday. For every like Vegemite receives on its Facebook page, one jar of the spread will be donated to Foodbank.


Emotive video shines light on palm oil production [video]

Californian environmental organisation, the Rainforest Action Network has released an emotive video to promote awareness on the realities of unsustainable palm oil production.

The video which spans just under two and a half minutes depicts a young hearing impaired girl communicating with an organutan, one of the world’s most intelligent primates, through sign language over skype.

After a brief polite conversation, the organutan, named Strawberry picks up a banana and tells the young girl, Lena, that this is the food that it eats. Strawberry then asks Lena what her favourite food to eat is.

Lena goes to her cupboard and pulls out a jar of peanut butter. Strawberry then asks Lena what peanut butter is and what it is made of.

“Peanuts, sugar, palm oil, salt,” Lena communicates.

Strawberry’s mood instantly turn sober. She stares downward briefly, then looks up at Lena.

“Your food is destroying my home,” communicates Strawberry.

“Organutans cannot speak for themselves,” says a voiceover, the first human voice to be heard in the video. “But if they could, they would tell us that much of the palm oil used in America’s snack food is being grown by cutting down rainforests that are orangutans only home.”

The video is part of a campaign by the Rainforest Action Network called “In your Palm” and encourages consumers to avoid foods containing palm oil.

Palm oil is the world’s most widely used edible oil with an estimated 50 percent of products on Australian supermarket shelves comprising the ingredient. The widespread popularity of palm oil is due to its attractive price tag and the fact that it promotes a longer shelf life when compared to butter and other oil alternatives.

The controversy surrounding palm oil relates to mass deforestation which is taking place in Malaysia and Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations, with obvious implications for native species, especially the endangered orangutan.

Consumer awareness of palm oil production has heightened in Australia in recent years resulting in the boycotting of particular foods including hot cross buns from Australian retail giant, Woolworths earlier this year

Woolworths has now committed to only use Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certified sustainable palm oil by 2015 in all private label products. The supermarket giant is now a member of the RSPO and has committed to using only certified sustainable palm in their hot cross buns for Easter 2014, following the consumer backlash earlier this year.

Coles, now also a member of RSPO, has made a similar move by committing to use only certified sustainable palm oil in all Coles-branded products by 2015. The retailer said that it has already removed palm oil from some of its bakery products.




Addressing packaging education in Africa

A recent trip to Nigeria showed our AIP columnist that there is so much Australia can teach the developing world when it comes to effective packaging.

Lagos, Nigeria. The destination conjures up a varietyof imaginations. I grew up in South Africa but nothing could have prepared me for the highly populated, super-resourced, bustling West African nation. A quarter of Africa's population lives in Nigeria. It is the seventh most populous country (an estimated 200 million people) in the world with 42 percent of its population zero to 14 years of age. It is the world's eighth largest exporter of petroleum.  It is a country of huge extremes and I feel privileged to have been asked to participate recently in a five day residential training program (RTP) focusing on Packaging Technology education.

The World Packaging Organisation (WPO) approached the AIP to deliver this week long training program. Thirty-four students from Nigeria, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya and South Africa attended; all with a strong desire to learn more in the field of the science and technology of packaging. The majority of the attendees were graduates including some with Masters qualifications and two with PhDs. But Packaging Technology is what they were hungry to learn about. No small wonder when one considers that more than 50 percent of Africa's food supply is lost through poor/ineffective/insufficient packaging. All participants keenly absorbed information and their eagerness to improve their knowledge in this field was most evident in their final project presentation on the fifth day.

This West African RTP initiative will be the first of more to come. Already the African Packaging Organisation (APO) is planning similar programs in 2014 in Accra and another in Lagos; the latter focusing on pharmaceutical packaging. Although this recent RTP covered the entire spectrum of packaging technology, what drove the students and which was evident in their questions, was how one can improve packaging and reduce costs. Participants wanted to know what their packaging counterparts were doing in developed countries and how they can improve, particularly the packaging of foodstuffs to reduce wastage.

In this region much fresh produce is sold on the ‘open markets’, where  better knowledge of material selection coupled with  more effective storage would greatly reduce the loss of fresh fruit and vegetables. Subsistence farming is the order of the day in Nigeria where the farmer brings a few baskets of produce to the market and transfers the contents to another basket belonging to the open market vendor. Fresh produce is exposed to the elements during display and sales resulting in a very limited shelf life.

There is significant evidence of informal packaging happening throughout Africa. This is where vendors buy in bulk and repack into small pack sizes for ‘open market’ sales which better suits the consumer owing to low income and poor storage facilities at home. Affordability also drives daily supply of household, hygiene items such as toothpaste where 15ml (one day dose) sachets are by far the biggest seller of toothpaste units. It is in this area of small dose packaging that most support, knowledge and advice is required.

This recent RTP has been a good start. Ongoing education is required at all levels of the packaging spectrum. The AIP, in collaboration with WPO, has the knowledge, the resources, the first world experience and the ability to share information and expertise. In fact, we have an obligation to help those in developing countries. The APO and WPO are to be commended for taking the initiative to begin addressing this most serious need in Africa. The road ahead is long and it is wide but the journey has commenced. The destination is not necessarily in sight but the rewards along the way for all involved will be big and long lasting.

Pierre Pienaar is an education coordinator at the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP)


Want a better world? You can’t look at GMOs in isolation

The Philippines (also known as the rice-bowl of Southeast Asia) has become a test bed for genetically modified (GM) crops. Proponents argue GM grains and vegetables can improve the life of farmers and malnourished locals.

But is this technical approach the right one? Does it take account of the bigger picture, of a socio-political model that keeps many people in poverty?

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the Philippines. The Philippines’ Court of Appeals struck a blow to proponents of genetically modified crops on May 17 this year, ruling that field trials for genetically modified, pest-resistant Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) talong (eggplant) have not yet proved the plants safe for humans and the environment and must stop.

Following the Court of Appeals’ decision, organic farming advocates are also calling for a ban on a genetically modified breed of rice known as Golden Rice.

Golden Rice and Vitamin A deficiency

The force behind Golden Rice is the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which has created a “Humanitarian Board” comprising scientists, food security specialists, and representatives from industry, USAID, US Department of Agriculture and the Rockefeller Foundation.

According to IRRI, malnutrition is common in white rice-eating populations and the Golden Rice Project could constitute a major contribution towards sustainable vitamin A delivery. This vitamin is essential for eye health and the proper functioning of the immune system.

A World Health Organisation report titled Global prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency in populations at risk 1995–2005 suggests that worldwide nearly 190 million children are at risk for diseases related to Vitamin A deficiency. Some 5.2 million preschool age children suffer from eye damage (xerophthalmia).


A 12-year-old girl who has corneal blindness as a result of suffering from vitamin A deficiency. Community Eye Health

Rice produces beta-carotene in leaves but not in the grain, where the biosynthetic pathway is turned off during plant development. Beta-carotene is important as it’s changed into vitamin A (retinol) in the human body.

In Golden Rice, two genes inserted into the rice genome by genetic engineering restart the carotenoid biosynthetic pathway leading to the production and accumulation of beta-carotene in the grains.

Scientists speak out

As the emotions about the introduction of GMO into rice production run high, a group of activists destroyed a trial GM rice crop in the Philippines on August 8 this year, prompting a strong condemnation from scientists and proponents of GMO.

The authors of an editorial published in the journal Science on September 20 claimed:

protests like this are anti-science; the anti-GMO fever still burns brightly, fanned by electronic gossip and well-organized fear-mongering that profits some individuals and organizations.

And in a letter written to the editor of the Daily Mail, London on February 20 2009 in support of Golden Rice, seven scientists claimed:

the best available evidence supports the conclusion that GM crops are as safe as, or safer than conventional and organic crops. At a time of increasing poverty globally, and reduced food security generally, all possible technologies capable of improving the quantity and quality of food should be embraced.

So, should we believe that one food staple – genetically modified – could resolve Vitamin A deficiency and address development problems?

Creating a bigger problem for farmers

IRRI says Golden Rice seeds will be freely available to poor farmers in the Philippines.

This assertion brings to mind the stories of many small farmers in Africa and South America whose livelihood and independence have been shattered by the harsh conditions imposed by GM seeds suppliers.


Golden Rice grains compared to white rice grains. IRRI Images

Seed companies require farmers to sign contracts that aggressively protect the biotechnology company’s rights to the seeds, significantly limiting the farmers' rights to the purchased seeds. The contracts generally contain a “no saved seed” provision so farmers cannot save or reuse seed from GM crops.

It is company policy for Monsanto, which describes itself as a “sustainable agriculture company”, to sue farmers who breach this provision. In effect, the provision requires growers of GM crops to make an annual purchase of GM seeds.

While the farmers struggle, corporations supplying the GM seeds – and their consultants – are making handsome profits.

What started as a humanitarian endeavour has turned into exploitation.

Not everyone accepts the benefits

Some are sceptical about GMO proponents' claims.

In a recent televised Q&A debate in Australia, Professor David Suzuki told a live audience that “scientists in genetics are no longer open to the possibility of harmful effects – and it is far too early to say what the effects of GMO will be with certainty”.

Like Suzuki, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), based in Ithaca, New York, does not share the view that GMOs are entirely safe.

In a report titled The Intellectual and Technical Property Components of pro-Vitamin A Rice, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and published in 2000, the organisation stated that:

Given the ever-changing biotechnology and IP environment in which every plant breeding and biotechnology institution operates today, virtually no transfer of germplasm or research is without some degree of risk. As transgenic strategies begin to dominate crop improvement practices, both the risks and rewards of transferring and releasing products by national programs can be expected to rise.

And in contradiction with its early claims, IRRI issued a statement on February 21 2013 clarifying that:

it has not yet been determined whether daily consumption of Golden Rice – genetically-modified rice – does improve the vitamin A status of people who are vitamin A deficient and could therefore reduce related conditions such as night blindness.

Science doesn’t exist in a vacuum

Malnutrition is not merely a health problem; it is also a social problem. It reflects an overall impact of multiple causative factors, and these are also experienced in other developing countries where rice is not a major staple.

Nutritive deficiencies and malnutrition occur because of poverty and lack of purchasing power. Lack of adequate public health systems and education, environmental degradation, social disparity, depletion of fish stocks by large foreign trawlers (operating often illegally with impunity), corruption among local officials and conflicts are some of the underlying reasons.

The already considerable gap between the rich and the poor is rapidly growing. So is the highly unequal distribution of resources, especially in rural areas where the poorest live.

Golden Rice and other GMOs can never fully resolve these underlying issues.

As a human rights advocate – with extensive experience in the area – I can’t help but wonder what future awaits those less fortunate people in the Philippines whose health could now be turned over to the hands of an international scientific community eager to medicate them at the source with genetically modified products.

This is in a country where the church is still denying these same people access to basic contraception. World population and consumption are still growing and some central issues in this discourse are ignored.

Suggesting that GMO will change all people’s lives for the better merely shows how disconnected the proponents of GMO are from the realities on the ground and the needs of the population. What is lacking is the political will and determination to address these socio-political issues, on a local level and internationally.

Jonathan Bogais 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

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