Wally’s Piggery to face court over animal cruelty claims

The owner of Wally's Piggery, based north-west of Canberra at Murrumbateman, has been served with 53 court notices relating to horrific acts of animal cruelty.

Last year animal welfare group, Animals Liberation NSW, released footage of the piggery which showed alleged acts of animal cruelty, with workers seen kicking piglets and beating sows with a sledgehammer.

According to the ABC, the footage led to police and RSPCA investigators raiding the piggery, and now the owner, Wally Perenc, has been served with 53 court notices to attend Yass Local Court under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Wally's Piggery and the connected business of Tennessee Piggery, near Young, closed earlier this year.

This isn't the first time Perenc has been accused of mistreating animals, with similar convinctions being handed down in 1984 and 1994.


Associated British Foods rejects Oxfam’s land grab accusations

Associated British Foods (ABF) has released a statement in response to a report published by Oxfam yesterday which alleged that ABF, along with beverage giant Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, were not being proactive enough in stopping sugar land grabs throughout their network of suppliers.

ABF say that there is no evidence of any ‘land grabs’ on its behalf and as such were unsure as to why the company was included in the report.

The Oxfam report highlights examples of land grabs and disputes that are linked to companies that supply sugar to both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, as well as allegations of land disputes among suppliers of Associated British Foods.

ABF have stated that the company, including its African subsidiary lllovo is, and always has been ‘hugely sensitive to issues of land ownership.’

The statement reads:

“In South Africa, Illovo has distributed more company-owned cane land to black farmers than any other sugar company in that country and did so voluntarily, earlier than required by legislation.  It has a fine record of working with those farmers to ensure the continued commercial viability of that land and it runs important and innovative programs with government and with famers in KwaZulu-Natal to ensure the long-term sustainability of farms now under black ownership.  Illovo is a strategic partner with the South African government in the transformation of land reform / ownership in South Africa.”

“Throughout its operations in Africa, Illovo has been scrupulous in its approach to land ownership.  In Mali, land earmarked by the government to be developed to irrigated sugar cane agriculture would have been held by a state-owned company for the continued benefit of the local community and farmers.  That project, sadly, was terminated following the coup d’état in 2012.  Had this public-private partnership project gone ahead, it would have had the potential to transform the lives of that community.”

ABF says that any proposed expansion of its operations involves creating partnerships and negotiations with local communities, and sights its work in Mozambique as a prime example.

ABF say that Oxfam criticised the company and lllovo, for refusing to sign a pledge on land ownership. ABF and lllovo stated that both companies prefer to acts on their beliefs and standards as opposed to signing pledges.

“Pledges are cheap and plentiful.  The history of Africa is full of them.  The true test of any organisation is what it actually does. ABF and Illovo prefer to act on their beliefs and standards rather than pontificate about them,” the statement read.

Choice submits super-complaint on free range egg claims

Consumer watchdog Choice has submitted its second ever ‘super-complaint’ to NSW Fair Trading, requesting that the government body investigate whether 'free-range' egg claims are misleading consumers.

Launched in June 2011 by the minister for fair trading, the super-complaint project will allow Choice to present evidence to NSW Fair Trading that demonstrates that features of a market for consumer goods or services is, or appears to be, harming the interests of consumers.

In the super-complaint Choice demonstrated that on average, free range eggs can cost up to twice as much as caged eggs and close to a fifth more than barn eggs. Despite the significant increase in price, Choice says that consumers cannot be confident that they are purchasing a truly free range product as there is no consistency in industry standards.

“Cracks are beginning to appear in the free-range egg market, which accounts for around 40% of eggs sold in Australia, with considerable variation in the conditions in which supposedly free-range chickens are kept,” said CHOICE lead campaigner Angela McDougall.

“CHOICE research has shown that consumers purchasing free-range eggs expect that the layer hens have access to the outdoors and space to move around with limits on the number of birds on the outdoor range – but the Australian Egg Corporation itself has admitted there is huge variation in the conditions in supposedly free-range operations.”

Choice is expecting to receive a response from NSW Fair Trading before the end of the year when the 18 month trail agreement of the super-complaint project will be completed.

“We commend the NSW Government and Minister Anthony Roberts for their ongoing commitment to the super-complaints trial, which has the potential to become a powerful tool in protecting consumers’ interests. CHOICE hopes that NSW Fair Trading will agree with the concerns outlined in the super-complaint, and take action to give consumers confidence around free-range claims in NSW,” McDougall says.

At present, the national model code defines ‘free range’ birds as having a stocking density maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare, however the Australian Egg Corporation has been pushing to increase the stocking density to 20,000.

The Queensland government recently increased the 1,500 stocking density to 10,000 birds per hectare – marking a 667 percent increase. While the South Australian government has now defined free range eggs as a maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare.


Barilla chairman angers gay rights activists

Guido Barilla, chairman of Italian pasta company Barilla has sparked anger amongst gay rights activists and politicians by stating that he would not consider using a gay family to advertise the brand.

Guido Barilla said that he would only portray the ‘classic family’ in the company’s advertisements and that consumers should choose a different brand of pasta if they objected, The Guardian reports.

"For us the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company," he told Italian radio on Wednesday evening. "I would not do it but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others … [but] I don't see things like they do and I think the family that we speak to is a classic family."

"If they (homosexuals) like our pasta and our message they will eat it; if they don't like it and they don't like what we say they will … eat another."

The chairman’s comments prompted the head of Equality Italia, Aurelio Mancuso to launch a boycott against the company.

"Accepting the invitation of Barilla's owner to not eat his pasta, we are launching a boycott campaign against all his products," said Mancuso.

MP for the opposition Left Ecology Freedom Party, Alessandro Zen said that he will be taking part in the boycott and encouraged others to do the same.

"Here is another example of Italian homophobia. I am taking part in the [Barilla] boycott and invite other MPs – at least those who are not resigning – to do the same."

Barilla has since issued a statement apologising for his remarks, stating that he was simply trying to draw attention to the role that women play in the family.

"I apologise if my words generated misunderstandings or arguments, or if they offended the sensibilities of some people," the statement read.


Coke in hot water over offensive bottle cap

Global beverage giant Coca-Cola has apologised for an ill thought-out marketing campaign in Canada after a customer with a developmentally delayed sibling opened a bottle of vitamin water to find that the inside of the bottle cap read “YOU RETARD”.

Blake Loates, photographed the offensive bottle cap and sent the image to her father, Doug Loates, who then wrote a public letter to the beverage giant, Stuff.co.nz reports.

In the letter, Loates explained that his daughter Fiona suffers from both cerebral palsy and autism, has had 22 surgeries and is still fed through a feeding tube.

"Fifty years ago they might have called her retarded. But we know better now, don't we?" he wrote.

"What would YOU do if you opened up your bottle of Vitamin Water and on the bottom of the lid it read: 'YOU RETARD'?

"Think about it. I bet you'd be pissed if you had a Fiona in your life!"

The marketing campaign involved printing random combinations of English and French words under bottle caps and Coca-Cola has since issued a statement apologising for the incident.

Coca-Cola’s director of brand communications Canada, Shannon Denny said that the company takes consumer concerns ‘very seriously’.

"This is a genuine oversight in the review process. The mistake has been corrected and the words removed from all future production," Denny told Canadian broadcast network CNBC.

"Regretfully, the French words were not reviewed from an English standpoint.

"In this case a French word, despite an innocuous meaning in French but an offensive meaning in English, made the production list of words.”


For GM food and vaccinations, the panic virus is a deadly disease

Most readers are aware of the benefits of using vaccines to boost the immune system and prevent infectious disease. Many readers will not be aware of a very different disease prevention tool: supplementing vitamins in crops through genetic modification (GM).

Anti-science opposition to both is rife; to save lives, that opposition has to stop.

The disease-prevention benefits of supplemental vitamin A were accidentally discovered in 1986 by public health scientists. They were working to improve nutrition in the villages of Aceh, Indonesia, where families are heavily dependent on rice as their main source of nutrition.

These scientists discovered that simple supplementation of infant diets with capsules containing beta-carotene (a natural source of vitamin A) reduced childhood death rates by 24%.

White rice is a very poor source of vitamin A, so the people of Aceh (like millions of poorer people in large regions of the world) suffered from vitamin A deficiency. This impaired proper development of their biological defences against infection.

We now better understand vitamin A deficiency as a disease of poverty and poor diet, responsible for near two million preventable deaths annually. It is mostly children under the age of five and women who are affected.

Many other studies carried out in several Asian, African and Latin American countries reveal the health benefits of beta-carotene supplementation in the diets of people subsisting on vitamin A-deficient staple foods.


Global map showing regions with vitamin A deficiency. Wikimedia Commons

Rejecting science

Small wonder then that scientists internationally were outraged at the recent wanton sabotage of field trials to evaluate new varieties of rice called Golden Rice. This rice is genetically modified to contain nutritionally beneficial levels of beta-carotene.

In an editorial in the journal Science last week, prominent scientific leaders, including three Nobel prize winners, expressed their dismay and outrage at unethical anti-scientific efforts to prevent introduction of Golden Rice to smallholder farmers in the Philippines:

If ever there was a clear-cut cause for outrage, it is the concerted campaign by Greenpeace and other non-governmental organisations, as well as by individuals, against Golden Rice.

Trenchant opposition to vaccines, and opposition to genetically modified crops, are examples of the disturbing and strong anti-scientific sentiment in many modern countries. They share some common features.

Both movements flourish among those who reject mainstream science. They rest on misuse and misinterpretation of badly designed experiments, such as those taken to falsely indicate that mercury preservatives in vaccines cause autism.

They include false detection of proteins from GM plants in tissues of pregnant women using invalid protein measurements.

They flourish in news media, which report ill-founded comments. Examples include British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield’s disastrous 1998 press conference about the measles vaccine, and the anti-GM Safe Food Foundation’s press releases about CSIRO’s genetically modified wheat.

These would not pass muster in the professional scientific literature.


Golden rice can save lives. IRRI Images


Selective ‘evidence’

Conspiracy theory abounds in both movements. Anti-GM extremists think support for GM crops results from money by Monsanto. Anti-vaccine true believers say support for vaccines among public health professionals is fuelled by money from manufacturer Merck.

In that sense, both the anti-vaccine and anti-GM extremists are anti-science. Where they part company is in the willingness of anti-GM extremists to actively sabotage and destroy legal scientific experiments designed to address exactly the questions to which activists demand answers.

Even anti-GM activists who profess to respect the scientific method pick and choose which scientific-sounding claims to accept, depending on whether they are compatible with their own personal cultural beliefs and social affiliations.

The hundreds of studies unpinning GM crop safety are ignored. The few studies raising questions about GM crops, almost invariably of questionable quality, are the sole focus of activist attention.

Jessa Latona, the young woman convicted of sabotaging the CSIRO GM wheat trials said that she is

a huge fan of what the CSIRO does in many areas, and particularly on climate change and … yes … but I believe that not all science is equal.

This cultural bias about which science is acceptable is at the root of now considerable harm being caused by unscientific rejection of GM crops and vaccines. Nutrient fortified crops and vaccines can save lives if they are given a fair opportunity.


Some clinics, such as this one in Haiti, provide vitamin A capsules to children, but they can’t cater to the whole developing world. Bread for the World


Long-term effects

Anti-scientific opposition to vaccines is promoting the re-emergence of diseases such as measles and whooping cough in developed countries such as the USA and United Kingdom, but anti-scientific opposition to GM crops is largely hurting developing countries.

It is denying them much needed opportunities for improvements in health and human welfare, including by reducing risky pesticide use.

Some may say that the movements cause little harm, and that a precautionary approach is needed to prevent harm.

But the history of the anti-vaccine movement, spelt out marvellously in several books by paediatrician Paul Offit and journalist Seth Mnookin, underlies the fallacy of this attitude.

As Paul Offit says in relation to people against vaccination:

doing nothing is doing something.

Doing nothing about vitamin and micronutrient-fortified staple foods in the face of widespread deficiencies in the staple diets of many developing countries is condemning many people to disease-impoverished and tragically shortened lives.

David Tribe participates in agricultural projects funded by Australian government agencies. He has no relevant affiliations that might entail a conflict of interest in scientific analysis.

More than 10 years ago, Richard Roush was part of a team that was given $20,000 in total from Monsanto and Bayer in partial support (about 20% of the research budget) for a project on pollen flow in canola. He currently has a grant from the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation (which is part funded by the Australian government) for risk assessment for GM canola. The GRDC is not opposed to GM crops per se.

The Conversation

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


ACT’s plan to outlaw factory farming

The ACT could become the first state in Australia to legislate against factory farming, with an animal welfare bill introduced to the Legislative Assembly today.

Greens minister Shane Rattenbury will introduce the bill today, and it's expected to be supported by the Labor-Greens parliamentary agreement, the ABC reports.

Expected to be passed next month, the bill will prohibit the use of battery cages, sow stalls and farrowing crates.

"These are both practices that are considered cruel and for many consumers don't meet modern expectations about how they want their food produced," said Rattenbury, who added that the Greens had been campaigning on the issue for 16 years.

While there are no commercial piggeries or battery hen factories in the ACT, Rattenbury said the legistlation is still necessary.

"If you have clear standards, no one will attempt to come here and set one up," he said.

However, the Egg Council of NSW says the legislation will hurt the industry and force prices up.

Bede Burke from the Egg Council said the industry tries to provide choice for consumers.

"I understand and concur that some people are willing to pay more for free range egg production or barn egg production, but by far and away the larger amount of consumers prefer to get an economical egg."

There's been a lot of attention placed on animal welfare in recent times, with the live exports scandal and inaccurate labelling claims made by brands including Baiada and Luv-a-Duck attracting significant media attention.

Multi-national food companies accused of undermining health policies

Governments across the world are being called on to counteract the influence that multi-national food companies are having on stalling healthy food policies.

In June, a meeting on the progress of obesity prevention efforts in low and middle income countries was held in Bellagio, Italy. The Bellagio Declaration was released yesterday at the International Congress of Nutrition in Granada, Spain, calling for greater efforts from organisations and governments to protect healthy food policies from the lobbying efforts of large food corporations, or 'Big Food and Big Soda.'

Professor Barry Popkin from the University of North Carolina said, "Governments see the rising tsunami of obesity flooding over their countries, but as soon as they put up serious policies to create healthier food environments they get hammered by the food industry."

The policies which provoke this response are regulations to reduce the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, front-of-pack labelling systems to help consumers readily assess the healthiness of the food, and taxes on unhealthy foods like sugar-sweetened beverages, said Professor Carlos Monteiro, University of Sao Paulo, a co-convener and one of Brazil's leading public nutrition researchers.

Different countries' experiences were published this week in Obesity Reviews, and showed that the obesity epidemic is rising very fast in many developing countries, rapidly catching up or overtaking undernutrition as the dominant nutrition problem.

"This is creating a double burden of co-existent overnutrition and undernutrition within many populations or even within households," reads a statement from the International Association for the Study of Obesity.

The director general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Margaret Chan, has recently called the lobby forces of 'Big Food and Big Soda' one of the biggest challenge that countries face as they try to reduce obesity and diet-related chronic diseases.

She outlined some of the tactics the food industry has been using such as lobby groups, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits, and industry-funded research. The Bellagio Declaration calls on WHO to develop norms for government engagement with the private sector so that partnerships are not detrimental to nutrition goals.

"The first priority for food policies is to improve nutritional outcomes for the population, not the bottom lines of multi-national corporations," said Professor Boyd Swinburn, co-chair of the International Obesity Task Force.

Earlier this week Oxfam updated its Behind the Brands scorecard ranks, and found that leading food brands are being very sluggish in improving their social and environmental policies.

No company performed better overall than the 'fair' category, with companies including Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Danone and General Mills experiencing slight increases in their scores. Associated British Foods, General Mills and Kellogg's are at the bottom of the scorecard with few signs of progress.


Food brands sluggish in improving social and environmental policies

Leading food companies including Nestle, Coca-Cola and Unilever are slowly improving their social and environmental policies following the launch of Oxfam's Behind the Brands campaign seven months ago.

The Behind the Brands scorecard ranks the world's ten biggest food and drink companies on their social and environmental policies and how they conduct business in poor countries, urging them to do better to strengthen their efforts to prevent hunger, fight poverty and protect the environment.

No company performed better overall than the 'fair' category, with companies including Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Danone and General Mills experiencing slight increases in their scores. Associated British Foods, General Mills and Kellogg's are at the bottom of the scorecard with few signs of progress.

Oxfam Australia's acting public policy and advocacy manager Kelly Dent said "The top ten food and drink companies have enormous power to improve the lives of thousands of people, whose work contributes to the products they sell for a huge profit.

"While it's heartening to see some companies improve policies, no company emerges with an overall good score – all could do better given their influence."


Among the changes that led to score increases:

  • Nestle now more comprehensively recognises land rights and is the first company of the Big 10 to fully support Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) for local communities in its supplier guidelines, used for the sourcing of sugar, soy, palm oil and other commodities.
  • Coca Cola's Sustainable Agricultural Guiding Principles now include policies that require suppliers to better manage water pollution, biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions, leading to small improvements in the company's scores on water, land and climate change.
  • Unilever's gender score has improved from a three to four based on its endorsement of the UN Women's Empowerment Principles and its commitment to conduct impact assessments on commodities it sources where women play a key role.

Oxfam's first Behind the Brands focus on women's rights earlier this year resulted in new policy commitments from Mars (Mars Bars, Snickers), Mondelez (Vegemite, Toblerone, Cadbury) and Nestle to address inequality for the women farmers and workers producing their cocoa.

Putting extra pressure on food and beverage manufacturers to improve their social and environmental policies, 31 major investment funds, representing $1.5 trillion of assets under management, are today calling on food giants to improve their policies and transparency.

In a statement shared with the ten biggest food and beverage companies in the world, the investors expressed support for Oxfam's Behind the Brands initiative and urged companies to do more to reduce social and environmental risks in their supply chains.


UN sights food waste as third largest carbon emitter

The amount of food wasted around the world has ranked as the third largest culprit in carbon emissions, right behind China and the US according to a recent United Nations report.

The report, titled the Food Wastage Footprint Report, was developed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and states that 1.3b tonnes of food – equating to around a third of global consumption- is wasted.

In addition to the serious environmental impacts created by the waste, the study points out that the wasted food represents a missed opportunity to improve global food security.

The study provides a comprehensive global account of the environmental impact that food wastage creates along the supply chain with a focus on the impacts on climate, water, land and biodiversity.

The report divided the world into seven regions across a wide range of agricultural products that represent eight major food commodity groups, and highlights ‘global environmental hotspots’ related to food wastage at regional and sub-sectoral levels.

Key points of the report include:

  • Wastage of cereals in Asia emerges as a significant problem for the environment, with major impacts on carbon, blue water and arable land. Rice represents a significant share of these impacts, given the high carbon-intensity of rice production methods (e.g. paddies are major emitters of methane), combined with high quantities of rice wastage.
  • Wastage of meat, even though wastage volumes in all regions are comparatively low, generates a substantial impact on the environment in terms of land occupation and carbon footprint, especially in high income regions (that waste about 67 percent of meat) and Latin America.
  • Fruit wastage emerges as a blue water hotspot in Asia, Latin America, and Europe because of food wastage volumes.
  • Vegetables wastage in industrialised Asia, Europe, and South and South East Asia constitutes a high carbon footprint, mainly due to large wastage volumes.

The report states; “By highlighting the magnitude of the environmental footprint of food wastage, the results of this study – by regions, commodities or phases of the food supply chain – allow prioritising actions and defining opportunities for various actors’ contributions to resolving this global challenge.” 


Packaging industry teams up with Foodbank this Xmas

The Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP), in conjunction with the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and the Supply Chain and Logistics Association of Australia (SCLAA) will this year be continuing their Foodbank Christmas Hamper project.

For the fourth consecutive year, the three industry associations work together on 6 December to pack over 600 hampers for Foodbank to distribute to those in need this Christmas.

Ken McMillan, general manager of Foodbank Queensland said, "The 600 hampers that the AIP, SCLAA and APPMA pack each year are distributed to families in crisis at Christmas time and while none of those who pack the hampers will ever meet the receivers, everyone who participates should be extremely proud of what you do."

The packing of the hampers is a culmination of 12 months of work with over $60,000 worth of goods raised to go inside the hampers. Each hamper is worth $100 and is made up of food and personal hygiene products.

In three years the AIP, the SCLAA and the APPMA have packed 1,800 hampers to the value of over $180,000. 


Natvia gives back to the community with industry first project

Australian natural sweetener brand, Natvia has partnered with famed Melbourne cafe chain St. Ali and Melbourne City Mission to deliver the Brew Crew Project – an initiative aimed at providing disadvantaged individuals with practical career training.

The Brew Crew Project  – which is an industry first – takes five young people from the ages of 15-25 from the city Mission’s Melbourne Academy, and provides them with valuable skills including intensive barista training from the city’s top baristas including Matt Perger, Australian Barista Champion in 2013.

In addition to the barista training, each of the participants will also be invited to the Nativa head quarters for training on presentation, interviewing and networking skills.

Mark Hanna, co-director of Nativa said that the program will provide much needed skills to young adults in need.

“This program provides the necessary tools to these young adults to make a difference in their lives career wise.” said Hanna

“We are excited to be involved as partners with the City Mission and with St. Ali and hope to make this a long-term program and provide opportunities to other young people from the Melbourne Academy. “

Narelle Coulthard of the Melbourne Academy said that Natvia’s support will have a postive i9mpact of the city’s youth.

“The students at the Melbourne Academy has gone through hardship in their lives, so it is great that organisations like Natvia are willing to give them a helping hand. We are grateful for this opportunity and excited to see the positive impact this training will bring,” she said. 


SKI gets pink makeover to support McGrath Foundation

From September 9, three varieties of SKI yoghurt will be given a pink makeover in support of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

As part of a three year commitment to the McGrath Foundation, SKI has pledged to donate $350,000 to fund a McGrath Breast Care Nurse in the local community.

Kylea Tink, CEO of the McGrath Foundation said that SKI’s commitment to the foundation will provide invaluable assistance to people in rural and regional Australia.

“It’s a beautiful synergy – farming communities helping to provide SKI® to supermarkets and consumers giving back to the communities that need it most if ever they require the support of a McGrath Breast Care Nurse,” said Tink.

The three varieties of yoghurt to receive the makeover include:

  • SKI Dilite – a 99 percent fat free yoghurt
  • SKI Divine – made from thick whole milk
  • SKI Soleil – a no fat option with less than one percent sugar


JBS Australia and Primo launch Foodbank beef program

Australia’s largest food relief agency, Foodbank has teamed up with JBS Australia and Primo to launch a new beef initiative, which will supply over 130 tonnes of sausages per year to those in need.

The program is currently supplying 5,000kgs of sausages to Foodbank in each state and director of Foodbank Queensland, David Crombie, says that the program needs the supports of Aussie beef suppliers to ensure the programs ongoing success.

“We are currently supplying enough meat for more than 75,000 meals a month and are hopeful donations will continue to be forthcoming to ensure we can keep up the supply well into the future,” said Crombie.

“With one kilogram of sausages providing enough for seven meals, a small donation of just one beast provides the meat for many meals to disadvantaged Australians and helps make a significant difference to the lives of those less fortunate.”

Primo will be manufacturing the sausages with cattle donated initially by Wellard and Austrex and now matched by JBS –  who will also agree to donate a regular supply of trim to the program while cattle donations increase to the amount required.

The program has secured several key packaging suppliers to Primo including Devro, Snopack, Cryovac, Labelmakers, and Visy.  

Scott’s Refrigerated Transport will also be donating their services by transporting the sausages to Foodbank each fortnight.

Crombie says that the program is a great way for cattle producers and other suppliers to give back to the community.

“Not only does this program help provide a regular and much needed source of protein to struggling families, it gives beef producers and related businesses an opportunity to provide practical support to those in need by donating goods and services that in turn will help produce much needed protein for those families,” he said.


The truth about free range eggs is tough to crack

Queensland recently changed its regulation of free range eggs, lifting the number of hens allowed per hectare from 1,500 to 10,000. This is more than a six-fold increase.

Choice and animal welfare and free range farming advocates are in an uproar about the changes. Queensland “free range” no longer means free range at all, they say.

The Queensland Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries says that the new figure is necessary, so that the Queensland egg industry won’t be disadvantaged compared with other states.

In fact no other states have a legislated definition for free range, or minimum stocking density. The department says industry practice is to stock free range egg facilities well in excess of 1,500 birds per hectare.

So, how are we to know that our free range eggs are really free range?

Standards galore

The Primary Industries departments of all Australian state and federal governments work together to set animal welfare guidelines for egg production in the Model Code of Practice for Poultry. The latest version was agreed in 2002 and is now under review. Currently it states that free range can mean up to 1,500 birds per hectare standard, but this could change.

The industry services body that represents producers, the Australian Egg Corporation, admitted last year that some free range egg production facilities stock up to 30 or 40,000 hens per hectare.

The Egg Corp has proposed an industry standard for free range of up to 20,000 birds per hectare. Their proposed standard was assessed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commissioner as likely to mislead and deceive consumers.

In January 2013 supermarket giant Coles announced that it would only stock cage free eggs in its own brand range. For Coles, “free range” would mean a maximum of 10,000 hens per hectare outdoors.

The 10,000 figure was not based on any particular evidence or science. Rather it is based on a combination or balancing of what animal welfare requires, what industry say they can accomplish, and what Coles believes consumers feel they can afford based on extensive consumer research.

The new Queensland regulation is still better than other states. It set a limit on outdoor stocking density lower than the 20,000 per hectare proposed by the Egg Corp, and the currently unlimited industry practice.

It also states that production facilities can only go above 1500 up to the 10,000 if hens are moved around and the ground has 60 percent vegetation cover.

So, what should Australia do?

The big problem with the new Queensland regulation is that it seems to accept that supermarkets in consultation with industry can ultimately decide what animal welfare practices are acceptable. In the absence of government regulation, supermarkets decide what free range means and what choices are available to consumers.

In fact consumers who buy “free range” in supermarkets are actually buying something that would be more accurately described as “barn” or, in more Australian vernacular, “shed” laid. These hens live and eat in large crowded industrial sheds with some access to an outside ranging area that is often bare and uninteresting.

By contrast many consumers, animal welfare advocates and food activists probably think free range means eggs from hens that largely range outside in paddocks, with ground foliage and tree cover and access to an indoor area to nest and perch.

Rather than letting supermarkets and industry dictate what “free range” means in the absence of government regulation, all Australian states and territories should mandate compliance with at least the minimal animal welfare conditions in the Model Code of Practice.

They should also legislate definitions of cage, barn or shed, and free range that make it clear that what often currently counts as free range in the supermarkets is actually barn or shed with outside access, not a truly alternative free range production system.

Consumers need to recognise that the only true free range eggs currently available are premium products that cost more than supermarket brand free range eggs.

An Australian state that really wanted to help its egg industry might do more to help consumers get direct access to farmers outside of the supermarket system.

The South Australian government’s recent proposal to introduce and support its own voluntary “South Australian Free Range” with more stringent standards is a step in this direction. What a pity Queensland chose to loosen its standards rather than market its difference.

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

The Conversation

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

HSI calls on consumers to boycott QLD eggs

Humane Society International is outraged by the Queensland government's recent changes to its free range egg standards, calling on consumers to boycott the industry.

Choice announced yesterday that the Queensland government had increased stocking density for its free range eggs from 1,500 birds per hectare to 10,000 birds per hectare – a 667 percent increase.

HSI, an animal protection agency which earlier in the year delivered 40,000 postcards to the prime minister Julia Gillard in protest of the continued mislabelling of free range eggs, says Queensland is threatening true free range egg production.

"The Queensland government has bowed to the pressure of the corporate giants and sold out Queensland family farms, the egg buying consumer and condemned hens to a life of factory farming misery," HSI said in a statement.

HSI said when Queensland was working to its previous 1,500 hens per hectare standard it had an advantage over other states, but now they're point of difference has been lost, especially considering South Australia recently committed to developing a free range labelling system for producers and stocking densities of 1,500 hens or less per hectare.

The Queensland government is allowing the supermarket duopoly to act as regulators in the industry, HSI said, and is making a mockery of the Model Code of Practice, which is intended as a guide for people responsible for the husbandry of domestic poultry.

Lee McCosker from Humane Choice, the certification scheme launched by HSI, called on consumers to turn their backs on Queensland's egg industry.

"In a perverse way the Queensland government has made it just that much easier to make the right choice when you buy free range eggs.  When purchasing eggs at the supermarket, just look at where they are packed and boycott any free range eggs produced in Queensland," she said.

HSI encourages consumers to buy egss from independent supermarkets, butchers, green grocers and farmers markets and to check they have authentic, reliable accreditation.


QLD government increases free range densities by 667 percent

Consumer group Choice is accusing the Queensland government of threatening the consumer's ability to make informed purchasing decisions by "stealthily" altering its free range standard.

The Queensland government had previously set a legal maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare for eggs sold under the free range label, but has now changed this amount to 10,000 birds per hectare, a 667 percent increase.

Choice director of campaigns and communications, Matt Levey, said "Consumers have shown they are willing to pay a premium for ‘free range’ eggs and yet changes like this make the term meaningless. This latest move by the Queensland government has jeopardised consumers’ ability to make informed purchasing decisions."

The national Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals, currently under review and intended as a guide for people responsible for the husbandry of domestic poultry, specifies a maximum of 1,500 birds per hectare.

Choice says many consumers are unaware of the Queensland government's new free range standard.

Choice said Queensland's stocking density amendments have "flown under the radar" with many consumers in the state unaware of the changes.

"The increasing number of consumers who wish to buy free-range eggs, and often pay a premium, should be able to do so with confidence," said Levey.

Last month the South Australian government defined free range eggs as coming from hens stocked at 1,500 birds per hectare, a move welcomed by Humane Choice.


Low carb diets grind my grain: journo’s rant

Disclaimer: I am a journalist and an advocate for food manufacturing. Please take this piece as the opinion of a consumer who has a passion for food and a penchant for accurate labelling.

Nothing irks me more than the concept of a low carbohydrate diet

There is such an abundance of vapid, obsessive chatter over why a bowl of pasta or a piece of bread is so threatening to our figures that it seems people have completely lost touch with what constitutes good nutrition.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that not all carbohydrates are created equal. Bleached flours are essentially void of any nutritional value and white potatoes have extremely high GI values, but why people are so afraid of legumes and whole grains – which happen to be very protein dense – completely baffles me. 

It boggles the mind as to why someone could possibly think that a processed protein bar or a protein drink sachet – pretending to be a health product – is better than a piece of fruit or a serving of hummus.

The fact is we as humans have been eating bread and grain for centuries, long before protein bars were around. Archaeological geneticist, Christina Warinner from the Centre for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, researches the origins and evolution of human disease by extracting dental calculus, or tartar, from the remains of ancient peoples.

Through her research, her team has discovered that ancient peoples dating back even further than the Palaeolithic period, consumed grain. (Which is quite ironic considering the fad ‘Paleo diet’ prohibits the consumption of grain).

It has only been within the past 50 years or so that rises in obesity, heart disease and associated cancers have come up to alarming levels. And why do you think that is? It is because our food system, as food writer Michael Pollan says, has changed more in the past 50 years than it has in the previous 10,000? We have essentially divorced ourselves from the concept of good nutrition.

The Better Health Channel, a health initiative of the Victorian government, states that low-carbohydrate diets may be popular for weight loss, but they can also pose serious dangers.

The website states:

“Carbohydrates are the only fuel source for many vital organs such as the brain, central nervous system and kidneys. A diet high in protein and fats can lead to obesity and obesity-related disorders such as heart disease.”

Highly processed foods which hold minimal, if any, nutritional value, have filled supermarket shelves and bombarded consumers with messages such as ‘lite’ and ‘healthy’ along with other erroneous claims that are essentially meaningless.

Many members of the public honestly have no idea of how to read a nutritional label – one almost needs a dietetics degree to make any sense of it – which is not at all surprising considering how disconnected we have all become to what we put in our mouths.

Now, to the point of my rant. One of my favourite fad diets (can you detect my sarcasm?), the Atkins diet, has re-launched its low-carb weight management plan and products in Australia and New Zealand.

Coupled with an integrated marketing campaign including commercial radio personality Fifi Box, the new scientifically reformulated version of the original Atkins Diet promises to deliver a “sustainable eating plan for safe and effective weight loss, weight management and healthy living,” according to managing director for Atkins Nutritionals, Richard Sullivan.

 “New Atkins isn’t about a quick fix,” says Sullivan. “ It’s a four-phased diet which advocates eliminating ‘bad’ or ‘empty’ carbohydrates from the diet, such as those found in highly processed and refined foods including white flour and sugar; instead promoting consumption of ‘good’ carbs from leafy green vegetables, low-sugar fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and dairy products as well as lean protein and  natural fats.”

So let me just make a few things clear. Obviously I am not exactly the most objective person when it comes to critiquing a low carbohydrate branded product, nor am I pretending to be a qualified dietician. The Atkins products are low in carbohydrates, but something to note here is that Atkins appears to be promoting something that they speak ill off in their newly reformulated plan -the Atkins branded bars and shakes are indeed highly processed, refined foods.

The Atkins Triple Chocolate protein bar contains in excess of 60 ingredients, many of which I can’t even pronounce with my favourite being fructooligosaccharides, which the US National Library of Medicine tells me is an alternative sweetener. 

Call me crazy, but if I want a treat, I want the real deal. I want a chocolate bar that contains ingredients that I am familiar with as once having grown on this planet, not some imitation chocolate-like creation that is pretending to be a health product.

If you eat a balanced diet, protein will be included naturally. If a product is covered in health claims, it should, in my humble opinion, contain far less than 60 ingredients.


Affordable fresh food for every Australian child – regardless of their postcode


An election period is a time when we look to our leaders for bold, visionary action and innovative policy. A time to re-imagine our society and create new solutions to our most-pressing challenges.

A moment every three years, when we can shift the trajectory of this nation and voice our opinions. Exercise democracy, but also a time to reflect. Take stock of our national landscape and ensure that we as a nation are heading in a direction we can all be proud of.

A new promise

Now I am an academic and not a politician – and for the purposes of this article, my political bias is not totally relevant. But I want to make a call – draw a line in the sand and urge both sides of politics to consider adopting a new and bold promise for this coming election.

That by the end of the coming term, every child in our country will have equal access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.

That no matter where that child lives – the centre of Sydney or the red centre – fresh produce will cost the same.

And this cost will be affordable.

Fresh food is health

A recent study suggested that Indigenous children who have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, are healthier and require less antibiotic therapy than counterparts with less fresh food access. This was a small study, but it implied something we all can imagine – that children do better, and achieve greater health if they can access affordable fresh produce.

And yet, another study looking at the cost of a standard basket of supermarket goods across a spectrum of remoteness in Australia – showed a cost differential between 24 percent and 56 percent. In other words, fresh food is up to 56 percent more expensive in remote regions.

And this is not just an issue for Indigenous children, this is an issue for remote and rural children also, and this is an issue for urban children who live in areas void of fresh produce stores – known as food deserts.

Remote, rural and economically vulnerable families want to buy fresh foods, but increasingly simply cannot afford to.

A time for vision

All this, in the world’s 9th richest nation, by GDP per capita. A nation that was built on the back of agriculture and rural enterprise. A nation that prides itself on striving for equity and on the notion of a universal “fair go”.

Money doesn’t solve everything – but money can solve this. We can solve this and our government can solve this.

We are a wealthy nation and it is shameful that families and children could go without, or face greater economic barriers to accessing fresh foods, simply because they live further from big cities. We should not accept such disparities in the cost of food for those living in rural regions and those living in less-advantaged urban settings.

Every child should have the same opportunities for achieving health.

Every child – rural, remote, indigenous, non-indigenous or urban – should and can have access to affordable fresh produce.

If we decide to make this a priority.

Affordable fresh food for every Australian

In this election year, let’s urge our leaders to close the divide in the cost of accessing a healthy diet. Make it just as easy for all Australians and all Australian children to achieve a healthier life, regardless of their address.

It’s time to have vision, to have foresight and to make bold, meaningful and tangible changes that can benefit all. So let’s call on our politicians to make this one of their priorities. To consider a policy of affordable fresh food for every child – whatever their postcode.

Connect with Sandro on Twitter via @SandroDemaio.

This article is dedicated to the inspiring and visionary work of Prof Kerin O'Dea.

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

The Conversation

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

Images:  Flickr / Monica Arellano-Ongpin, Flickr / epSos.de and Flickr / JanahPhotography


Be clear with claims: editor’s rant

Yes I'm a proud advocate for Australia's food manufacturing industry, but first and foremost I'm a consumer. We all are.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I love coming to work every day and learning about all the new and innovative ways our food manufacturers are doing business.

I love reporting on – as cliche as it sounds – what really matters to you guys. I love talking to you and trying to understand your struggles, and advocating for the reforms you say you need to ensure the longevity of your business and the industry.

BUT, before I was a journalist and before I was editor of Food mag, I was a consumer, and obviously I still am – albeit a much more discerning one.

I'm not a vegetarian – in fact I'll pretty much eat anything, but I try to buy and eat as ethically and healthily as possible. It's a personal choice and it's certainly not an easy one.

The plethora of labels and marketing tools out there which are either straight-up misleading or at the very least sneaky, mean consumers like myself aren't always buying what they think they are.

Australian shoppers are a savvy bunch and are increasingly aware of the regulation, or lack thereof, surrounding marketing claims such as 'organic' and 'free range.'

My point is this: be honest. Don't blur the truth. Coles – don't insult your customer base by telling them it's wrong to assume that 'baked fresh' means 'made from scratch.' Water cannot be organic, so don't say it is. Breakfast drinks actually have to be 'high' in something, whether it be protein or fibre, in order to promote it that way, and a chicken needs more than an A4-sized piece of land to run around on in order to be labelled as (and priced as) 'free range.'

This year has seen a number of food and beverage brands named and shamed for leading consumers astray. More stringent regulations are no doubt on their way, but manufacturers should fear more than just a hefty fine.

Yes, Australian consumers are a loyal bunch, they also don't forget easily. When news gets out that the wool has been pulled over their eyes and their 'light' microwavable meal is in fact packed with sugar, salt and perhaps even kilojoules, they'll walk away from the brand and won't look back.

So be warned – tell the truth. It's for your own good.