Voluntary system ineffective in curbing junk food ads: global review

The effectiveness of a voluntary approach to limiting junk food ads targeting children is being called into question, with surveys from around the world showing the industry has done little to change its ways.

A review in scientific journal, Obesity Reviews, examined children's exposure to advertisements for food and drinks high in sugar and fat, and found that independent surveys in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America showed little change in the last five years.

This is despite the industry assuring it would change its ways, and also in contrast with industry-sponsored reports indicating a 98 percent or higher compliance with their self-regulations.

The report's senior author, Dr Tim Lobstein, said "Five years after companies announced their voluntary pledges to limit advertising of junk food to children we find the industry has not done enough. While the companies report that self-regulation has worked just fine, the evidence collected by independent researchers and government agencies shows that children continue to be exposed to junk food advertising at high levels."

According to Lobstein, there are a number of issues with the industry's findings. Companies are only considering what they themselves advertise, not everything children watch. They also don't consider advertisements from companies that haven't committed to self-regulation, only look at children's TV programs, not family programs, and use their own criteria for judging what's appropriate to advertise to children.

The review found that the UK's ban on junk food advertising during children's TV programs is effective, however junk food ads during family programs have actually increased since the ban came in, Lobstein said.

"Self-regulation simply does not work in a highly competitive marketplace," he said. "Asking the companies to restrict their own marketing is like asking a burglar to fix the locks on your front door. They will say you are protected, but you are not."

The reviews findings come just weeks after cereal manufacturer Kellogg was reprimanded for marketing unhealthy foods to children.

The Advertising Standards Board upheld a complaint made by the Obesity Policy Coalition in regards to Kellogg's 'fun facts' ads.

The ads, which will now be withdrawn, feature animated dinosaurs, snails and children's voices. The ABS found they primarily target children and are in breach of the Responsible Children's Marketing Initiative.

The Obesity Review's report mirrors findings from a study conducted by the University of Sydney and the Cancer Council last year, which found that the number of junk food ads aimed at children hasn't slowed, despite the Australian Food and Grocery Council introducing the Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative.


PETA wants a Victorian egg farmer to experience battery hen conditions

Animal activist group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have asked a Victorian farmer to experience battery hen conditions first hand by locking himself in a cage.

The proposal from PETA came as a response to comments made by Andrew Postregna from Tamarix Egg Farm in Dandenong South regarding caged hens in a promotional video, the Dandenong Leader reports.

The video was produced by the Australian Egg Corporation and promotes the notion that consumers have a right to choose between caged and free range eggs.

In the video, Postregna claims that caged hens experience less stress than free range birds.

"When there's a few birds in a cage they tend to know each other. They're happy. Their stress levels seem to be a lot less than what it is in free-range," said Postregna.

PETA sent a letter to Postregna offering $100 per hour – to charity, for up for 34 hours to confine himself to a cage of similar proportions to his body.

PETA spokesman Jason Baker said that 34 hours is around the same amount of time that it takes a chicken to lay an egg.

"Maybe after Mr Postregna gets a real feel for being caged, he'll stop claiming that caged hens are 'happy'," he said.

"Chickens forced into egg production are among the most abused animals in the world."


The sodium shake – why food manufacturers need to reduce salt levels

As obesity rates continue to rise throughout the country, Australian consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about salt levels in food – in particular, food products targeting children.

A report released by the Dieticians Association of Australia in late 2012 stated that Aussie children are “overdosing on salt” by consuming sodium levels comparable to that of adults.

More recently, consumer group Choice, in conjunction with The George Institute for Global Health, released an independent report which found alarmingly high levels of salt in a host of breakfast cereals and children’s snacks. The report claimed that 72 out of 240 products tested revealed higher levels of sodium per 100 grams than the popular Smith’s Original chips.

The claim was strongly refuted by peak industry body, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, which dismissed the claims by stating that salt levels in children’s snack foods are neither harmful nor hidden. The lobby group also emphasised that members of the food manufacturing industry are being proactive, and taking significant steps to address salt levels.  

So exactly how much salt is too much? What does current legislation state about sodium levels? What initiatives are food manufacturers implementing to tackle the issue and how are consumers embracing the changes?

Health concerns translate to business concerns

Although the human body requires a small amount of salt to function, Australians are consuming alarmingly high salt levels, 75 percent of which comes directly from processed food, according to the National Heart Foundation.

 Accredited practicing dietician, Professor Caryl Nowson of Deakin University in Melbourne, conducted research into the salt consumption of children. The study drew from a sample of 238 children aged 5 to 13 years and found that seven in 10 children exceeded the recommended upper limit for sodium. Nowson also found that salt levels in adults did not fair much better with 97 percent of Australian men, and 86 percent of women found to be consuming far more than the recommended daily intake.

The Dieticians Association of Australia states that rising salt levels, especially in foods targeting children, increase the likelihood of health problems later in life including high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

The National Heart Foundation of Australia also stresses that the total maximum recommended limit of sodium for adults should be less than 2,300mg per day, and much less for children. Foods that contain less than 120mg of sodium per 100g are considered ‘low in salt’, and the Heart Foundation recommends that foods be restricted to no more than 600mg of sodium per serve.

The Australian government launched The Food and Health Dialogue in late 2009 which serves as a joint government and industry public health initiative aimed at making healthier food choices more accessible for Australians. Participation in the initiative is voluntary with no legal obligations tied to involvement.

A number of agreements under the new initiative will see leading food manufacturers and grocery retailers reformulate key grocery lines to comply with new standards regarding portion sizing, consumer messaging and sodium levels.

The list of categories where participants are encouraged to reduce sodium include breads, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, simmer sauces, processed meats, soups, savoury pies and savoury crackers.

Big players such as General Mills, George Weston Foods Limited, Kellogg, Arnott’s Australia, Unilever and both Coles and Woolworths have all chosen to participate in selected categories.

Each category features differing targets to be achieved within set time-frames, however questions have been raised as to how effective a voluntary agreement can really be.

Is Australia behind the times?

Australia is already behind Britain and the USA which have both introduced limits on salt in recognition of community initiatives to control health related issues.

According to Jacqui Webster, the head of food policy at The George Institute for Global Health, Australia has only set around 17 targets over the past four years, whereas the UK has released 80 in just two years.

Professor Bruce Neal, also of The George Institute of Health, said tougher action is needed to control sodium levels, especially in children’s food.

“This calls for much tougher action to control the food industry, so it is not profiting at the expense of our children’s health,” he said.

While Aussie food manufacturers appear to be a little slow on the uptake, the Australian Division of World Action on Salt & Health (AWASH) has listed a number of businesses which have taken considerable steps to reduce sodium levels. These include George Weston Foods, Goodman Fielder, Bakers Delight, Freedom Foods, Heinz Australia and Sanitarium.

AWASH launched its Drop the Salt! campaign in 2007 with an aim to reduce the amount of salt consumed by Australians to 6g per day over a five year period. The campaign was said to be influenced by the success of initiatives in the UK which were widely adopted by the nation’s leading food manufacturers.

Gavin Neath, chairman of Unilever Bestfoods, said the UK’s salt reduction program was a testament to the effectiveness of both government and industry working together to achieve a positive outcome for the community.

“The work that was done in the UK … to reduce salt levels in processed foods was an excellent example of government and industry working effectively together on an important issue of public health. Over a period of three years very significant reductions were made across a broad range of product categories that included everything from bread and breakfast cereals to soups and meal sauces,” Neath said.

Why manufacturers should be liberal in their approach to salt

Let’s face it, salt is cheap. And it’s tasty and it can undoubtedly add flavour to a product that without it could taste a little bland.

But food manufacturers are increasingly being put under the microscope in regards to how their products are marketed towards children, and also to ensure they don’t exceed acceptable levels of additives such as sugar, fat and salt.

Many time-poor consumers place trust in the food industry by assuming that products marketed as a healthy snack alternative for kids, i.e a muesli bar, are indeed healthy.

However we are now living in the age of the health-conscious consumer, and that consumer is becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to reading nutritional information labels and assessing appropriate levels of added ingredients in processed foods.

So really, to keep ahead of the game, salt levels need to be addressed sooner rather than later, not just for corporate social responsibility reasons, but also for a businesses’ long-term brand integrity.


Thankyou Water urges Coles and Woolies to get onboard [video]

Thankyou, the social enterprise behind Thankyou Water, is preparing for a meeting with Australia's two supermarket giants, urging them to stock the brand's new product lines and help support developing nations.

Once all the business costs are taken care of, money made from Thankyou sales goes to funding water, food and hygiene projects in developing nations.

Formerly known as Thankyou Water, Thankyou is meeting with Coles and Woolworths in two weeks to encourage them to stock its water as well as Thankyou's range of food and body care products.

Co-founder and managing director, Daniel Flynn, said "We’re going to explain not only the positive effect stocking our products would have on their bottom-line, but also the tremendous impact it would have on the broader global community.

"If they say ‘yes’, Thankyou, in partnership with Coles and Woolworths, could go from helping 56,000 people, to millions in the developing world."

Launching today with a multi-layered marketing campaign, the new Thankyou range includes muesli, muesli bars, quick and rolled oats as well as hand wash, hand lotion and hand sanitiser.

This is in addition to its namesake – Thankyou Water, available in both still and sparkling varieties.

Flynn said the development of the range, as well as planning the launch, had been 15 months in the making.

"It’s been an absolute mission to develop products that have the potential to lead the market. We’ve had to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in social investment and have partnered with some of Australia’s leading suppliers and manufacturers to make it all happen.

"Now, we’re asking Coles, Woolworths, and the people of Australia to help change the world with us," he said.



Voluntary supermarket code still under negotiation

Coles and Woolworths are reported to still be in negotiations with peak body, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) over a voluntary code of conduct.

The completion of the code, which is designed to manage relationships between Australia’s supermarket giants and suppliers, is reported to still be months away, The Australian reports.

The slowdown in negotiations is said to be due to pressure from agribusiness leader Donald McGauchi, who urged the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to accelerate its investigation into alleged misuse of power in regards the duopoly’s suppliers.

In addition to ACCC investigations, both Coles and Woolworths are said to be unable to reach an agreement over the infamous private labelling issue.

The AFGC has been pushing for the retailers to employ separate buying teams for private label products to avoid the occurrence of ‘knock off’ versions of established branded products. However, the supermarkets deem that maintaining separate buying teams would be too costly.

Chairman of cattle giant, The Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) Donald McGauchie, has also encouraged the ACCC to speed up its investigation into alleged bullying tactics that the supermarkets are using to pressure suppliers.

“There are some accusations made against the supermarkets that I have heard some a number of sources that need investigation and the ACCC needs to do that,” said McGauchie.

“They need to have sensitive was of doing that because people tell m they are concerned about the way supermarkets treat them and are concerned that is they are seen to be making comments about that publicly, it would endanger their business.”

A new round of negotiations for the voluntary code will take place next month.

Baiada busted for misleading ‘free to roam’ claims

Baiada Poultry and Bartter Enterprises, the processors and suppliers of Steggles chicken products,  misled consumers by claiming their chickens were "free to roam", when really their movements were restricted to an area comparable to an A4 sheet of paper, a court has found.

Following a complaint by the ACCC, the Federal Court found the companies misled consumers by using the term "free to roam" in its marketing campaigns.

The Australian Chicken Meat Federation, the peak industry body for Australia’s chicken meat industry, was also found to have engaged in false, misleading and deceptive conduct by claiming on its website that chickens produced in Australia were ‘free to roam’ or able to ‘roam freely’ in large barns. 

The court found that the ordinary and natural meaning of the phrase ‘free to roam’ is “the largely uninhibited ability of the chickens to move around at will in an aimless manner.” However, Justice Tracey found that at times in their growth cycle the chickens “could not move more than a metre or so (at most) without having their further movement obstructed by a barrier of clustered birds."

Steggles' statistics indicated consistent stocking densities of between 17.4 and 19.6 chickens per square metre. The ACCC alleged that at these densities each chicken, on average, had access to floor space which was less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper and that this was contrary to the representation that they were ‘free to roam’.

The industry has stopped using the 'free to roam' term, but questions still surround the legitimacy of a similar claim – 'free range.'

The ACCC announced earlier this year that it would be placing special attention on credence claims in the food industry including free range claims, country of origin labelling and the labelling of olive oil.

There's been growing interest in the case to clearly define – and introduce standards for – free range labelling. In May, Human Society International delivered 40,000 postcards to the prime minister at the time, Julia Gillard, in protest of the continued mislabelling of free range eggs.

Lee McCosker, chief operating officer for Humane Choice, the certification scheme launched by HSI, said consumer's are becoming increasingly frustrated with misleading labelling and Australia's big retailers and industry bodies, including the Australian Egg Corporation, aren't taking their concerns seriously.

"They have attempted to take advantage of the consumer’s limited knowledge of egg production systems while toying with their concerns for hen welfare and reaping a premium for mislabelled eggs," she said.

HSI has been urging the federal government to take action by legislating a national standard for free range eggs.

South Australia is leading the way here, setting an industry code in June and defining free range eggs as coming from hens stocked at 1,500 birds per hectare.

The proposal, McCosker says, will encourage supermarkets to make a broader selection of eggs available to consumers.

"I believe this industry code will actually bring clarity to the free range confusion and those producers that are meeting consumer expectation will stand out from the crowd. Consumers will then be able to decide if they are willing to pay a little more for what they want, or accept eggs grown under a more intensive operation.  The choice will be made a lot clearer," she said.

Other brands penalised for making misleading claims include Luv-a-Duck, which has been accused of deceptive conduct by claiming its ducks are ‘grown and grain fed in the spacious Victorian Wimmera Wheatlands’, when it's been found the animals didn't have substantial access to outdoors.

Fellow duck producer, Pepe's, was fined $40,000 late last year for misleading its consumers and was told it may no longer use the slogan 'grown nature’s way' or 'open range' on its packaging or in its marketing.

Its logo of an 'open range' duck walking towards a lake must also not be used for a period of three years unless it is accompanied by the phrase 'barn raised.'


Mad Mex to only serve RSPCA approved chicken

From Thursday last week, fast food outlet Mad Mex will only be serving RSPCA Approved higher welfare chicken across its 34 stores located nationally.

The move will see the chain become the only quick serve restaurant in Australia to serve the RSPCA Approved product, and will also align with the company’s BiteMark initiative which strives to make ethical and socially responsible decisions throughout the supply chain.

Mad Mex’s founder Clovis Young said he was thrilled to be serving the higher welfare product.

“The negative stories about the treatment of conventionally-farmed chicken in Australia prompted us to do our bit by introducing RSPCA Approved higher welfare chicken. We’ve worked closely with the RSPCA and their Approved Farming Scheme producers for the past few months so we’re pretty thrilled to be serving higher welfare chicken at all of our stores nationally,” said Young.

“We’re focused on making small changes and we’re confident that by choosing RSPCA Approved, we’re choosing chicken that has been treated humanely throughout its life. We’re confident that decisions like these are aligned with the standards that our customers demand as well as positively impacting the commercial farming industry. Together we can make a difference with every bite.”

RSPCA CEO Heather Neil welcomed the chains decision to serve higher welfare chicken.

“The welfare standards of meat chickens is an important area of the RSPCA’s work as these are some of the most intensively farmed animals in Australia. Conventionally farmed animals suffer serious welfare issues and this is one of the areas where we have the opportunity to make the greatest difference to animal welfare,” said Neil.

“We congratulate the efforts of Mad Mex in taking this positive step in helping to improve the welfare standards across the industry by serving higher welfare chicken nationally.” 


Kellogg’s a cereal offender in marketing to children

For the second time in two weeks, cereal company Kellogg's has been reprimanded for marketing unhealthy foods to children.

The Advertising Standards Board has upheld a complaint made by the Obesity Policy Coalition in regards to Kellogg's 'fun facts' ads, ABC reports.

The ads, which will now be withdrawn, feature animated dinosaurs, snails and children's voices. The ABS found they primarily target children and are in breach of the Responsible Children's Marketing Initiative.

The coalition's spokeswoman Jane Martin she hopes the cost of making the ads, only to have them withdrawn, will be a deterrent for other food manufacturers.

"Obviously these advertisements won't be able to be run any more, it's a big cost to them," she said.

Martin added that the self regulation of junk food advertising isn't working, and called on the government to step in and regulate how food is marketed to children.

"What we need to do is call time on self regulation, this has been in place for four years and industry still aren't managing to abide by the rules that they set up, they're still marking their own homework," she said.

In October last year a study by the University of Sydney and the Cancer Council found that the number of junk food ads targeting children hadn't slowed, despite the introduction of the Responsible Marketing to Children Initiative.

Kellogg's said it was unaware of any consumers making complaints about its TV advertisements.

"As with the Coco Pops advertisement, the ASB didn't receive any complaints from consumers about this LCMs advertisement, but just the one from a lobby group.

"Nonetheless we fully respect and accept the role of the ASB and its decision," Kellogg's said in a statement.


Why market forces don’t protect animal welfare


The actions of animal protection activists have sent reverberations throughout Australia’s livestock industries in recent times. Revelations of animal cruelty in local processing and the live export trade have led to the forced closure of abattoirs, the filing of criminal charges, trade suspensions, and new regulation. Some think market forces will be enough to bring about change, but I would argue that productivity and animal welfare are not always compatible.

In his opinion piece, “Why capitalism raises an animal’s spirits” published in the Australian recently, journalist Nick Cater takes aim at the “animal vigilantes” who took video footage inside an intensive pig farm near Young, NSW. An eight minute clip depicting row after row of squealing pigs confined to small concrete stalls was later posted on Youtube.



Cater argues market forces alone can prevent animal suffering. According to Cater this is because a producer has an economic incentive to protect animal welfare – “a happy pig equals profits”. This argument is commonly heard from representatives of the livestock industries and repeated by politicians. It is for this reason it should not go unchallenged.

Modern animal welfare science has gone beyond measuring welfare solely by reference to physical attributes and mortality rates. Cater’s claim that in “the absence of reliable porcine attitude surveys, we can only go by the empirical evidence of health and death rates”, underscores his ignorance.

Physiological functioning, brain state, behaviour, physical condition, performance and even an animal’s feelings are now all recognised as key factors in assessing an animal’s welfare.

It is possible to have a physically healthy productive animal that is in a poor state of welfare due to, for instance, psychological stress. If this is so, there is little economic incentive for a farmer to provide improved welfare, especially if doing so increases costs.

Indeed, the economic literature shows animal welfare and productivity are in conflict. Under an economic model, productivity is prioritised and animal suffering is treated as a market “externality”. Market signals will generally cause welfare standards to fall below community expectations.

Examples are not hard to find. Battery cages and sow stalls are known to have negative impacts on welfare yet they are designed to achieve productivity gains. Another obvious example can be found in the use of routine surgical procedures such as debeaking, tail-docking, dehorning, mulesing, castration and even the spaying of cattle. These procedures are performed without the administration of pain relief to keep costs down.

Welfare protection and productivity can coexist in well-managed, free-range farming systems, but as the size and intensity of production increases, welfare begins to decline.


The assessment of animal welfare has moved beyond just physical measures. Flickr/Cyron


The argument that animal welfare and productivity are two sides of the same coin is also completely out of step with growing community concerns. Cater’s defence of “factory farmers” on the grounds that they are not “by and large, tormenters who derive a sadistic thrill from watching dumb animals suffer” completely misses the point. The broader community does not equate animal welfare with simply keeping animals alive or sparing them from overt acts of cruelty. They expect more. There is now a growing demand to see farm animals treated in a manner that recognises their “intrinsic value” as sentient beings, and provides them with a “life worth living.”

No doubt Cater would dismiss this as a preoccupation of urban latte sippers, devoid of any experience with “the gritty reality of farming”. But it is precisely this dismissive mentality that is now causing Australia’s livestock industries serious headaches. “Values-based consumerism” is spreading throughout the Western world and may expand with the growing middle classes of Brazil, India, Russia and China.

Livestock industries must strive to get ahead of these trends, not to fight them. Calls for US-styled “ag gag” laws in Australia to criminalise unauthorised filming and photographs in agricultural facilities are nonsensical and counterproductive. Such laws have been described by leading animal welfare scientist and meat industry consultant Temple Grandin as the “Stupidest thing that ag ever did.” By restricting the rights of whistleblowers, activists, and journalists to expose illegal and sometimes legal husbandry practises, they increase negative publicity and only fuel public curiosity over what happens to animals on factory farms.

Producers who are in touch with their customers will internalise the costs of higher welfare standards and convey this product feature to consumers. By rejecting the archaic conceptions of animal welfare espoused by Cater, they will be well placed to capitalise on values-based consumer demands in the coming years. It is only when animal industries adopt this business model that there can ever be any truth to the proposition: “capitalism raises an animal’s spirits”.

Jed Goodfellow receives funding from a Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship. He works for RSPCA Australia on a part-time basis.

Peter Radan 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.


Australian Pork hits back at animal activists [video]

Australian Pork has released a video questioning the intentions of animal activists and shedding light on its own animal welfare standards.

Following recent scrutiny of the Australian food manufacturing's animal welfare standards (think Inghams, Pepe's Ducks, Luv-a-Duck, the live exports saga and Animals Australia's controversial bag campaign), the organisation supporting Australian pork producers has turned the tables on animal activists, questioning their commitment to animal welfare.

It's released a video, set inside a pig farm, which runs through how pigs are housed and treated at many Australian pork production facilities. It claims Australia boasts "some of the best pig raising standards in the world."

Titled Aussie Pig Farmers: Nothing to Hide, it shows an image of a baby in a cot, captioned with "Sometimes things designed for safety can appear cruel to the uninitiated."

A pork producer then runs through the fundamental elements of a farrowing crate, explaining that the sow has access to grain and water as well as a heater for feeding piglets and an added safety element which helps ensure piglets aren't accidentally crushed if the sow rolls onto them.

The video also makes some bold statements about animal activists, not only questioning their intentions but implying their conduct is often unethical and even illegal.

"Animal activists break into a farm, trespass and terrorise pigs at night," the video states. "They break strict biosecurity protocols, putting the animals' health and wellbeing at risk.

"If activists were serious about animal welfare they would work with industry."

This echoes a sentiment raised by farmers after supermarket giant Coles recently teamed up with activist group, Animals Australia, agreeing to sell their Make It Possible reusable bags in-store. Coles and Animals Australia were hit with such intense criticism from the industry that Animals Australia eventually asked Coles to withdraws the bags.

"It is a dark day for animal welfare in this country when a retailer’s support for an animal welfare initiative is vehemently opposed by the farming lobby," Animals Australia campaign director, Lyn White, said at the time.

The video concludes with the pork producer sharing his concerns about the future of the industry, should animal activists continue to threaten their livelihood.

"If Aussie farmers were shut down in producing Aussie pork, then where are we going to get our pork from?" he asks.

"If we can't produce pork in God's country, then God knows where we're going to get it from."



Southern Cross Austereo to air Animals Australia ad for free

Animal rights group, Animals Australia (AA) will be enjoying some free air time across regional Australia courtesy of Southern Cross Austereo.

The ad which features a winged pig, aims to promote awareness around the realities of factory farming and encourage consumers to purchase ethically raised produce.

"The Channel 10 regional TV team have kindly provided free air time for the Make it Possible ads to air across the country,” said a statement on the AA website as reported by the Weekly Times Now.

"This life-changing ad will be seen by even more Australians  empowering them with the knowledge to create change so desperately needed for millions of factory-farmed animals.''

AA’s ‘Make it Possible’ campaign came under scrutiny from the National Farmers Federation (NFF) when supermarket giant Coles agreed to sell bags promoting the groups’ anti factory farming message in store.

The NFF deemed the campaign to be ‘anti farming’, and claimed that AA 'openly promoted veganism' and was 'actively working to stop animal agriculture', claims of which Animals Australia completely dismissed.

The NNF’s reaction to the campaign resulted in Animals Australia voluntarily removing the bags from Coles stores, and the group has since been selling the bags via its website and focusing on prime time television advertising slots.


How Coles got busted for its bread

The former Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett, played an integral role in the latest round of bad headlines for Coles, with the supermarket giant accused of misleading and deceptive conduct.

Last year, Kennett got tongues wagging when he started enquiring about the origins of his bread and muffins, sending the baked goods to the ACCC and sharing his thoughts with talkback radio listeners, the SMH reports.

The consumer watchdog hadn’t received any complaints about Coles’ bread until then, but with Kennett’s profile and growing interest in the his cause, was forced to dig deeper.

Yesterday, the ACCC issued a statement announcing that it had launched legal action against the supermarket, which it accused of engaging in deceptive and misleading conduct, specifically in regards to ‘Baked Today, Sold Today’ and ‘Freshly Baked In-Store’ claims on various ‘Cuisine Royale’ and ‘Coles Bakery’ branded bread products.

The ACCC says the marketing of these products is misleading as the bread is partially baked and frozen off-site, transported to Coles stores and ‘finished’ in-store.

According to SMH, court documents have shown that the bakery products were either made in Ireland or had been initially baked in different locations in Australia, some of which were frozen, reheated and then sold as “freshly-baked in-store.”

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said, "There are two important issues at stake. First, consumers must be able to make informed purchasing decisions. Bread is an important grocery basket staple and customers need to be confident in claims made about food they buy.

"We believe consumers are likely to have been misled by Coles that the entire baking process, including preparation, occurred in-store, when in fact the bakery products were prepared and partially baked off site, frozen, transported and then ‘finished’ in store. Indeed, the Cuisine Royale products were partially baked overseas.

"Second and just as important, is the detrimental impact on the businesses of competitors. Misleading credence claims can undermine the level playing field and disadvantage other suppliers. In this case those suppliers are the smaller, often franchised bakeries that compete with Coles," Sims said.

Sims has also said that a Queensland consumer complained to the Queensland fair trading office when they found their “baked today” bread was actually frozen in the middle.

The action brought against it could see Coles hit with fines of up to $1.1 million per offence.

In a statement issued by Coles, the supermarket expressed its intention to "vigorously defend the action brought against it by the ACCC. 

"Coles has only just become aware of the ACCC legal action and will fully examine the ACCC statement before making any further comment," the statement reads.



Coles are the piggy in the middle of animal welfare confrontation

Last week, Coles supermarkets began selling shopping bags on behalf of animal rights campaigners Animal Australia. Following a backlash from farmers, Animals Australia withdrew the bags. But the stoush raised some important questions about the growing power of ethical consumption, and about who gets to decide how much animal welfare is enough.

The animal rights group produced 15,000 bags displaying a little winged pig who encourages consumers to “believe in a world without factory farming”. They were to be sold in 500 metropolitan Coles Supermarkets. The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) urged producers to boycott Coles, saying Animals Australia were “anti-farmer”.

Since ending the campaign, Animals Australia has raised enough in donations from sympathetic Australians to secure valuable air time for their television ad. According to the Canberra Times, Coles also received huge support in favour of the bags – leading many to ask why farm lobby groups are so strongly opposed the campaign.

Why don’t farmers like animal welfare campaigns?

The supermarket giant is trying to cater for the growing demand for high-welfare meat and eggs while remaining supportive of producers. But several farming lobbies called for immediate action against Coles in response to the bag sales.

Farmers groups didn’t object to a campaign to end factory farming. They objected to Animals Australia and its platforms. A representative of the pork lobby expressed his outrage that Coles would partner with an “anti-meat” organisation, and described Animals Australia as campaigning for a “meat-free world”.


At the core of any animal rights ideology is the objective to reduce suffering, as animal activists explain. Getting sows out of stalls and chickens out of cages is the first step in this process. Farmers say they also care about welfare. But farming lobby groups such as the NFF feel vulnerable to the effects of marketing campaigns by animal rights groups.

While animal welfare is important to farmers, there is immense pressure to supply chicken, pork and eggs to consumers at a low cost. This is why the factory farms that Animals Australia are protesting against exist. The Farmers Federation says it works with respected animal welfare groups and the government to make improvements in the industry. But they seem to think there is no place in the debate for a group that campaigns for animal rights; a group they describe as “extremist animal activist[s]”.

Farmers label the group as extremists because they campaign for an end to rodeos, no more kangaroo culling and no more culling of introduced animals. But these are different matters: if farmers are opposed to Animals Australia’s anti-factory farming campaign because it is based on false claims, they should tell the public what they are doing to improve farm animal welfare.

Can high-welfare foods work for supermarkets and producers?

Rather than trying to turn Australia vegan, Animals Australia told the Age they want Australians to “eat less and pay more [for meat and eggs] – ensuring that the bottom line for producers can remain positive”. To achieve this requires a dramatic shift in thinking by consumers and support for supermarkets and farmers to supply high-welfare foods to the public.

An open conversation between producers, supermarkets, and consumers on the realities of farming, include the unpleasant truths, may help Australia move forward and implement more animal-friendly farming practices.

Both meat farmers and Animals Australia agree that consumers need to know more about farming in Australia. The Farmers Federation say on their website they are dedicated to increasing awareness of farming’s role in society.

When transparency and labelling standards are improved, it will be the consumer who determines the importance of animal welfare – and rights – in the scheme of things.

The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare has found welfare is not keeping up with consumer demands. Consumers' concern makes them sensitive to campaigns such as “Make It Possible” and open to alternative products and lifestyles.

On the surface, the farming organisations who were calling for an immediate boycott of Coles have won the debate. But they have done little to convince consumers they needn’t worry about farm animal welfare.

Australian consumers, and subsequently legislators, will determine the direction for farm animal welfare in the future. It is in the best interests of the meat and egg industries to reassure consumers that animal welfare is a priority. Otherwise Animals Australia will have gained much more from the proposed boycott than anticipated.

Sally Healy was the 2011 recipient for the RSPCA Australia Scholarship for Humane Animal Production Research.

Georgette Burns 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.


Animals Australia asks Coles to withdraw Make it Possible bags

Animal activist group Animals Australia have asked supermarket giant Coles to withdrawal their Make it Possible shopper bags from stores.

The decision to pull the bags was a direct response of the ‘vicious campaign’ launched by the National Farmers Federation (NFF) against Coles and Wesfarmers.

"It is a dark day for animal welfare in this country when a retailer’s support for an animal welfare initiative is vehemently opposed by the farming lobby,” said Animals Australia Campaign Director, Lyn White.

“This decision was not made lightly but in the midst of this distracting attack, the animals at the heart of this issue were being disregarded and forgotten. We also could not stand by and watch an act of generosity from Coles be turned against them.

“It is one thing for these groups to defend the live export trade, but to actively oppose a public initiative encouraging consumers to use their purchasing power to get laying hens out of cages and a better quality of life for pigs and meat chickens in this country is deplorable.” 

White says that while some members of the farming community may see the decision to pull the bags as a victory, she urges them to reflect on the message that they are sending to the wider community.

The alliance between Coles and AA was designed to provide a platform for farmers to move to more humane systems, but White says this message has been lost.

She adds that the NFF’s reaction to the campaign has only increased the groups’ determination to provide factory-farmed animals with the representation they need, and the group will bring back their successful Make it Possible television commercial to air from next Monday.

“Assisting us to keep this ad on air will provide the many thousands of Australians who have been angered by the farming lobby's attack on Coles with the opportunity to respond in the most positive way.”


NFF slams Coles over Animals Australia bag plan

The National Farmers Federation (NFF) and farm groups around the country are outraged by a new proposal from Coles to sell shopping bags on behalf of animal rights group, Animals Australia.

The groups fear that funds generated from the sale of the bags could be used to fund campaigns designed to attack or undermine the Australian livestock industry according The Land.

The National Farmers Federation said that they were ‘extremely disappointed’ that Coles is considering the venture.

“While we understand retailers may wish to find a point of difference in their marketing, we are extremely disappointed Coles would consider partnering with an organisation that is blatantly anti-farming, openly promotes veganism and is actively working to stop animal agriculture,” the NFF said in a statement.

“On behalf of Australian farmers, many of whom supply Coles, we’re looking for an explanation.”

Queensland grazier Russell Lethbridge has also expressed his disappointment in the retailer by describing the move as a “direct kick in the face” for livestock producers.

“That would be a direct kick in the face to the people Coles deals with and grows product for on a daily basis,” Lethbridge told Weekly Times Now.

“Where the heck do you think Coles gets its beef from? They get it from us.”

Coles spokesman Robert Hadler confirmed that the retailer was considering the proposal and allegedly played down the negative perception that Animals Australia has amongst farmers. Hadler also said that the current partnership that the retailer has with the organisation regarding sow stall-free pork has nothing to do with the broader Animals Australia agenda.

“The partnership with Animals Australia and other community groups gives Coles an opportunity to listen as well as provide information to them about the practical supply chain issues that need to be managed,” he said.

“This allows us to work through issues in a way that helps farmers adapt to community expectations.

“We are confident we are engaging constructively with key community groups and listening to the views and working with them to achieve common objectives that our customers support.”


An Australian first for Whole Kids

Organic snack manufacturer, Whole Kids, is the first Australian food company to be named a Certified B Corporation.

There are only 700 organisations in the world with this certification, which recognises businesses that work to solve social and environmental problems.

Whole Kids, together with other certified brands including Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, Etsy and Seventh Generation, now has to consider the social and environmental impact of its decisions on employees, suppliers, communities and consumers.

Whole Kids was founded by husband and wife team James and Monica Meldrum, and aims to provide healthy, nutritious snacks for children, sourcing 100 percent certified ingredients.

The pair also established One Percent for Our Kids, a non-profit organisation aiming to improve the health of children and the environment, based on a one percent contribution of Whole Kids' annual turnover.

"We seek to change the way families and children experience food and, in turn, experience their world," said James.

"We believe in ‘unjunking’ our lives and that wasteful materialism and consumerism needs to evolve to a more enlightened conscious consumption. Whole Kids seeks a world where businesses contribute positively to a more sustainable, more equitable and more respectful relationship with all stakeholders, not just shareholders."

Earlier this year, Monnica completed Food mag's Industry Map. Read about her impressive career here.


US food companies scramble to source non GM ingredients

Food companies across America are struggling to source conventional ingredients as growing pressure to replace genetically modified ones gains traction.

Last weekend saw over two million people worldwide protest against GM giant Monsanto sighting the alleged dangers of genetically modified foods and the environmental damage caused by its production.

So far in the US states of Connecticut, Vermont and Maine, at least one chamber of the state legislature has given the go ahead for bills that will require the mandatory labelling of foods that contain GM ingredients, with similar legislation pending in over 24 other US states as reported by the New York Times.

US retail giant Whole Foods Market, have also added pressure by refusing to sell any GM produce or processed foods that is not labelled as GM in all of their stores by 2018.

A pressing concern for many businesses is the process involved in switching from GM to non GM certified produce. The cost for conventional, non GM ingredients is far higher than that of genetically modified crops and produce.

Approximately 90 percent of US corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets are genetically modified. Farmers that are willing to make the switch to non GM will have to be patient as it will take time before they can harvest thier new crops as the soil may not be immediately suitable to gain non-GMO certification.

 “There’s a transition period required,” said Richard Kamolvathin, senior vice president at Verity Farms, (seller of meats, grains and other products derived from conventional crops, as well as natural soil amendments). “You don’t just stop growing G.M.O. seed and then start growing non-G.M.O. seed.”

Taste and consistency of products is another factor that needs to be considered when making the switch as the products will need to be tried and tested to capture the same flavours and mouth feel as the original GM ingredients.

Foods in Australia must be labelled if they contain GM ingredients however if a GM ingredient is highly refined, ie in cooking oils, margarine, baked goods and chocolate, they do not have to be labelled.

Currently, Australia does not permit the sale of GM fresh foods including fruit and vegetables.


Boys prefer foods spruiked by sports celebs: study

Boys are more likely to choose unhealthy foods with on-pack endorsements by sports stars than those without, a new study of primary school-aged children has found.

The Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer surveyed 1302 Victorian children in grades five and six and concluded that sports stars should be prevented from promoting energy-dense, low-nutrient foods.

The researchers also found that children of both sexes were more likely to want foods with packaging that displayed claims about the food’s nutritional content, such as “reduced fat” or “source of calcium.”

The children were asked to look at mocked-up food packets for products in five categories: sweetened breakfast cereal, cheese dip snacks, ice cream bars, frozen chicken nuggets and flavoured milk drinks.

“For each food product category, a comparison pack was prepared, matched on packaging style to control for visual appeal of factors other than the promotion condition, but with a healthier nutritional profile,” the study said.

“Overall, results show that on-pack nutrient content claims made pre-adolescents more likely to choose energy-dense, nutrient-poor products and increased perceptions of their nutrient content. Sports celebrity endorsements made boys more likely to choose energy-dense, nutrient poor products.”

The study was published in the journal Pediatric Obesity.

Dr Helen Dixon, lead author of the study and senior research fellow at the Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, said the researchers only used images of male sports stars in their study because images of male sports stars are more common than female sports stars in food packaging.

Policy change
Dr Dixon said, “Stricter measures need to be introduced to limit food manufacturers’ use of nutrient content claims and sports celebrity endorsements to promote unhealthy foods, to ensure consumers aren’t confused about the healthiness such products.”

“We already have rules about the sorts of products that can carry health claims. You could make a rule that certain foods are ineligible to carry a nutrient content claim or a sports person’s image,” she said, adding that sports celebrities should think more carefully about the foods they promote.

“A lot of sports people who personally have an interest in health and fitness need to think about the effect they are having on children’s diets when they endorse food products. We have one in four kids overweight or obese in Australia, and when unhealthy food products are marketed heavily toward kids it can influence their food choices.”

Role model responsibility
Sandra Jones, Director of the Centre for Health Initiatives at University of Wollongong, said she was not surprised by the study’s findings.

“The boys really identify with sport players, and they really internalise it. And there’s a sense that that food actually contributed to those outcomes,” she said.

“There’s also the perception that if they consume it, it must be good for you. It’s about needing more of it in order to keep playing, or celebrating their success.”

Professor Jones also called on high profile role-models to take more responsibility for the products with which they are associated.

“What we should be saying is: you’re a role model for kids and you know you are. Is it really wise for you to promote this? Is it really a good idea to stick your name and your face on this product?”

Timothy Gill, Principal Research Fellow at University of Sydney, said the study clearly shows that children are easy to influence in terms of their product choices.

“Naivety around the market is something that, despite the fact that there are codes in place, is still widely utilised by the industry to encourage consumption of high profit margin products,” he said.

The Conversation

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Environmental lobby actively misled petitioners, says AFGC

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has stated that a petition prepared by the Boomerang Alliance has misled petitioners by providing a false description of a container deposit scheme proposal. 

According to the AFGC, the proposal failed to stipulate that in order to receive a 10c deposit, consumers would most likely have to pay 20c at the checkout.

AFGC CEO, Gary Dawson said that the system developed by the environmental lobby advocates will cost consumers at the checkout.

“Nowhere in the world is there a drink container deposit scheme that is free to consumers. This environmental group is lobbying for a new tax on glass and plastic drink containers, which will push up an average family’s grocery bills by more than $300 a year,” he said.

“All Australians need to know that the Council of Australian Governments has found the cost of this scheme will be up to $1.76 billion to the economy.”

Dawson said that the AFGC plans to deliver a recycling program that will not pass off the cost to consumers.

"Industry wants more recycling and less litter and we have a plan to deliver it at no cost to consumers. That's the plan that Australia needs and wants, not an inconvenient and costly drink container tax."


The great palm oil debate: how the consumer turned an industry on its head

Palm oil has received a great amount of attention in recent months. Heightened consumer awareness surrounding palm oil farming practices has resulted in protests and boycotts the world over, causing producers to re-think the ingredient composition of many of their processed offerings.

Social media outlets have been rampant in naming and shaming manufacturers who use palm oil in their products. Supermarket giant, Woolworths, suffered a massive belting for the inclusion of the controversial ingredient in its hot cross buns earlier this year and Arnott’s has also copped a lot of flack for including it their popular Shapes range.

But what exactly is palm oil? Where does it come from and why is it so controversial?

What’s with all the bad press?

According to Food Standards Australian and New Zealand (FSANZ), palm oil is vegetable fat which is obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm tree. Palm oil contains a significant amount of saturated fat, similar to coconut oil, and is a popular ingredient in many processed foods.

Current regulations state that palm oil doesn’t have to be labelled as palm oil, and may be used under the more generic guise of ‘vegetable oil.’

FSANZ previously rejected an application for the mandatory labelling of palm oil in July 2008. The application focused on environmental concerns rather than food and safety standards and as such, FSANZ had no legal capacity to hear the case.

Contrary to Australian regulations, The Food Information Regulation published by the EU will require all types of vegetable oil used in food, including palm oil to be stated by 2014. Canada and the US also require palm oil to be labelled.  

Approximately 87 percent of palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia, with Australia importing around 130,000 tonnes of palm oil each year, according to WWF.

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.

WWF has estimated that around 300 football fields’ worth of forest native to the orangutan is cleared every hour.

Why would food manufacturers use palm oil?

According to the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil, the oil palm plant is entirely GMO-free and yields up to 10 times more oil per unit than soybean, sunflower or rapeseed oil.

The rise in demand for palm oil has also been largely attributed to the move away from trans-fats in the early 2000s. Palm oil offers a low trans-fat content for a cheap price, which is a welcome alternative for many food manufacturers.

Palm oil is typically used to produce an extensive range of processed foods including margarine, ice cream, biscuits, chocolate, chips as well as baked and fried foods.

Palm oil kernels, a by-product of palm oil production, are used for stockfeed because of its high fibre content, energy and protein as well as favourable levels of residual oil.

According to CHOICE, the leading brands in the Australian grocery aisles including Coca Cola (SPC Ardmona), Goodman Fielder, Nestle and Arnott’s all use palm oil and label it as vegetable oil.

Is there a solution?

WWF-Australia and the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) recently developed a report providing an assessment of facts, myths, issues and challenges surrounding the palm oil debate. The report provides a springboard for action to increase the amount of palm oil derived from sustainable sources.

"It lays out a way forward, including the need for better understanding of supply chains, better alignment of supply-side and demand-side expectations, and work to overcome significant logistical challenges,” said Gary Dawson, CEO of AFGC.

WWF- Australia’s CEO, Dermot O’Gorman said that the switch to sustainable palm oil is critical to the preservation of the environment and many engendered species.

“Companies must ensure that unsustainable practices are phased out; governments must support corporate commitments with appropriate incentives and land use planning policies,” he said.

Many other vegetable oils including canola oil, have been adopted by fast food outlets as an alternative to palm oil, including KFC which recently announced the use of Australian-grown canola oil.

The report states that a major challenge lies in the move away from stearin, which is palm oil in its solid state. Stearin is a popular ingredient in baking applications due to its hard composition, low cost and lack of trans-fats. Traditional alternatives, butter and hydrogenated fats, are typically higher in cost and contain trans-fats.

Other, more cost effective alternatives include more stable versions of canola, soy and sunflower oils however these products still hold a heftier price tag when compared to stearin.

How would a change to sustainable practices affect producers?

The costs associated with switching to sustainable palm oil production are a major factor in determining buy-in from food manufacturers. Some of the big players in the Australian industry however, Woolies and Coles, have already committed to make the switch.

Woolworths has 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.

The current global supply of certified palm oil is sitting at around 15 percent of the world’s total production, resulting in supplies of the sustainable alternative to be somewhat limited at this stage.

The reality of a sustainable switch

Palm oil production is vital to countries such as Malaysia where it accounts for approximately six to seven percent of GDP and employs a significant proportion of the country’s workforce.

The movement towards sustainable production needs to have buy-in from governments to ensure a smooth transition from current conventional practices, ensuring that farmers receive adequate income and incentives to make the switch. This will undoubtedly require a great deal of co-operation from parties on each side of the debate.

The push for sustainable palm oil is a true testament to the power of the consumer. Widespread campaigns reporting on the unfavourable production methods of palm oil has undeniably turned the industry on its head.

The consumer really does have more power than you think.