Australians oppose TV junk food ads, warm to GM foods

More than 75% of Australians support a ban on junk food advertising in children’s television, and almost 20% support a total ban, according to a poll by the Australian National University on attitudes to food security.

The survey of 1200 people also found that nearly 50% of Australians feel genetically modified (GM) foods are safe to eat, and 13% say they struggle to put regular, nutritionally-balanced food on their tables.

The poll, Public Opinion on Food Security and Related Food Issues, gauged views on household food security, eating out habits, health and food safety and GM crops. The results describe a nation that is increasingly opting to eat out rather than cook at home, and one that is concerned about the safety of imported food products but divided about GM foods.

Stewart Lockie, Head of the School of Sociology in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at ANU and lead author of the study, said one of the surprising findings was that the increase in the number of people eating out was driven by time poverty and not socio-economic status. Eight percent of people said they eat takeaway food more than three times a week.

“Consumers of takeaway food were mostly young adults, male, with university educations, whereas we expected it to be lower socio-economic groups, if for no other reason than the takeaway industry really targets those communities with their store locations,” Professor Lockie said.

“The other surprising finding was that nearly half of the population feels that GM foods are safe to eat. If you asked this question 10 years ago, you’d have found widespread opposition. These days there’s a degree of familiarity, and there’s a sense that this stuff has been around for a while and there haven’t been disasters. There’s also a degree of ambivalence – this stuff is in the food system and we can’t do anything about it.”

David Tribe, a Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Melbourne, agreed. “People have been given time to kick the tyres, check the paintwork, and they slowly accommodate something that was once perceived as very different. That’s one thing.

“The other thing is that Kevin Rudd was overseas in 2009 talking to prime ministers in countries that were under threat from a food crisis. He realised that food security was one of the greatest moral issues that we faced. So the message started to get through to people that it was important to think about food availability. The conversation changed dramatically.”

Genetically modified canola is now harvested in NSW and Victoria. AAP/Greenpeace

The ANU poll also uncovered concern among consumers about foods imported from Asia. “It’s a developing part of the world,” Professor Lockie said, “and the finding reflects a concern that some countries don’t have or don’t enforce adequate food safety regulations, and producers may be using excessive amounts of chemicals and not guarding against biological hazards.”

Timothy Gill, Principal Research Fellow and Scientific Programs Manager at the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise at the University of Sydney, said the push to restrict junk food advertising was not designed to deflect responsibility from parents for the way they raised their children, but to give them more support.

“You only have to experience the trauma of trying to shop with young children in the supermarket, and being pulled every which way by a child demanding a particular food product that has been marketed to appeal to them,” Associate Professor Gill said.

“Pester power is a mechanism that marketers have always deemed legitimate and appropriate. For young children, it’s about creating a sense of desire, fun and familiarity around certain products. For older children, it might be about appealing to the idea that they’ll be more popular or cool if they have some products.”

Professor Gill said it was “absolutely true” that parents should be accountable for the food their children consumed – “and the thing is, parents do want to take responsibility, and the reason why they wish to see less exposure of their children to this sort of advertising is that it goes directly against the influence they try to have and the things they teach their children. [Placing restrictions on ads] is not about taking away the responsibility of parents. Quite the opposite – it’s actually allowing them to take responsibility.”

A range of studies have shown that removing junk food advertising from children’s television has an effect on purchase requests and eating patterns.

Some of the key findings from the poll are:

  • 44% of people surveyed felt that GM foods are safe to eat. Among those who have read a lot about GM foods, 49% felt they were safe to eat.
  • However, 54% of respondents said that it was unlikely they would buy foods that are labelled as genetically modified.
  • 77% support a ban on junk food advertising during children’s television programmes and 18% oppose all junk food advertising.
  • 81% reported that food products in general are safe to eat, but nearly 66% did not feel confident with the safety of food products imported from Asia.
  • 8% eat takeaway more than three times each week, and men are 50% more likely than women to eat takeaway food.
  • Concerns about the economy are not reflected in people’s spending habits, with 37% eating out more than once a week.
  • 16% said they often or sometimes worried that their food would run out before they had enough money to buy more.
  • 13% said they could not afford to eat nutritionally-balanced meals.
  • 4% received emergency food assistance from a charity or other source.

The Conversation

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

Mixed opinions from farmers over Coles’ boutique food plan

Victorian Farmers have criticised a plan by Coles to sell boutique food brands in regional stores, but the representative body for Western Australian farmers has welcomed the idea.

The Victorian Farmers Federation said suppliers will continue to struggle against the major supermarkets, who are able to offer extremely low prices due to their size and, according to industry sources, through their bullying behviour.

Earlier this week, Master Grocers Australia slammed Coles and Woolworths for swooping into small regional centres with stores that are too big for the population, in a bid to wipe out the independents.

But now, the Western Australian Farmers Federation (WAFF) president Dale Park has welcomed the idea, but only if their products are not sold at a higher price than others on offer.

"It's not Coles who are making the final decision on this, it's the people who are actually buying the products from Coles who are making the final decision," he said.

"If the products from Coles are too expensive, people won't buy them and there won't be a market."

"The trick then is to make sure that you can get enough for your product to keep producing it, as I've said more than once the most important people in the whole line of food are the people who produce it in the first place and the people who eat it in the last place," he said.

Coles and Woollies wiping out regional grocers: lobby group

The Senate Inquiry into Coles and Woolworths’ anti-competitive behaviour is not impacting their mission to take over the grocery sector entirely, and the independents are desperately calling on the federal government to step in.

The independents are banding together to create a lobby campaign group over plans for the big two to increase floor space by over 5 per cent in the next few years.

Coles and Woolworths have undertaken research and development over the last few years which has seen them close dozens of stores and reopen them in other areas.

These areas, the independents say, are usually where they are located.

A local IGA or smaller grocer is then pushed out of business as they find it impossible to compete with the ridiculously low prices the major supermarkets can achieve through their anti-competitive and bullying behaviour.

The Senate Inquiry into the actions of Coles and Woolworths is struggling to get people who will comment on the behaviour of the big two, while factories continue to close and more private label products spring up on shelves.

Last week, Steven Strachan, the outgoing chief executive of the Australian Winemakers Federation, who would only speak once he had left the position, for fear of the consequences if he spoke out earlier, said the major supermarkets are bullying the winemakers too.

''If you're an individual company that speaks out against them or says anything publicly that criticises their tactics, they would have no hesitation in giving you a holiday from their shelves and that is what's creating a culture of fear and compliance in the industry,'' Strachan said

''Whenever I've made comments in the press, I could only talk about retailers in a generic sense, but they [Coles and Woolworths] would religiously follow up on those comments and make it known they were displeased.

The pressure placed on food producers is well-known to everyone in the industry – Food Magazine has spoken to countless manufacturers about the pressures placed on them by Coles and Woolworths, but none will speak on the record – and they have even been accused of contributing to road deaths with unrealistic delivery demands.

A Commonwealth Bank assessment of Woolworths' $1-billion-a-year growth plan, which will see it swoop into more regional centres, including West Dubbo, Ulladulla and Morriset, found the huge supermarkets being developed are too big for the areas.

''Many of the Woolworths developments have been in areas with marginal medium-term economics for supermarkets,'' the Commonwealth Bank analysis said.

''We are concerned that in addition to the poor lending conditions, Woolworths is not helping itself by developing marginal sites.''

The report questioned Woolworths’ ''exceptionally high'' forecast floorspace growth of 3 per cent a year.

Master Grocers Australia, which lobbies on behalf of independents IGA and Foodworks, will use the bank assessment to support its claim that the big two are opening bigger stores than necessary to wipe out the competition.

''Master Grocers Australia believes the strategy is conscious, deliberate and intended to bring about a substantial lessening of competition in those local markets where over-large stores are developed,'' a draft report said, according to The Age.

Master Grocers will use the findings to lobby the federal government and Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC), calling for more action to stop the inundation of Coles and Woolworths’ around the country.

It wants MPs and the ACCC to use their powers to probably investigate and assess the profitability of such stores, push for mandatory competition and net community benefit tests in planning stages prior to approval and also legislate that prior notice of proposed property acquisitions by the major chains must be provided.

Coles spokesman Jon Church told The Sydney Morning Herald the claims are ''nice conspiracy theory with no basis in fact''.

''We only open stores where there is a consumer need and we believe we can make a return on our investment,'' he said.

And it’s not just the grocery market the big two are wiping out, they also plan to bring the liquor, hardware, office supplies and gaming, arms of their businesses to “marginal” areas.  

''The effect is the elimination of competition in these local markets,'' the report said.

Master Grocers has identified a number of stores which it says are “oversized,” including a 2383 metre square Woolworths store and liquor outlet in Bright, which has a population of 2100.

There is also a proposed 3100 metre square Woolworths store in Seville, where the population is 1800 and a 2600 square metre store which has opened in Koo Wee Rup, where there is only 2803 people living.

Woolworths spokeswoman Clare Buchanan told The Sydney Morning Herald that the company's competitors would not know the potential profitability of individual stores, but she did admit the company looks to open new stores in growth areas

''Developers look to incorporate amenities such as supermarkets in order to attract people to live in an area,” she said.

“This means we commit to a long-term investment in the future growth potential of a suburb.''

Here at Food Magazine, we've been asking whether we need a Royal Commission into the behaviour of the major supermarkets. Do you think it's come to that?

Over 80% of Australians against Chinese investment in agricultural land

Yesterday the Federal Government’s plans to make Australia the Asian food bowl were labelled “a waste of taxpayer’s money” by the Wilderness Society, and now a new poll has found over 80 per cent of Australians are also against plans to encourage Chinese investment in agricultural land.

The Gillard Government’s plans to encourage investment in the north of the country from Chinese investors, in a bid to develop agricultural land was slammed by Wilderness Society spokesman Gaven McFadzean, who said the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce determines some time ago that the region was not ever going to become the ‘foodbowl’ the government is portraying.

When she first made the claims that Australia should work towards being the food bowl for the rising Asian middle class, agricultural groups and farmers were quick to criticise Gillard’s comments, saying saying current policies are killing their businesses, not helping them.

And it seems there is also opposition coming from other part of Australian society, with the annual 2012 Lowy Institute poll finding 81 per cent of Australians are against foreign investment in prime agricultural land, one of the strongest results recorded on any question the poll has asked ever asked.

Of the 81 per cent opposed to foreign investment, over 60 per cent were strongly opposed.

The federal government is allowing too much Chinese investment in Australia, according to 56 per cent of those polled, and 54 per cent believe food production should stay local.

The Lowly poll asked 1005 people for their opinion on foreign and security policy in Australia between 26 March and 10 April.

The findings show a "general anxiety among Australians about the volatility of the global economy and about the exposure of Australia's economy to global forces,” according to Lowy Institute of International Policy executive director Michael Wesley.

It’s the first time the survey had asked questions about foreign land ownership, and Wesley said the results should implore government’s to "take note of the strong reaction,” before implementing any measures encouraging investment from abroad.

Government’s encouragement of Chinese agricultural investment “a waste of taxpayers’ money”

The Wilderness Society has slammed the Federal Government’s plan to attract Chinese investment to agricultural development in northern Australia, labelling it a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The Gillard Government has spoken of plans to encourage investment in the north  of the country from Chinese investors, in a bid to develop agricultural land.

But Wilderness Society spokesman Gaven McFadzean has told the ABC the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce determines some time ago that the region was not ever going to become the ‘foodbowl’ the government is portraying.

"It is virtually in drought (for) seven or eight months of the year, evaporation is very high," he said.

"The geology and the topography of northern Australia does not suit major dam construction.

"It is very flat and most of the rainfall falls very close to the coast, so dam construction is very hard.

"Overwhelmingly the soils of northern Australia are impoverished and nutrient poor."

Last month farming groups dismissed Prime Minister Gillard’s declaration that Australia can be a ‘foodbowl’ for Asia, saying current policies are killing their businesses, not helping them.

In the same month, there were also reports that a Chinese investment group has made a bid to buy 15 000 hectares in the Kimberly for beef and sugar production to meet the demand of China's rising middle class.

The company, trading as Kimberly Agricultural Investments (KAI) apparently wants to purchase the entire Ord Expansion Project in Western Australia’s Kimberly region, according to The Australian. 

The Ord is newly irrigated land which comes with permanent water rights attached.

KAI is proposing to build a $100 million sugar mill and an abattoir which could process 500 000 cattle per year on the land, if it wins the entire 15 000 hectares of Stage-2 land.

It wants to be able to grow up to 40 000 hectares of sugar crops in the region.

It has been reported that KAI’s indented production on the land will aim to meet the demands of China’s growing middle class for more sugar, beef and biofuel.

The WA government is spending $311 million expanding the Ord irrigation scheme and 14 companies and individual farmers are vying for a part in it as it becomes one of Australia’s major food regions.

But McFadzean said previous studies have shown irrigated agriculture in northern Australia could only be expanded by about 40 000 hectares and that the federal government’s plans are not realistic.

"We are extremely concerned by the scale and size of what is being proposed across northern Australia … very large agriculture and development projects involving dams on rivers, major land clearing, major new infrastructure, with significant environmental impacts," he told the ABC.

"We think (it) will be a waste of taxpayers' money."

Australian meat exports contaminated: biggest export market at risk

A batch of mince contaminated with E.coli discovered in South Carolina may have come from Australia, amid revelations that up to 13 shipments of Australian meat has been rejected by the US in the past year.

The rejected shipments were rejected because they contained faeces or other matter that posed a potential health risk, according to the ABC.

E.coli bacteria was detected in three shipments of Australian beef exported to the US, the Australian federal government has confirmed.

The ABC’s Lateline program has now obtained emails between senior officials in the US Agriculture Department.

Up to 13 separate Australian shipments of meat were rejected over the past year, the emails show.

Among those loads rejected, nine were loads of mutton contaminated with faeces.

Three shipments of beef from three abattoirs which became contaminated with a dangerous form of E. coli were also rejected by the US.

New inspection system introduced last October, which removed much of the government involvement in the regulation of meat, in favour if a more self-regulatory system, is a major part of the problem, according to safety monitors.

The US is the biggest importer of Australian lamb and the second largest for beef, with total annual imports worth over $1 billion for Australia.

The US is Australia's second-largest beef export market and largest lamb export market.

The industry says the annual exports are worth more than $1 billion.

Independent MP and former cattle farmer, Bob Katter warned that the regulatory system introduced last year is not good enough and will risk the export arrangements with the US.

"A meat inspection system that is self-policing is no policing at all," he said.

"It's like you're asking Al Capone 'Would you mind ensuring that you police so that no-one is selling sly grog?'"

"They're just as likely to cut off the entire trade. This is a $4,000 million [sic] a year trade," he said.

Food and Water Watch's Tony Corbo agreed with Katter’s comments, saying Australia needs to lift its game.

"There is concern that the Australian meat inspection system is not catching the microbiological contaminants in the meat supply of exports to the United States," he said.

He said the suspension of Australia’s meat export agreements with the US is possible, and would spell trouble for the industry.

"They've done it with other countries where there've been contaminants found in meat that has been exported to the United States where they've suspended importation of all meat from that country," he said.

Coles and Woollies are bullying winemakers too: departing Winemakers’ Federation chief

Amid accusations that Coles and Woolworths are intimidating food manufacturers and produce growers so much they are too scared to even speak up at a Senate Inquiry, a leading Australian wine body has publically criticised the big two.

The anti-competitive and bullying behaviours of Coles and Woolworths are well known, and while countless food producers have discussed the damaging impacts of the supermarket duopoly on business with Food Magazine and other media outlets, almost all are too afraid to go on the record with their stories.

After it publically slammed the control the two supermarkets have on business more than once last year, Heinz declared on Friday that the relationships have improved significantly.

The comments come after a Heinz spokesperson told Food Magazine earlier this year that they were “trying to distance ourselves,” from the much-publicised criticism, which included  chief financial officer and executive vice president, Arthur Winkleback labelling the Australian supermarket environment “inhospitable.”

Now it’s the winemakers turn to publically oppose the behaviours of the major supermarkets, while everyone waits with bated breath to see if and how Coles and Woolworths will also punish them.

The supermarkets’ have both been accused of creating a culture of fear and intimidation among local wine producers, just as they have done in the food sector.

Stephen Strachan, who finished his role as the chief executive of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia on Friday, would only speak to The Sun-Herald after his position had ended, which is inductive of the silo of silence in the industry.

''If you're an individual company that speaks out against them or says anything publicly that criticises their tactics, they would have no hesitation in giving you a holiday from their shelves and that is what's creating a culture of fear and compliance in the industry,'' Strachan said.

''Whenever I've made comments in the press, I could only talk about retailers in a generic sense, but they [Coles and Woolworths] would religiously follow up on those comments and make it known they were displeased.

According to Strachan, the bullying is not only felt by local winemakers and Coles and Woolworths also flexes its power over foreign suppliers.

Furthermore, he said, they also collect sensitive commercial information from wine producers, and use that information to bully rival suppliers into selling for lower prices during negotiations.

Food Magazine has contacted both Woolworths and Coles for comment on the accusations, but neither has responded at this stage.

 

Ask and you shall receive – smart consultation leads to better scienc

Worldwide, and especially in Australia, much valuable science is being wasted or stalled through what is known as technology rejection – the public’s hostile reception of new technologies or scientific advice.

This isn’t always the fault of the public. It’s often the fault of the scientific process for not bothering to find out in the first place what the public wants or knows and what it doesn’t. The grand assumption – “we’re scientists. We know what’s best for you” – still rules.

As a result, research institutions and technology companies are constantly ambushed and surprised when society doesn’t embrace their latest offering with wild enthusiasm, but instead carps, objects and wants it regulated, retarded or banned. The issue is that in a democracy people consider they have a right to say what they think, to use the products and eat the foods they prefer, and to take a good hard look at anything new before they decide to accept it.

What the public knows, but science sometimes chooses to overlook, is that many of the ills in society today are the result of the use, misuse or overuse of various technologies. Indeed, much science is devoted to repairing them. Take, for example, the paradox that tens of thousands of scientists are working worldwide to prevent and cure cancer – while tens of thousands more are adding daily to the toxic miasma of 83,000 man-made chemicals, many of which are known to cause it.

 

The more educated a society becomes, the harder the questions it asks about science. US Department of Agriculture

 

Educated people in modern society are aware of the downsides of science, as well as its upsides. They grew up on stories like thalidomide, and have a fair grasp of the origins of many contemporary diseases and the risks inherent in modern technologies, especially untested ones. They are cautious about GM food, stem cell science or nanotechnologies because they know that scientists do not have all the answers where these powerful, disruptive technologies are concerned. The more educated and democratic a society becomes, the harder the questions it asks about new science and technology. As former UK chief scientist Bob May liked to point out, an educated public becomes more like scientists: sceptical.

Yet many high tech firms and research centres are still confounded by this problem: labouring for years and spending millions to develop something the public takes an instant dislike to. They generally comfort and excuse themselves by shooting the messenger – blaming a green group, the media or a consumer lobby – rather than asking themselves: what did we do wrong?

The short answer is that they failed to do research. Not scientific research, but research into public attitudes, values and wishes. They then sprang an unwanted product on an unsuspecting “market” – and were shocked and offended when it failed.

The good news is that this no longer needs to happen. Thanks to a novel approach, developed within the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, any scientific centre can find out how the public is likely to receive its latest innovation, and what drives its attitudes for or against any new technology or scientific advice. This applies equally whether it is climate change policy, or the introduction of a new mobile widget.

The technique is known as Reading the Public Mind (RtPM), and it uses an advanced statistical internet survey method to obtain a moving picture (as distinct from a snapshot) of public opinion in real time. It enables the user to drill down into what motivates the public for or against a particular issue or technology now – and how the balance of the pros and cons shifts over time.

This is an important advance over the traditional opinion poll or market research, which only take expensive one-off snapshots and, unless accompanied by costly qualitative research, do not reveal what drives public attitudes.

 

Finding out the limits of public enthusiasm can help advance new animal control methods. AAP

 

The Invasive Animals CRC used this method experimentally to assess public attitudes to invasive animals (such as rabbits, foxes, cats, cane toads and camels) and to the ways they are controlled. The CRC has been working on a range of sophisticated new control methods for these feral menaces, it did not want to be taken by surprise by public refusal to sanction their adoption and deployment. It also wanted to understand what the public knew and did not know about invasive species, and where education might be needed.

Over three years of surveying community attitudes, using a constantly changing sample of the population, it discovered many interesting things about what the public thought about this issue. One of the most striking was that Australians generally dislike feral cats – whereas scientists, fearing public criticism from cat-lovers, had long avoided doing research into their control. The technique was also able for the first time to measure the actual impact of public education campaigns (for example, about rabbits and camels).

Assessing public attitudes this way:

  • helps technology developers anticipate public or market reaction
  • helps scientific leaders plan research better, favouring those technologies most likely to be adopted or commercialised
  • anticipates both hostile and positive reactions and responds with public education or by altering research tack
  • assesses whether a communication initiative has fallen on deaf ears, or actually influenced public perceptions.

All of this adds up to more science adopted, less rejected and a better return on the taxpayer’s $9 billion-a-year science investment.

If Australian science is to genuinely benefit society as it should, then it needs far better tools to understand public attitudes and how they affect likely rates of adoption. It needs to become more sensitised to how Australians at large will respond to new technologies and insights. This will not only increase the impact of science. It will help make us a smarter society.

This article was co-authored by Julian Cribb. He is the principal of Julian Cribb & Associates, consultants in science communication, and is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering. Both Nick and Julian have been working with the Invasive Animals CRC at Canberra University.

Nick Fisher received funding from the Invasive Animals CRC to carry out this research.

The Conversation

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

As supermarket power rises, Heinz praises progress

One of the few companies to be openly critical of the supermarket duopoly in Australia, HJ Heinz, has apparently mended fences with Coles and Woolworths.

Amid a climate of fear and bullying behaviour by the major supermarkets, where even a Senate Inquiry is struggling to get companies to speak up, HJ Heinz’ head of Asia-Pacific, Christopher J Warmoth has discussed the improved relationships.

''In the past eight months, we've seen a stabilisation of this business and that comes down to three elements," he said.

“First, we've improved our relationship with the retailers and they have told us that they have noticed our increased ability to bring them real value,'' he said.

These positive comments come after the company’s chief financial officer and executive vice president, Arthur Winkleback told US analysts in August last year that the demise of many Australian companies can be attributed to the supermarket war and said they have created an “inhospitable environment” for manufacturers.

Then in November its executive chairman, chief executive and president, William Johnston, told investors the company has had to overhaul its business strategy in Australia to deal with the supermarket dominance of Coles and Woolworths.

The comments came amid an announcement by Heinz that it would be closing three manufacturing facilities in Australia meaning more than 300 local jobs would go.

But the food giant has since tried to distance itself from those statements, which earlier this year a spokesperson told Food Magazine had been taken out of context.

The Australian food manufacturing sector is struggling to survive the supermarket price wars, which are driving profits up, pushing products off shelves in favour of supermarkets’ private label alternatives and, according to the Transport Workers Union, killing people on the roads.

One in every four grocery items now sold in Australian supermarkets is private label and of those, about one in two is imported.

Staying on the good sides of Coles and Woolworths is a good business plan in itself, as failure to do so can spell the end of a business.

Countless producers and manufactures have shared their struggles with Food Magazine, but refuse to go on the record with their stories for fear that being critical of the major supermarkets would be suicide.

Australia is one of Heinz’s biggest markets, bringing in an estimated $1 billion last year.

In contrast to the comments made and financial hardship experienced by Heinz last year, Warmoth now says the company is doing well.

''Australia has also reduced cost on every front,” he said.

“We have five factories, we closed one and have downsized three.

“We had a record year by far on the supply chain productivity.

''Now we are not where we want to be in Australia, but we've made significant progress and we enter [next financial year] with a much stronger foundation.''

What do you make of the latest comments from Heinz? Do you think they’re sincere?

Company behind deadly listeria outbreak files for bankruptcy

A US company linked to a listeria outbreak which infected 146 people and killed at least 30, has filed for bankruptcy.

In September and October, rock melons (known as cantaloupes in the US) from Jensen Farms were found to contain the deadly bacteria, which the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said was likely spread by inadequate food safety procedures at the company’s packaging facility.

Jensen Farms filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on 25 May, estimating it has up to 99 creditors.

It is estimated the company’s assets are between US$1 million and US$10 million and its liabilities are between US$10 million to US$50 million.

It listed income between May 2011 and May 2012 of US$4.78 million.

In filing for bankruptcy, Jensen Farms says twelve wrongful death lawsuits and seven personal injury lawsuits that have been filed against the company as potential liabilities.

Where does the food sold in Australian supermarkets really come from?

One in every four grocery items now sold in Australian supermarkets is private label and of those, about one in two is imported.

The Age has conducted an investigation into the state of the supermarket sector, and the results would not surprise anyone in the Australian food manufacturing sector.

It found the rate of imported food products is increasing at a rapid pace, as the only way for the companies to provide their ridiculously low prices is to buy food produced in countries by cheap labour.

South Africa and Thailand, two countries notorious for lacking in workers’ rights and having extremely low wages, are two of the markets commonly used by the cheap food retailers in Australia.

Researchers from the Australian National University embarked on a mission to follow the supply chain of many private-label products sold in Australia, which found them in South African fruit processing factories and canned pineapple facilities in Thailand.

"One of the canneries made private-label products for over 100 supermarkets," researcher Libby Hattersley, who inspected the South African businesses, told The Age.

"They just slap the retailers' label on it and send it out to them."

Differing food safety laws a risk for consumers

While the ethical issues involved with sourcing food from such countries are becoming increasingly important to consumers, there are various other issues involved with these systems.

“[No Australian food manufacturers] can survive in this environment, most places I’m going, they’re even competing with their own plants in other countries, if the Malaysian or Chinese plant is going better, they have to compete,” Jennifer Dowell, National Secretary of the Food and Confectionary division of the Australian Manufacturers Workers Union (AMWU) told Food Magazine earlier this year.

“The problem with that is that people aren’t comparing like with like.

“We produce food to a very high level and what is being imported from overseas needs to be the same quality.

“There needs to be more regulation and better testing for what comes into our country.

“If food is imported from a high risk site, like China, that will undergo testing, but not if it’s from New Zealand.

“The way the import laws work in New Zealand mean that they can import a product from China, put it in a bag in New Zealand and ship it to Australia as a ‘product of New Zealand.’

“If we try to export to other countries we face huge barriers, but we have removed all the barriers for others getting food into our country.”

The issues with the Senate Inquiry

Dowell was heavily involved in the Senate Inquiry into the supermarket duopoly in Australia, which was set up to investigate the anti-competitive practices and bullying behaviour of the major supermarkets, which are pushing Australian companies out of business.

But ironically, or tragically, the proof was in the imported pudding, as the Inquiry struggled to convince manufacturers to speak up, as they were terrified of the repercussions, including being relegated to a lower shelf, incurring more fees or removed from the shelf altogether.

Australian food producer Dick Smith said the blame lands at the feet of supermarkets ALDI and Costco, who rely entirely on imported goods, when he fronted the Inquiry earlier this month.

He believes the other supermarkets embarked on a game of catch-up, which has led to the current situation.

Australian made: are people really willing to pay more?

In April, Smith joined a number of local food and beverage producers, including Glen Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer, in  calling for a dedicated “Australian made” aisle in supermarkets to make it easier for consumers to choose locally made products and keep local businesses afloat.

Cooper believes laws which force supermarkets to set aside a minimum quota of floor space for locally-made food would be one way to slow the flood of cheap imports and prevent some manufacturers from tricking consumers into buying products they think are made in Australia, but are in fact made primarily from imported products.

"It's not realistic for busy shoppers to read every label to see its country of origin before you put it in your trolley," Cooper told Channel 7's Out Of The Blue program.

"So I think they [supermarkets] should be forced to have a certain amount of locally grown content and that it should appear in a clearly defined area designated for Australian-made products only.

While most Australians say they would prefer to buy Australian made, even if it comes at a higher price – indeed, at last check, a poll on The Age’s website showed 80 per cent said they would pay more for locally produced foods – the realities of the current economic climate are seeing more shoppers buying primarily on cost.

Coles and Woolworths maintain that they endeavour to source the majority of their food products from Australia, but one in two products in the Woolworths Select brand is imported.

It’s premium brand, Macro, has 85 per cent Australian products.

Coles will not release a figure on the percentage of its private label products that are sources locally, but The Age reports a source with connections to the business said it imports about one third of its own brand products.

The supermarkets like to toot their own horn when they do make a local supply deal, and blame it on a lack of Australian interest when they source from foreign markets.

"You'd be surprised how many times we get no one responding in Australia to our invitations to supply," Woolworths head of own brand Gordon Duncan told The Age.

It is notoriously difficult to get any Australian food manufacturers to speak on the record about the struggles, as they fear punishment from Coles and Woolworths, but Food Magazine is aware of numerous companies who are unable to supply to them due to their unrealistic demands.

Indeed, earlier this month Transport Worker Union (TWU) accused the major supermarkets of contributing to road deaths as they place unrealistic expectations on suppliers and drivers.

Coles recent deal with Simplot, the only remaining Australian-based frozen food processor,  to supply its house-brand vegetables, will apparently be so good for the industry they won’t even be able to grow the amount needed to supply both major supermarkets, according to Duncan.

The peak representative body, AusVeg, has labelled this “nonsense.”

Considering that in the last two years, fruit and vegetable exports have declined $200 million to $497 million, Coles’ comments are very optimistic.

Earlier this month the second Queensland tomato processor to go into administration this year left 40 employees out of work.

Bundaberg tomato farm, Basacar Produce went into voluntary administration, following in the footsteps of the nearby SP Exports, which collapsed in February, blaming the high Australian dollar and the supermarket price wars.

The SP Exports farm was the biggest in Australia before it collapsed, leaving hundreds of people unemployed.

While the Simplot-Coles deal is being touted as positive for the produce industry, it could mark the beginning of issues for the frozen vegetable industry that have plagued fresh produce suppliers for some time.

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

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

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

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

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

How do you feel about buying imported versus local products? Do you think we need a Royal Commission into the state of the supermarket duopoly? 

Latest animal export exposé reminds us to steer clear of factory farm

It has once again been left to an advocacy group, Animals Australia, to highlight the cruel practices involved in cattle slaughter in Indonesia. Under new rules put in place by the Federal Department of Agriculture following last year’s exposé, exporters must employ auditors to monitor the slaughter. However, recently released footage shows that some of these auditors either did not detect the clear mistreatment of cattle or they failed to act.

Now that the issues have been highlighted by the advocacy group, the department has recommended disciplinary action for the two exporting companies involved. This has prompted claims by the live exporters that the system is working.

It is correct that the new system has allowed the suppliers to be identified and disciplined once the abuse was revealed, which was not possible before the new regulations. However, the failure to detect problems is concerning. It brings into question whether auditors paid for by exporters can be impartial.

My research group has recently identified that scientists reporting of animal welfare research is influenced by the funding of the research (see page 25). So if scientists, why not auditors?

This recent episode demonstrates that the effectiveness of the auditors in ensuring the welfare of the animals depends not only on their willingness to report incidents, but also on the standards they are given to implement. The World Health Organisation standards do not mandate some practices – such as stunning – that are essential for good welfare, so it is unlikely that they will satisfy Australian consumers.

The welfare of live export animals can be inadequate at many different stages in the export process, not only at slaughter. Mustering cattle, trucking them long distances, loading them onto a ship, rough sea journeys, high temperatures and accumulation of ammonia on ship are just some of the hazardous components of the journey.

 

Export exposes animals to several different stresses, and they may accumulate. AAP

 

The animal’s resistance to stress can become weakened after a long period of transport, and the new and strange experiences that they have. However, it is the cumulative effect of multiple stresses that is often forgotten. Evaluated individually each one may be acceptable, but together they may represent hardship that the cattle are unable to bear.

Australian meat consumers generally have a good impression of cattle production systems here. The freedom to roam and a natural system of feeding on pasture are just two of the advantages that are important for welfare. Intensifying the system by feedlotting and prolonged transport to slaughter could damage that image. Live export cattle are shipped in large numbers in unnatural conditions, ending up in feedlots or an abattoir, all far from the community perspective of cattle happily grazing in paddocks.

Over the nine thousand years that we have managed cattle, they have become docile animals. They have developed a willingness to accept a range of conditions, even if they are not conducive to good welfare.

Our willingness to accept poor welfare standards is largely driven by how much we can afford to spend on our animals. When one of the richest countries in the world, Australia, exports animals alive to one of the poorest, Indonesia, it is likely that the change in standards will cause issues with the Australian community. We must safeguard the natural image that Australians have of cattle production in this country, because if it becomes tarnished with the factory farming brush consumers will turn away from the products.

Intensification of cattle farming systems is progressing rapidly overseas. Having just returned from looking at new housing systems for cattle in Estonia, it is clear that the globally increasing demand for milk and beef is encouraging an unprecedented growth in the scale of individual enterprises that is often at the expense of the animal’s welfare.

 

Maintaining the integrity of Australian cattle farming is important for producers too – consumers demand good conditions. AAP

 

Eastern European countries became accustomed to industrial scale farms during the Communist era. Now new dairies are being established, each with several thousand cows. There is no support for small farming systems, like those common in Western Europe. Cows are never allowed onto pasture and are loose housed in barns, where they used to be tethered. They are milked by robots and live on wet concrete covered in excreta. This, together with being offered only small concrete cubicles with little bedding to lie down in, increases lameness and mastitis, which are two of the biggest causes of wastage of dairy cows.

Diets that promote high milk yields take their toll all too quickly. On average cows only last 2.5 years in the milking herd, which together with the two year rearing period offers cows a pitifully short lifespan compared with their natural lifespan of 20-25 years.

Some Western European countries are attempting to control the intensification of cattle production systems, knowing that they have consumer support. In Sweden and Finland cows have to be out at pasture during summer. If cows are given a choice, farmers find that in all but the most inclement of weather they opt to spend their time outside.

The treatment of cattle solely as a means to make money, whether by exporting them to Indonesia or keeping them in milk producing factories, ignores the fact that they are sentient beings. They are capable of all of the major emotions that we experience: fear, anxiety, depression, frustration, anger, love, hatred. The caring relationship of the cattle producer for the animals in his herd can be diminished by intensive systems, because there is little contact with the animals.

Industrialisation of cattle production systems to generate wealth is likely to ultimately lead to their failure. Competition from alternatives has never been stronger, and the ethical and environmental implications of industrialisation of cattle production are considerable. Tasmania, and many other states and countries worldwide, have realised that consumers will not support industrial scale agriculture that does not afford high welfare to animals, as they outlaw the battery farming of chickens and keeping of sows in stalls. Surely we should treat cattle with the dignity that they deserve, which is more than just being a means of making money?

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

Potato farmers call for investigation into McCain’s

McCain's has been accused of ripping off Tasmanian potato farmers, and a leading agricultural group wants the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate.

According to farmers who supply potatoes to McCain’s, 28 of them have been told they will not have contracts in the upcoming season, and in further breach of the growers’ collective, the fast food processor has also allegedly been negotiating lower prices with a select number of growers.

Previous potato contracts with Heinz have been negotiated by the growers’ committee, but the remaining 15 will now have to negotiate individually and sign confidentiality agreements, according to farmers.

"I think it's just a very poor way of doing business," Potato farmer Richard Bovill told the ABC.

"I think they just haven't had the courage to come out and deal with these people in difficult situations."

The industry believes the individual negotiations will force farmers into lower prices.

Graham Harvey from McCain’s told the ABC contracts are still being negotiated and collective bargaining is voluntary.

"Certainly numbers aren't final and to be quoting number of growers that have been cut and price reductions is just speculation at this point in time,” he said.

McCain’s processing plant in Smithton is experiencing less work as the demand decreases, like so many other food manufacturers in Australia recently.

According to Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association's Andrew Craigie, potato farmers are now at a loss about where to go from here.

"The ones I've spoken to are absolutely shattered," he told the ABC.

"There seems to be no rhyme or reason at why some were approached and some weren't approached, so they're left very much in the lurch that they have nobody to sell potatoes, possibly, to next year."

Sustainable Agricultural Communities’ Mike Badcock wants the ACCC to investigate the decisions, which he says are unfair.

"This is taking competition clean out of the system," he said.

"The farmers are having to sign an agreement where they will not be releasing what tonnage they get and what price they're going to get and it's splitting the grower organisations to smithereens."

Most Australians think we have an alcohol problem

Almost 80 per cent of Australians think that, as a nation, we have a problem with alcohol.

A nation-wide survey by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) released yesterday in Canberra, asked 1041 Australian voters consider our national relationship with alcohol problematic.

Most Labor, Coalition and Greens voters support policies to curb drinking problems, including mandatory warning labels and advertising restrictions.

More Greens voters believe we have a problem than any others surveyed, with 81 per cent saying Australia has an alcohol problem, followed by Labor voters at 79 per cent, and those who vote for the Coalition at 75 per cent.

Late last month there were suggestions that a marketing alcohol in and around bottle shops should be stopped, as teenagers and young adults are more likely to be enticed by competitions and to be binge drinkers.

Almost 70 per cent of Greens voters want a ban on television advertisements for alcohol before 8:30pm, while 65 per cent of Coalition voters and 62 per cent Labor voters also support the ban.

FARE Chief Executive, Michael Thorn said the view that a person’s political preference skews their attitude to alcohol has been proven wrong with this study.

 “The bottom line is that, regardless of how Australians intend to vote at the ballot box, their support for government action to tackle alcohol-related harms is unequivocal,” he said.

In April, the Alcohol Policy Coalition (APC) said we’re losing the war on alcoholism and binge drinking and changing the tax system to bump up prices on stronger varieties is the only way to start to improve it.

It wants the government to implement changes to the way alcohol is taxed, which it says should focus more on the strength of the alcohol, to alter binge drinking.

The group, which is made up of VicHealth, the Cancer Council and various drug and alcohol representative associations wants the price of casks of wine and cider to be bumped up, as many turn away from the price-inflated ‘alcopops’ towards the cheap boxed varieties.

There’s nothing black or white about organic agriculture

Food is an emotional topic. Everyone cares about what they eat. Food often has a strong cultural, religious or even political meaning attached to it. Organic food is no different in that respect. People buy organic out of hedonistic values of pleasure and health as well as out of altruistic values of environmental sustainability, social justice and animal welfare.

In addition, organic food is also part of the political debate on how to feed the world sustainably today and into the future. Agriculture is currently one of the major threats to the environment. We know that some drastic changes in our food system are needed if we want to ensure that the many hungry people on this planet have access to sufficient nutritious food and at the same time reduce the environmental impact of agriculture.

Organic agriculture is often proposed as a solution to some of these challenges. It promises to produce food in a more environmentally friendly way and to provide accessible means of increasing yields in smallholder farming systems in developing countries.

We were therefore not surprised that our study about the yields of organic agriculture, published recently in Nature, drew quite some attention and was discussed widely in the media and blogosphere.

In this study, we conducted a meta-analysis comparing organic and conventional yields and examined how the yield difference is influenced by different site and system characteristics. The analysis basically showed that organic yields are generally lower than conventional yields, but that under some conditions organic yields can nearly match conventional.

 

The study's results. Todd Reubold, Intitute on the Environment, University of Minnesota
Click to enlarge

 

While we anticipated that the study would receive widespread attention, we were not really prepared for the wide range of interpretations of our analysis. Some people interpreted the study to imply that organic food was bad for the environment. Others concluded that we had totally missed the point, as the issue was not about yields anyway.

So, first a disclaimer: we did not attempt to solve the food problems of the world in our study. We evaluated the yield difference between organic and conventional systems using data that had been published in the scientific literature. Not more, not less.

We looked at the yield question, as we believe that yields are an important variable to consider when assessing different farming systems. In the end, whatever you might hold against current conventional agriculture, we have to acknowledge that its high yields have spared land for nature and have improved the food situation of many people.

But we acknowledge (and we do that throughout our article) that yields are only one of many factors we need to consider. Farming systems do not only have to provide food but they also have to use natural resources responsibly and to provide livelihoods to farmers. And the question of feeding the world is even more complicated than that. Feeding the world today does not depend on the total food produced: at the global aggregate scale we currently have enough food to feed everyone. It depends on where this food is produced and at what price. Hunger today is a problem of insufficient access to nutritious food and not of insufficient food availability (although feeding an additional 2-3 billion in the future may require increases in production).

 

When evaluating an agricultural system, it's important to ask how much yield you'll get. Suzie's Farm

 

So what message can people take away from our study? The real conclusion of our study is not an easy conclusion of “yes organic” or “no organic”. Although we did mention the overall average yield difference between organic and conventional systems derived from our data, this was not the main point of our study.

Our main contribution was to identify situations where organic performs well and also those situations where there is still a large yield gap to conventional systems. Instead of giving an absolute yes or no answer, we tried to paint a more nuanced picture of the complex and difficult reality of organic farming.

Our study has shown that organic agriculture requires good management practices for high yield performance; that organic performs better under rainfed conditions and weakly acidic to alkaline soils; and that its performance improves over time.

The study has also shown that nitrogen limitation is an issue in organic systems and that we need to improve organic cereal and vegetable management. Here we have two choices. We can improve organic yields by putting more money into organic research (given the little funding organic research has received to date). Or we can turn to conventional practices, which under these conditions may be more environmentally beneficial because of their land sparing effect.

An important knowledge gap we identified is the performance of organic agriculture in smallholder farming systems in developing countries. These are the places where yield increases are most needed and where organic agriculture could potentially provide an important tool for sustainable intensification of farming. Research in these systems is urgently needed.

 

Organic agriculture shows promise for increasing yields sustainably in developing countries. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

 

Organic agriculture has a role to play in sustainable food production. We can adopt organic farming methods under conditions where it performs best, try to address the identified issues in organic farming systems and we can learn from successful organic practices for conventional systems. In the end, to achieve sustainable food systems we need agriculture that can deliver certain desirable outcomes. And these desirable outcomes might require a blend of different practices, including agro-ecological methods that improve soil fertility and enhance biodiversity as well as targeted use of chemical fertilisers to ensure high crop production.

We hope that with our study we have revealed some of the many shades of grey inherent in the debate about how to feed the world sustainably. Science cannot provide a definite answer on what the best farming system is. But it is not about the correct answer or the correct choice anyway. It is about making the best choice with the information we have. And making these best choices in our complex world requires us to critically evaluate the performance of different farming systems along certain key variables, assessing the associated uncertainties and identifying knowledge gaps.

The same is true from a consumer perspective. Instead of sticking to any single mantra and eating only organic food, only local or only vegetarian, we should do what we do anyway: eat from a diversity of sources following our diverse set of values and trying to do the best with the information we have. This might include buying organic milk from large-scale organic dairy farms to avoid antibiotic residues. It might mean buying conventional apples from a local family farm in support of the local economy. It might mean buying cheap flour from highly productive conventional cereal farmers. Or it might include the organic veggie basket from our local family farm with its diverse polyculture of vegetables produced with utmost care and a large portion of idealism.

Verena Seufert is a PhD student at McGill University.

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

Tasmanian government invests $2.5m to speed up battery hen and sow stall bans

The Tasmanian government has announced plans to bring forward bans on battery hens and sow stalls.

Tasmanian Agriculture Minister Bryan Green has confirmed no new battery hen operations will be opened, and the existing number of pens in production will be capped.

Despite the nation-wide phasing out of gestational stalls for sows, to be complete by 2017, the Tasmanian government will invest $2.5 million over two years to speed up the ban so that none of the crates are used by mid next year.

A spokesperson from Australian Pork Limited, Australia’s peak pork representative body, told Food Magazine earlier this month that banning the sow stalls isnot as simple as "walking into a room and turning of a light.”

Almost 18 months after pork producers agreed to ban steel pens, a third of pregnant sows are no longer confined to the small stalls and more piglets have been “born free” since 2010, when pork producers agreed to voluntarily ban the use of sow stall use by 2017.

Figures from Australian Pork Limited, show that one in three sows now spend their pregnancies outside gestation crates, but animal welfare activists say more can – and should – be done.

Many pork producers across Australia have already voluntarily phased out the use of sow stalls, but the cost and time implications mean that it is unrealistic to force farmers to change before the 2017 deadline, the Australian Pork Limited spokesperson told Food Magazine.

The Tasmanian Budget revealed the $2.5 million will help farmers to "respond to market trends that indicate consumers are increasingly sensitive to animal welfare".

Coles has pledged to only stock fresh pork meat supplied by producers who have abandoned sow stalls by 2014, and experience would indicate Woolworths would quickly follow suit.

Burger King also announced earlier this month that it will only use animal products that come from free-range farms by 2017.

Tasmanian egg farmer John Groenewald told the ABC he was given only two weeks notice of the phase-out plans.

"For the government to say to consumers this is how you will go, instead of encouraging of encouraging consumers to go a particular way, it's quite a significant difference," he said.

"Cages are 65 per cent of the eggs sold in Tasmania, and I don't think it's a particularly smart move to say you can't buy them".

"We've got the issue of write-down of existing plant and equipment and replacing it with alternative production systems. We're talking millions of dollars here."

Big Olive Company fined for misleading “extra virgin” labelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Junk food ads aimed at children fall 60 per cent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New regulations to ensure welfare of animals in NSW abattoirs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then they need finances to undertake the changes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are Coles and Woollies bullying the major TV networks too?

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

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

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

{^youtubevideo|(width)425|(height)264|(border)False|(rel)True|(autoplay)False|(fs)True|(color2)#EFEFEF|(cookies)False|(url)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z00v00L3I5Q&feature=player_embedded|(loop)False|(color1)#666666|(hd)False^}

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

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

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

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

Calls to Coles and Woolworths have not been returned.

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

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

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