Horse meat scandal continues to spread

The recent horse meat scandal which has seen various meat products pulled from the shelves in Europe and the UK has spread to Asia, with an imported lasagne product recalled from shelves in Hong Kong’s ParknShop retailers.

Brands embroiled in the scandal include Nestle, Brazil’s beef producer JBS, British supermarket chain Tesco, and frozen food company Findus – the manufacturer of the lasagnes pulled from the shelves in Hong Kong and Europe.

Other countries to have pulled various products include Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia, Germany and The Netherlands.

According to, Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety said the lasagnes "might be adulterated with horse meat which has not undergone tests for veterinary drugs.

"The product was removed from our stores last week following the government's instructions," a ParknShop spokeswoman told AFP.

Nowaco brand frozen ‘beef’ lasagne products in Tesco stores in the Czech Republic, have also been withdrawn after the horse meat was discovered.

The Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority said it had found horse DNA in two samples of the Nowaco meals manufactured by the Tavola company in Luxembourg.

While horse meat is sold for human consumption in the Czech Republic, authorities have said the product’s labeling is misleading.

Spanghero, the French meat processing company at the centre of the controversy has been accused of passing off 750 tonnes of horse meat as beef, with horsemeat being found in 4.5 million "beef" products across Europe.

Earlier this week the company was allowed to resume production of minced meat, sausages and ready-to-eat meals, however it will no longer be allowed to stock frozen meat. According to it also cannot act as middleman between slaughterhouses and food-processing companies – which is allegedly how Spanghero was able to change labels on horse meat from Romania and sell it as beef.


Horse meat discovered in UK lasagnes

The controversy surrounding horse meat and the labelling of meat products in Europe continues, with frozen food company Findus recalling its lasagne meals earlier this week.

Some beef lasagne products have been recalled by the company after French supplier Comigel raised concerns the products didn't "conform to specification", reports

Eighteen lasagne products were tested with 11 found to be containing horse meat in the range of 60 to 100 percent, although the Food Standards Agency refused to state if any of the meals were 100 percent horse meat.

Tests have been ordered on the products to see if they contain the veterinary drug phenylbutazone. Meat from animals treated with the drug cannot enter the food chain as it may pose a risk to human health.

People who have purchased the meals are being advised to return them to the place of purchase.

Just last month Tesco stores in Britain and Ireland pulled its brand of burgers from the shelves after authorities discovered they contained roughly 30 percent horse meat.

While horse meat isn't seen as a health risk, the recent incidents have upset the public in Britain and Ireland, where the meat isn't traditionally eaten. It has also raised fears over food security and labelling.

Alan Reilly, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland's chief executive, said "In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horse meat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger.

"Likewise, for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable."


Australian, Italian researchers developing “super spaghetti”

Australian researchers are joining with experts from the land of the pasta to create a new “super spaghetti,” which would provide extensive health benefits for consumers.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide’s ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls have joined forces with their Italian counterparts from the Universities of Bari and Molise, and will begin work next month on developing the new super food.

 The aim of the ARC Centre of Excellence is to look at the fundamental role of cell walls (biomass) in plants and discover how they can be better utilised. 

The new projects will investigate key aspects of the cell walls in durum wheat, which is commonly used for making pasta.

 In collaboration with the University of Bari, the first project will look at how the growth of durum wheat affects the levels of starch and dietary fibre within it, and how the fibre levels in pasta can be improved, while the second, in conjunction with the University of Molise, will investigate the important roles played by two major components of dietary fibre – arabinoxylans and beta-glucans – in the quality of pasta and bread dough.

Associate Professor Rachel Burton, Program Leader with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls and chief investigator on both projects said there has already been extensive interest in the projects.

“The term 'super spaghetti' is beginning to excite scientists, nutritionists and food manufacturers around the world,” she explained.

"In simple terms, 'super spaghetti' means that it contains a range of potential health benefits for the consumer, such as reducing the risk of heart disease or colorectal cancer.  

“Our research – in collaboration with our Italian colleagues – is aimed at achieving that, but we're also looking to improve the quality of pasta as well as its health properties.”

The centre's Director, Professor Geoff Fincuiher, said the new projects could provide opportunities for pasta manufacturers in South Australia and Italy to carve a niche of people looking for pasta products that will provide health benefits.

 "Being able to sell high-quality South Australian durum wheat within a competitive market like Italy could bring economic benefits,” he said.

“Approximately 27kg of pasta is consumed per year per person in Italy, compared with just 4kg per person in Australia," he says.


Denmark drops fat tax, shelves plans for sugar tax

The Danish government received worldwide attention in October last year when they introduced a fat tax as a means of trying to curb rising obesity levels, and also announced intentions to introduce a similar tax on sugar in 2013.

Now, in the wake of reports that the tax has cost food manufacturing jobs and is driving Danes across the border into Germany to purchase their clandestine cholesterol-inducing goodies, the government has back-peddled and will drop the tax on saturated fats and not introduce the sugar tax.

The tax was applied at the rate of 16 Krone (AUD $2.60) per kg of saturated fat as found in a range of foods such as pizza, biscuits, cake, milk, oils, meat and many pre-packaged foods.

The Danes have a well-established love of butter – their Lurpak brand is wildly popular and is sold in outlets across Australia and the world – which led to an outcry that the tax was an attack on Danish culture and all they held dear.

The government also intended to introduce a tax of sugary products such as confectionary, jams and other sweets from January.

Workers had claimed that the tax had led to lower sales, in turn forcing manufacturers to cut their workforce; they hope the announcement will mean that jobs are saved.  

EU overhauls food labelling requirements

Consumers around the world are demanding greater transparency when it comes to food labels and it seems the EU is one government that is listening, having just announced that new food labelling laws will come into effect by the end of 2012.

Products sold on the European market will be required to display eco-labelling, informing consumers of the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted during the manufacture, packaging, transport, and overall lifecycle of consumer products, allowing shoppers to have a direct influence on whether products with a high-environmental impact survive in the marketplace.

By providing consumers with the data they need to make an informed choice, the EU hopes that demand will increase for items that are produced in more sustainable ways.

The EU has a pretty solid record when it comes to keeping consumers informed, with requirements in place around GMO labelling and increased efforts in the last few years to address obesity through labelling and other government initiatives.

This is in stark contrast to the US where a very public war is being waged between Big Ag and consumer & environmental interest groups as to the merits of compulsory GMO labelling. 

Biotech giant Monsanto has spent US$4.2 million so far opposing California’s Proposition 37 which would require mandatory labelling for products containing GMO ingredients.

This once again highlights where the power lies when it comes to food policy in Europe vs the US, where food policy is determined by Washington wrangling and deal-making between politicians and lobbyists, who decry governmental intervention as an infringement on American freedoms.

As more countries, including Quebec and Japan, introduce these measures (France is coming towards the end of a year-long trial of mandatory eco-labelling) it remains to be seen how long Big Business in the US can fight consumer demands to be informed.

First ‘bio-based’ tie layer aims to make packaging more green

The one aspect of food production that probably faces more criticism than others for its environmental impact is packaging.

Not only does excessive packaging contribute significantly to our overflowing landfill, but many are made using unsustainable materials and production methods. 

Whilst many ‘greener’ packaging alternatives are available, they are often criticised for being more expensive, less sturdy and less durable than their unsustainable counterparts.  

Many food producers and manufacturers find it hard to justify the extra cost and perceived lower quality of green packaging, particularly in this tough economy when many are surviving on razor thin margins as it is.

Now a Holland-based company, Yparex, is claiming to be the first supplier to provide the packaging industry with a commercially available bio-based adhesive polymer that is both sustainably sourced and fully recyclable.

One of the main challengers for packaging manuyfacturers is trying to find a solution that bonds all the different kinds of packaging together, regardless of whether the application is in fresh food or industrial supplies.

The resins used to create flexible-barrier packaging – the kind used to prevent oxygen reaching meat, cheese, fruit and vegetables and preserve the odours and flavours inside – has traditionally been one of the harder materials to bond together.

These resins were traditionally bonded together using petroleum-based polymers, though this practice has come under criticism due to the damaging environmental effects of the substance, the unsustainable materials used in production and growing concerns that these substances can negatively affect health.

This led Yparex to try and find an alternative solution that was both sustainable and also as effective as petroleum-based options.

Yparex’s General Manager, Wouter van den Berg stated that there was “a lot of disagreement about how best to make the packaging industry more sustainable”, commenting:

“Some argue for glass, since it’s inert and recyclable. Others say paper is better, as it’s made of material that grows back. Still others say lightweight plastics are greenest because they save significant transportation costs and energy, while increasing safety (since they’re unbreakable), and extending shelf life (reducing waste).

Produced from 95% plant-based materials, yet offering the same performance specifications as previous polymers, this alternative allows manufacturers to not only further embrace sustainability, but protect themselves from future price spikes related to the cost of oil and natural gas.

UK dairy farmers protest price cuts

Dairy farmers in the UK who are facing similar price cut impacts as Australian farmers have vowed to continue protesting about the returns they receive.

UK dairy manufacturers and farming groups, including the National Farmers Union, signed a draft deal yesterday to adopt a voluntary code of practise to oversee relationships in the dairy industry.

The agreement comes after talks organised by the UK government as well as protests and blockades from farmers at retail and processor sites.

Farmers have taken aim at processors including Asda, Morrisons and Robert Wiseman Dairies after they announced plans to cut prices on 1 August.

Farmers for Action chairman David Handley said the organisation will be "relentless" in its pressure to reverse the planned cuts and to push retailers to pay more for their milk.

Government involvement

Earlier this month UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the government will spend £5 million (AU$7.6 million) on a program to improve competitiveness for dairy farmers.

The NFU and dairy industry body Dairy UK agreed to "heads of terms" for a code of practice yesterday, which includes initial agreements to set minimum requirements for contracts between farmers and processors.

Handley is doubtful the code of practice will work and said the Government should consider legislating to ensure fair prices and treatment of farmrs if the code fails.

"We've got to start somewhere [but] I personally have my doubts of whether the voluntary code will work," he said.

"We've got to do is convince the minister that we are prepared to give it a try on the understanding that, if after between three and six months, it has clearly been shown not to work, they have to go for legislation.

There is no way that this industry can be allowed to get back to this situation ever again.

“Every 18 months to two years, somebody is trying to cut the milk price.

“We've got to start somewhere but I have grave reservations, knowing the people that are in this industry that are in the supply chain of dairy."

Aussie farmers suffeing same issues

The problems being faced by dairy farmers in the UK are all too familiar for Australia’s own dairy farmers.

After Coles cut its retail milk price to $1 a litre in January 2010, the flow-on effects of the decision have continued to damage the sector.

“In NSW, my state, I see farmers being asked to sign contracts for three cents a litre than their previous contracts,” Terry Toohey, Australian Dairy Farmers Director said at the Food Magazine Leaders Summit.

“This will have astronomical effects on fund and profit margins.”

"In my case I'll have 40 per cent of my tier 2 of milk [purchased] at 18 cents [per litre]. 

"The cost of producing it is 40 cents [per litre]. 

"So, you start to look and say, I'm only one person, there are 800 dairy farmers in NSW alone."

The current practice is for milk companies to announce what is known as an Anticipated Full Demand (AFD) to Dairy Farmers Milk Cooperative (DFMC), which is bought at a somewhat reasonable price and referred to as Tier 1 milk.

Any milk deemed ‘surplus’ is then paid at a much lower price and referred to as Tier 2 milk.

However, the buyers of the milk produced on Australian farms are deliberately underestimating the amount of milk that each can deliver, meaning they are not obligated to buy a considerable portion of the milk they know a farm will produce at the reasonable price.

There is no transparency at farmer level as to what Tier 2 milk is being sold to other processors for.

Supermarkets have too much power

"The retail actions are certainly impacting the dairy farmers in a negative way, this combined with the uncertainties and other factors [impacting] dairy or other farming, it's making it unattractive for the next generation, because it's not profitable for my children,” Toohey said.

"If I was old and had children ready to take over the farm, I will tell them blue in the face not to come into agriculture. 

“And that's pretty sad after 107 years on the one farm."

Toohey said the current practise on Australian soil were based on the Tesco model in the UK, which has caused indescribable pressure on the industry over there and is having the same impact here.

“Given the sheer size of the supermarket duopoly, over 75% of the market is between the two powers and they are wielding that power over the Australian marketplace, and the majority of Australian suppliers, particularly to the fresh food industry.

“In the United Kingdom, they have already experience this and I say you’ve all read that this is a Tesco model – the people that have been brought in by Coles have come from Tesco.

“I was over there, I had to go over there to do a study 4 years ago, and I came back with an alarm bell saying, ‘it’s not what’s going to happen in Australia, it’s when it’s going to happen in Australia.’

“But what has happened over there [has] been going on for 12 years and the government has stepped in, and we’ve seen a turnaround.

“But it’s plugging a hole in a boat, but the hole is that big, and it’s nearly too hard to plug.

“And I believe that’s where we’re going at the moment.

“At least the Titanic was going forward but it sunk, I don’t know about the dairy industry.”

An investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) cleared Colesof any wrongdoing in the case, and a Senate enquiry also found the supermarket was not putting dairy farmers at direct disadvantage with the pricing, but Australian Dairy Farmers Association president Chris Griffin told Food Magazine after the report was released that the Senate failed to address the real issues when it produced its findings, and farmers have continued to leave the industry in droves.

Another Senate Inquiry into the power of the major supermarkets struggled to convince people to speak out about the behaviours of the major supermarkets, too afraid to speak up for fear of the consequences.

Do you think we need more government involvement to help our struggling dairy industry?

Here at Food Magazine, we think there needs to be a Royal Commission into the supermarkets’ actions. What are your thoughts?


Wine producer cuts 175 jobs

Accolade Wines will cut 175 jobs by January 2013 when it closes its Australian bottling operations.

The major wine company, which produces brands including Banrock Station and Berri Estates, has entered into a deal with Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) to bottle its wines in Australia, and in turn, Accolade will bottle TWE wines in the United Kingdom.

TWE owns several popular Australian wine brands including Yellowglen, Wolf Blass, Penfolds, and Wynns Coonawarra Estate.

Accolades Wines chief executive Troy Christensen pointed to changes in market conditions and the need to ensure optimum efficiency as the reasons behind the decision.

He said there is a surplus of bottling capacity in Australia currently, and that while the decision will solve that problem, he understand the workers who will lose their jobs will not take it lightly.

At the Reynella facility in south Adelaide, 175 workers will be made redundant, all of whom will receive their full redundancy payments.

The company also said in a statement that it will offer further support to workers by assisting them in finding new jobs.

“For a number of years we have researched alternatives to avoid outsourcing our Reynella bottling and distribution facility, including relocating assets within the business,” the statement said.

“No other option delivered such long term benefits.

“We were faced with the difficult realisation that the best option for our business and for the Australian industry was to ensure that the most efficient facilities were fully utilised even if they were not our own.”

Transitioning to the new bottling and packing arrangements would begin in the coming weeks and will be completed by January next year, according to TWE chief executive David Dearie.

In May last year, Accolade Wines, formally known as Constellation Wines, announced plans to tap into the eastern European market through its operations in Moscow, Russia.

Edible packaging could reduce waste

A scientist has found a way to reduce packaging waste that creates millions of tonnes of landfill every year: eat the packaging.

David Edwards, whose work encompasses the arts and science and is at the core of a network of art and science labs in Europe, USA and Africa, has now created edible packaging, WikiCells.

The idea for WikiCells was based on the way nature has always delivered nutrients in a digestible skin "held together by healthy ions like calcium."

Apples, potatoes and tomatoes, for example, all have an edible exterior protecting the food within.

"This soft skin may be comprised primarily of small particles of chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, or many other natural substances with delicious taste and often useful nutrients," the WikiCells team writes on its website.

"Inside the skin may be liquid fruit juice, or thick pudding."

Edwards and his collaborators, including industrial designer François Azambourg, have so far tested gazpacho-stuffed tomato membrane, a wine-filled grape-like shell, and an orange juice-laden orb with a shell that tastes like an orange.

The team is also looking into other possibilities including edible milk bottles and yogurt containers.

WikiCells will market ice cream in an edible shell in the French summer.

Pizzas not selling, we’ll make potatoes instead: McCain UK factory to slash 40 jobs

McCain Foods will stop producing frozen pizzas in the UK, amid disappointing sales.

About 40 jobs are under threat at the Scarborough factory, which will move away from baking and topping pizzas in favour of producing backed potatoes.

The statement released by the company confirmed that declining pizza sales are the reason behind the move, and that the surge in demand for its Ready Baked jacket potatoes, which are sold frozen in boxes of four, would offer a better return.

While the cost of converting the prepared food facility currently used to produce the pizzas will be significant, the company believes it will be money well spent, as sales are expected to continue increasing.

“The scale of the work required means decommissioning the current unit and extensive installation of new equipment,” McCain managing director Alan Bridges said.

“As a result, we have met employers and made preparations for a period of consultation because, regrettably, up to 40 jobs may be at risk of redundancy.

“The exact number will become clearer once the consultation takes place and all options for sustainable alternative employment have been fully explored.”

Image: The Scarborough News

World food prices drop to 8-month low

World food prices dropped to their lowest level in eight months, according to a U.N. Agency.

In the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s monthly report, it said food commodities fell by four per cent in May, as fluctuations in currencies and supplies continue to impact the industry.

The agency, based in Rome, monitors food prices closely, largely because it has observed increases in staple foods lead to violence in some countries in recent years.

In September, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has said wars and political uproar could become a reality if Western counties don’t address global food security.

Marmite gets corgis on board to launch “Ma’amite’ to celebrate Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

To celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, Marmite has released a limited edition version called Ma’amite, and even gotten her majesty’s famous corgi’s in on the advertising.

Marmite, similar to Vegemite, advertises its product with the tagline “you either love it or you hate it,” which has been changed slightly to "Ma'amite, one either loves it or one hates it," with one corgi seemingly in support of the acquired taste and one not so much in the print advertisement.

In the television ad, things get a bit more obvious, as a corgi sniffs the breakfast waiting at the bedroom door in a palace, and then makes its feelings known with a lift of its leg.

The Ma’amite, named after the Queen, often referred to as “Ma’am,” is just one of the countless ways British companies and stores are celebrating the 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Check out the video below. 


Smart label remembers the use-by date you forget

A revolutionary “smart food label” developed by European scientists, which would take the guess work out of use-by labels, could be mass produced by the end of this year, if it gets enough support.

The UWI Label, which can be used on a range of foods, contains a chemical-based indicator strip that tells you exactly how long that product has been opened.

Developed by Pete Higgins, in conjunction with scientists from Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh, Scotland, the inventors say the system could save countless food poisoning cases and significantly eliminate food wastage.

“The label on the back might have small print that says something like “once opened, use within 4 weeks” (or whatever the period might be) but, how do you remember when you first opened the jar?” the creators ask.

You don’t, that say, you forget and you then either take a risk or throw it away. Sound familiar?

“The label reacts as a soon as a food jar or packaging is opened, then gives a visual warning when the product is no longer safe to consume,” Higgins said.

The UWI Label knows when you opened the jar for the first time  shows you how long it has been opened tells you when it has reached its “use within” period and when it may no longer safe to use or consume.

Indicator panels in the label progressively turn green to show the elapsed time from the opening of a product and a red panel alerts consumers when the “use within” period has expired.

UWI Label time ranges can be set as hours, days, weeks, months up to a six month and is pre-set during manufacturing of the product.

The inventors have made it to the final of the Barclays Take One Small Step competition, which helps entrepreneurs in Great Britain to turn their ideas into reality, with £50,000 funding, exposure and support.

The public voting starts 30 May and concludes 27 June, and the inventors say they “will be working tirelessly throughout this four week period to get as many supporters as possible.”

They say while the label would be extremely beneficial for food products, it could offer significant improvements to various industries.

 “Beyond the obvious application for food production, the technology is also suitable in other sectors where products have a critical shelf life once opened – including industrial glues and sealants, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, blood transfusion services and veterinary,” Higgins said.


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The impact of the falling Aussie dollar on food producers

The Australian dollar dipped below parity overnight, creating a hopeful Australian food industry which may now have a fighting chance with exports and production.

The high Australian dollar has been blamed for a myriad of factory closures, company takeovers and a slump in food exports, as local producers struggles to compete with other countries.

As fear of Greece exiting the eurozone continue to increase, investors are shifting money to the more secure US and Japanese markets.

One of the industries most affected by the high Australian dollar’s impact on trade is agriculture, so farmers have welcomed the fall.

National Farmers Federation's general manager of policy, Charles McElhorn, told the ABC the impact that the high Aussie dollar has on the sector is larger than most people realise.

"We export about two-thirds of what we produce, and we're also increasingly exposed on the import market, so great news," he said.

Every one per cent fall in the Australian dollar equates to about $220 million in export earnings, according to the federation.

This will mean an additional income of about $2 billion for the sector since the dollar started falling a around March.

AusVeg spokesperson  William Churchill told Food Magazine the produce industry will welcome the news, but other industries do reap greater benefits.

“Some companies have a real export focus, some sell up to 90 per cent of their products offshore, and with a high Australian dollar they were definitely finding it harder to it overseas.

“Some is going into the domestic market, and in some instances they have been able to do that, but the Australian produce market is highly saturated right now so there is no demand for any extra.

“There won’t be any increased demand until people start to eat more [vegetables], but they aren’t doing that.

“As the dollar falls, it becomes easier to send that produce overseas.”

Churchill said that while producers are being urged to export as much as possible, the highest demand is not for Australian vegetables.

“Growers who are exporting have a bit less stress in their life [with a lower Australian dollar], however, as for export, there is a lot of rhetoric we’re getting, particularly from governments, that we can be the Asian foodbowl for the booming middle class.

“That’s great if you’re a beef producer, but historically the food of those people is actually vegetables.

“Now they can afford a high protein diet like we do in Australia.

“They may have had diet consisting of rice and veg and now they might include meat, so the amount of vegetables will decrease per person, but as we now have 100 million more people who can buy vegetables, the entire volume will hopefully increase.

“I definitely echo, reiterate and support export is a way to go because in this country we have a saturated produce market and out consumption is so small compared to others in world.

“It’s frustrating when politicians get up and say “we can do such and such” when they don’t actually have all the information, and their figures are actually very distorted.

“If the government is serious about making this the Asian century and exporting, they need to actually talk to with largest market out there.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard made the announcement that Australian farmers and food producers should focus on becoming the foodbowl for the rising Asian middle class last week, but her comments were met with criticism from the industry who say current policies are killing their businesses, not helping them.

The food manufacturing sector was also overlooked in the Federal Budget released last week.

The industry has been calling for a helping hand like the one given to the car manufacturing industry, and a Supermarket Ombudsman to help keep Australian companies in business, but these requests were ignored. 

Rate of animals slaughtered without stunning rising faster that Muslim population in UK

An animal welfare expert in the UK has accused the local meat industry of increasing the number of animals slaughtered without stunning, claiming it is for religious purposes, when it is actually a financial decision.

Professor Bill Reilly, former chairman of the UK Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food, said the increase in the number of animals not being stunned prior to slaughter was “unacceptable.”

He is currently a consultant on veterinary public health and believes the practise of slaughtering animals without stunning should be reduced or banned entirely.

He said reports by the Farm Animal Welfare Council and EU-funded Dialrel Project, combined with publically-available footage on YouTube "clearly demonstrate the pain and distress of obviously still sentient animals after non-stun slaughter".

Legislation in the UK and EU allows the slitting of animals’ throats without stunning, in accordance with Muslim and Jewish food requirements, but the number of animals slaughtered without stunning is increasing faster than the rates of people who require animals to be killed in such a way for their religious beliefs.

The production of halal meat in particular has been growing at a rapid pace, Reilly said, and now significantly exceeds the proportion of Muslims in the UK population.

The halal share of the UK meat market increased almost 15 per cent in the last 11 years he said, while the Muslim population is estimated at 4.6 per cent.

“Why has there been this growth in demand for halal meat and the proportion that is from non-stunned animals?” Professor Reilly wrote in the Veterinary Record.

“There may be operational advantages for an abattoir if stunning is not carried out.

“Other commercial drivers include the convenience of not offering a Halal processing line."

Reilly stressed that he is not targeting the right to religious freedom, but rather attempting to ensure as many animals as possible are slaughtered in a humane way.

"The challenge to society is to enable religious slaughter without compromising animal suffering," he said.
He wants to reduce the minimum number of animals killed without pre-stunning in the UK/

But Dr Shuja Shafi, deputy general-secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said 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.

Image: The Guardian

What do you think about the slaughter of animals without prior stunning?

Calls for public register of foreign investment in Australian farming land

The peak farming representative group is calling for more transparency on the investments made in Australia by foreign investors.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is calling for a compulsory national land register, to keep track of foreign interest in Australian agricultural land.

It would require any person or company not from Australia which acquire or transfer an interest in agricultural land to report the sale in a specified timeframe.

The NFF also wants the records to be made public.

“We are also calling for an annual report of the register findings to be published, summarising any changes to the holdings of agricultural land held by foreign interests,” president Jock Laurie said.

“This report will trigger an annual review of the policy settings around foreign investment, including the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) reporting threshold for agricultural land purchases by commercial interests.”

Earlier this year there were suggestions that Australians needed more transparency about modern farming practices, which were only fuelled by a Primary Industries Education Foundation research project, which found school children think yoghurt grows on trees and cotton socks are an animal product.

Laurie acknowledged the benefits foreign investment had provided for Australia’s agricultural industry, but said NFF members are concerned about the number of foreign interests in Australian farming land, which is ensuring food security for other countries and leaving us behind.

“At the core, the NFF supports foreign investment in Australian agriculture – provided that it does not negatively distort our resource allocations or outputs, does not undermine our farm gate prices, and is not undertaken with the intent of damaging competition in the marketplace,” Laurie said.

“While there have been some calls for the FIRB threshold to be lowered, we believe to do so at this point would be premature.

“This debate has long been described as a debate without data – and, in order to suggest a suitable FIRB threshold, we must first know what land is owned by whom- based on real data, not just a survey sample,” he added.

Do you agree with the suggested register? Do we need to know more about foreign farming interests in Australia?

Salt levels in fast food varies between countries

It’s pretty common knowledge that the salt content in fast food is high, but new research shows that the exact level varied between countries, even if it’s the same chain.

Researchers compared the same food items, bought in six different countries, and found that overall the UK foods had less salt that the US and Canada, and Australia was somewhere in the middle.

They bought foods like McDonald’s nuggets, burgers and pizza from global chains to conduct their research.

In the UK, McDonald’s nuggets had 240mg, or 0.6 grams of salt per serving, compared with 1.7 grams – which equates to 600 milligrams – found in the same item sold in the US.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Heart Foundation advise the average person should limit their salt consumption to about 2000 mg, or 4 to 6 grams per day, so depending what people in the US pair their nuggets with – salty fries, for example – they could be at risk of consuming more than half their recommended daily salt intake in just one meal.

Most people in Australia today consume eight to twelve grams of salt each day, mostly from processed foods.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that while most Australian fast-food options are somewhere in the middle of the salty US options and less salty UK variations, we do have one burger on offer which tips the scales in all the wrong ways, according to lead author Elizabeth Dunford, a PhD student at theGeorge Institute in Sydney.

Hungry Jack’s Ultimate Double Whopper has 6.3 grams, or 6300 milligrams, of salt in each serve, almost triple the recommended daily salt intake.

Closely following that is the Burger King Angus bacon and cheese burger from Burger King in the US, which contains 5.2 grams of salt per serve.

This week a study was published which found the chances of a child being obese greatly depends on their neighbourhood, while earlier this month other researchers discovered that a “low salt” label on food will make a consumer experience a decreased level of taste, even if it is not in fact any lower in salt than other varieties.

High consumption of salt has been proven to raise blood pressure, increase the chances of diabetes and stroke, and cause weight gain.

The Heart Foundation, doctors and health organisations are constantly recommending low-salt diets to improve health and life expectancy.

"The main outcome of high salt is high blood pressure levels and that is the leading risk factor for cardio vascular disease and stroke, which is the number one cause of death in Australia," Dunford said.

Only last week there were fresh calls for a “fat tax” in Australia, following its introduction in Sweden and the UK, and Dunford believes part of the reason for the lower salt content in food bought in the UK is the awareness of fat and salt on health.

"We think the reason for [the low salt levels in the UK] is that they have a national salt reduction campaign," she said.

"In Australia we started that process with some processed foods, but we’re a little behind in other foods.

“We’re heading in the right direction."

Duck fat used to power vehicles

Some clever farmers in a rural French village have found a novel use for duck fat, using it to power vehicles including tractors.

In St Aquilin, a rural village in the southwestern region of Dordogne, a farm co-operative has found a way to turn duck grease into biodiesel and biogas now being used to power a tractor and two other vehicles, according to

Duck fat has long been used as a key ingredient in cassoulets and confits, and there is no shortage of the animal, with two million birds raised in the region each year.

"We’re really doing this out of activism, to recognise that we have to do something to help save the planet,” Jules Charmoy, who raises russet-hued Limousin cattle on his organic farm, told

“We should stop the big speeches and start with little acts."

The 50-farm cooperative collects the duck fat from nearby restaurants and food businesses weekly.

"We also have frying oil and fat from pigs and calves. There’s a little bit of everything in there but the dominant thing is duck because we’re in the Dordogne," Charmoy said.

They heat the fat to 49 degrees Celsius to remove water before reducing the heat and adding alcohol and potassium hydroxide.

The mixture has to be shaken and when settles the biodiesel is separated below a layer of glycerol.

To comply with French law, it is then mixed in a 30 to 70 per cent ratio.

Last year the cooperative produced 20 000 litres of the biodiesel.

The mixture costs about 20 per cent more than the discounted diesel that farmers can buy, but the group says the environmental benefits are significant.

The experiment is not the first of its kind, with US poultry giant Tyson Foods recently transforming millions of gallons of chicken and pork fat produced at its operations each year into biodiesel.

The duck fat from the French cooperative will be used to fuel a biogas plant being constructed in the nearby town of Bergerac.

The plant will process between 9000 and 10,000 cubic metres of waste per year and generate about 360 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, according to Cadalen.
"Also, for the farmers, it’s another revenue source.

“To sell energy – it’s another thing besides food production, it permits us to protect ourselves.”