Potato Magic faces liquidation

Administrators of potato chip manufacturer, Potato Magic, have recommended placing the company into liquidation.

Potato Magic Australia, was placed into administration last month, whilst owing creditors hundreds of thousands of dollars, ABC Rural reports.

The company was set up in 2005 and was owned by Paul Rennie, one of Australia's biggest potato growers, and fruit and vegetable businessman Nick Moraitis.

Potato Magic Australia had been manufacturing a healthy alternative to potato chips called Skinns from a leased site in Griffith.

Daniel Walley, from administrator PPB Advisory, said poor chip sales and a dispute between directors have since been blamed for the company's financial demise.

"It commercialised a chip product, which went out into the market and was taken up by the supermarkets, but I'm assuming that never caught on with the public.

"When you're funding any business as a start-up and there's loss making, you need to make a decision at some point about whether it's something you want to continue with,” Walley said.

Potato Magic Australia's four full-time and 12 casual staff, who worked at the Griffith plant, were made redundant last week.

Walley said liquidating the company will allow employees to access to their entitlements.

Administrators were unable to find a buyer for the business, but another company owned by Rennie did buy back the business name and its assets through a local auction house, for just under $3,000.

Mr Walley says once Potato Magic Australia is placed into liquidation, it will investigate whether it traded while insolvent.

"In instances where a business has been supported by directors with cash right up until the point where we were appointed, it is difficult to prove insolvency.

 

Spiral Chunky Tapenades

Product name: Spiral Chunky Tapenades

Product manufacturer: Spiral Foods

Ingredients: Green olives, black olives, roasted red peppers, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, spices, salt, lactic acid, sugar, citric acid.

Shelf life: Two years

Packaging: Glass jar

Product manager: Spiral Foods

Brand website: https://spiralfoods.com.au

What the company says
Spiral Foods Chunky Tapenades are available in three varieties: Green Olive, Black Olive and Muffuletta. Bold and full-bodied, Spiral’s Chunky Tapenades are a Mediterranean pantry staple for the busy home cook.

With roughly chopped olives and premium quality olive oil, each of the Chunky Tapenades (quite literally) brings something new to the table. Unlike most other tapenades on the market, the roughly chopped olives provide a homemade taste and appearance, almost as if you had taken the time yourself.

Spiral’s Chunky Tapenades can be used as an appetiser, mixed with fresh tomatoes and herbs and served atop crunchy bread for a bruschetta delight, as a marinade for red meat, or as a stuffing for poultry. Fold some into lightly scrambled eggs with some creamy goats cheese, or simply layer it onto a pizza base for a blast of flavour.
 

Fair Work Ombudsman to visit strawberry farms in Caboolture

Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors will be making follow-up visits to strawberry farms in Caboolture this week.

Last year, inspectors found that over 150 seasonal workers had been underpaid by over $134,000 and the follow-up visits are being conducted to ensure compliance.

In addition to underpayments, inspectors also found that some employers in the region failed to make written agreements with workers paid piece-rates, that some businesses failed to keep proper time-and-wages records and that some employers were making unlawful deductions from employee wages.

This week, Fair Work inspectors will make site visits to about a dozen properties, including farms previously audited, and encourage any workers with concerns about their workplace rights being compromised to come forward.

“Previously, our inspectors provided employers with the information and advice they needed to meet their obligations under workplace law, particularly in relation to payments to seasonal workers,” said Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

“We are returning to Caboolture to ensure that local employers have acted on the information provided and are meeting their obligations.

“We also hope to understand why any non-compliance issues might be continuing, and this knowledge will help us better direct our education and compliance activities in the future.”

Together with Caboolture strawberry farms, Fair Work inspectors recently visited melon, banana and vegetable growers in the greater Darwin area, fruit and vegetable growers at Bundaberg and capsicum, tomato and banana farms around Bowen and Tully in Queensland.

 

SPC returns to TV [video]

This week SPC is launching a new television commercial to support the launch of its Baked Beans and Spaghetti products with Sneaky Vegetables.

The range has been developed to help Australian parents struggling to get their children to eat their greens.

The ‘Sneaky veg’ range has been developed with children’s nutritional requirements in mind, with recent research finding that more than half of primary school aged children are not eating the recommended daily dose of fruit and vegetables.

Created by Leo Burnett, the TVC features different children refusing to eat their plate of vegetables, with some kids using sneaky tricks to avoid eating their greens.

SPC marketing and innovation director Bronwyn Powell said “SPC has been loved by Australian families for more than 100 years. While we’ve changed with the times, it is important our campaign remains true to the SPC brand essence.

“Our new TVC captures everything that Australians love about the brand, including its humour. I’m sure most parents will be able to relate to the scenarios in the ad when their own children refuse to eat their vegetables.

“We’re thrilled to bring back the SPC jingle and revamp our tagline to ’Happy Little Human Beings’ which explains how our new SPC products are making meal time easy for Australian parents and enjoyable for kids.”

The TVC forms part of a larger digital and PR campaign for SPC’s beans, spaghetti and fruit products that will feature former Australian Olympic swimmer Elka Whalan.

See below for the new TVC.

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Government should buy local Aussie food: AUSVEG

AUSVEG is urging the government to follow the United Kingdom’s lead and put in place a plan to source government-procured food from local suppliers and producers.

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced this week that as of 2017, the UK central government will, where possible, buy fresh, locally sourced food under a new Plan for Public Procurement.

“The UK has taken an important step by committing to procure goods from local sources, which will without doubt benefit thousands of farmers in the United Kingdom,” said Andrew White, AUSVEG Manager, Government and Parliamentary Relations.

“Australian vegetable growers and processors could potentially realise the same benefits if our governments followed suit and put in place its own plan and a local benefits test to source from local suppliers,” White said.

“We believe there is more that could be done and getting better information about the current situation in regards to the existing level of local sourcing across all Commonwealth and State/Territory agencies would be a sensible place to start.”

A recent public inquiry examined the current rules for Australian goods and services procured by Commonwealth Government departments and agencies and found that the rules should take into account the impact of the government’s procurement decisions on communities and on the broader economy.

The investigating committee recommended last week that the Department of Finance develop a test to provide a greater level of understanding regarding the quantity of Australian goods and services currently procured by the Commonwealth Government, with concerns that an ABN is not a good indication of whether goods are manufactured in Australia.

“With the inquiry acknowledging that there is scope for greater sourcing of local goods and services by the government, it is important that Australian producers are recognised when it comes to future food procurement standards set by the Commonwealth,” White said. “Government procurement of Australian-grown vegetables could provide a significant boost for the industry, particularly in the vegetable processing sector.”

“However, we need a balanced procurement policy that ensures Australian taxpayers receive the best value for money, while supporting local farmers and fully appreciating the wider domestic economic benefits that will result from sourcing food locally,” White said.

 

NSW potato chip manufacturer placed in administration

Griffith based potato chip manufacturer, Potato Magic has been placed in administration.

The company was established by one of the nation’s biggest potato farmers, Paul Rennie, who has been under investigation by the Australian Tax Office and the Australian Federal Police for allegations of offshore tax fraud.

ABC News reports that the alleged tax fraud represents millions of dollars.

According to appointed administrator, PPB Advisory, the Griffith based business has endured a period of financial losses, and the search for prospective buyers is currently underway.

At this stage, the company is still able to continue operations as PPB Advisory have licensed the operations of the company to Rennie.

The business currently employs 16 staff and has an annual turnover of $1.2 m.

 

Kale’s superfood status leads to worldwide shortage

The ever increasing popularity of kale has resulted in a worldwide shortage according to one of the world’s largest seed suppliers.

Tony Hubbard from Netherlands based Bejo Seeds says that he has seen individual seed varieties increase in popularity of the years, but nothing compares to the boom in demand for kale, ABC News reports.

"You could describe it as embarrassing to us, but it's just one of those things that's happened on a global basis," said Hubbard.

"It's caught us out well and truly, we put our hands up to that."

The head of Coles supermarkets fresh produce division, Brad Gorman said that the popularity of the cruciferous vegetable has taken the supermarket by surprise.

"Kale's growth has been off the charts. It is by far our fastest growing product," he said.

"Kale's been (popular) for three years and for a product to be growing at this rate after that amount of time I think is almost unprecedented."

 

Australia’s first dedicated fresh food safety centre established

Australia and New Zealand’s first dedicated research centre into the safety of fresh food products has been established.

The Fresh Produce Safety Centre is designed to address research gaps in the food safety sector including how Australian wild animals may contaminate vegetables.

University of Sydney associate professor, Robyn McConchie, who has been instrumental in the development of the centre, says that we currently know very little about the impact the Australian wildlife may have on the safety of fresh food.

"We know what pigs and birds do in Europe and the United States," McConchie told ABC News. "But what about our wildlife?

"If they tramp through a field of lettuce are they likely to contaminate paddocks?

"…We have different salmonellas to those in Europe and the United States; so how do they survive in the soil? How long do they last? Are they pathogenic and are they going to make us really ill?"

The main goals of the centre are to:

  • Call for and oversee food safety research projects that are highly relevant to industry
  • Provide food safety information, news, education and outreach to the industry
  • Engage with regulatory and other organisations for effective and efficient food safety management leading to enhanced food safety outcomes.

The centre is funded, and will be led by the Australian and New Zealand fresh produce industries and is hosted by the University of Sydney.

The centre’s first conference will be held on 11 August, 2014 at the University of Sydney.

 

Capsicums play star role in snack product innovation

According to a new research, capsicums are increasingly being used as an ingredient in some of the world’s most innovative food products.

The research, which was commissioned by Horticulture Australia using the National Vegetable Levy, together with matched funds from the Australian Government, found that 37 innovative new products containing capsicum were launched in Australia during the last three months out of 150 launches globally.

Peak industry body for vegetable and potato growers, Ausveg believes that the increased in interest in capsicum as an ingredient is opening up valuable opportunities for Australian famers.

“This recent increase in products launched in Australia demonstrates the opportunities available if we can encourage world leaders in product innovation to invest in the Australian market,” said AUSVEG manager of industry development and communications, Andrew White. 

“There is a real opportunity for Australian capsicum growers to take advantage of this strong demand for capsicum-containing products.”              

According to the research, between the period of March- May 2014, snacks dominated as the main launch category in Australia, and 20 percent of these new snack products contained capsicum.

“While Australian vegetable growers are among some of the world’s most productive, an oversupply of produce can lead to financial losses. New uses for excess or second-grade vegetables, such as in innovative food and pharmaceutical products, can help to make Australian producers more profitable,” said White.

White says that packaging also plays a key role in the launch of these new products. 30 percent of new products launched featured a flexible pack format, which was followed by products launched in jars representing 12 percent.

“Producers and processors need to ensure that product packaging appeals to consumers in terms of convenience, visual appeal and reduced waste,” said White.

 

Organic food is still not more nutritious than conventional food

This morning I drove past the new Krispy Kreme donut shop in Adelaide, people were lining up waiting for it to open. Ironically, this morning a paper was published in the British Journal of Nutrition entitled “Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses”.

Despite its title, this is yet another study that shows that there is little difference in nutritional content between organically grown food and conventionally grown food (see here and here for previous studies). There have been many attempts to measure the nutritional differences between conventional and organic food, with largely inconsistent results.

This is not surprising, as the nutritional value of foods is very variable, influenced strongly by local regional factors, variations in growing seasons and rainfall, ripeness of food when harvested and time of harvest. I’m writing this is South Australia, possibly the wine capital of Australia, where we know that having vines on the different sides of a hill will affect sugar and flavor of the grapes. Even different cultivars of the same crop may vary significantly in composition due to the factors above. Nutritional values of crops can vary from between 100% to nearly 200% (which should be kept in mind when the differences reported between conventional crops and organic crops run from 6-69%).

As well as issues relating to timing, seasons and cultivars, the definition of “organically grown” can vary significantly between and within countries.

To try and avoid these limitations, several studies have looked at large numbers of the single studies (a meta-analysis), and generally concluded that there is no meaningful difference between conventional and organic food (again see here and here).

The current paper by Baranski and colleagues in the British Journal of Nutrition follows in the footsteps of these large comparison studies, looking at the largest group of studies to date (343). The authors placed greatest weight on the best designed studies, with the clearest definitions of “organic”. Their findings are largely similar to previous meta-analyses, with only a handful of nutrients being statistically different between organic crops and conventional crops, and only one difference that is of plausible biological significance.

As many people choose more expensive organic produce over conventional produce believing it has better health impacts, I’ll look at a couple of selected nutrients to show what these figures mean.

Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)

Ascorbic acid is statistically significantly higher in organic crops compared to conventional crops. This means we are reasonably confident these differences are not due to chance alone. However, organic food has (on average) only 6% more ascorbic acid than conventional foods. Assuming a conventional apple has 8 mg of ascorbic acid, then you would need to eat 5.6 conventionally grown apples to get the recommended daily intake of ascorbic acid.

You would need to eat 5.3 organically grown apples to achieve the same recommended daily intake. As you can see the difference is insignificant in terms of people’s real food consumption.

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are an important class of nutrient, beta carotene in particular as it is the precursor to vitamin A. There is about 50% more carotenoids in organically grown fruit than in conventionally grown fruit. Thus you would need to eat 7.5 conventionally grown apples to get the recommended daily intake of carotenoids, while you would only need to eat 5 organically grown apples to get the recommended daily intake of carotenoids.

But we don’t get the majority of our carotenoids from fruit, we get them from things like carrots and green leafy vegetables, and there is no difference in carotenoids between organically and conventionally grown vegetables. So there will be no biologically meaningful differences in the amout of carotenoids you get from conventional or organically grown food.

This is the general pattern we see, even when there is a statistically significant difference between conventional and organically grown produce, it makes no practical difference in terms of our consumption of these products.

Anti-oxidants

Organic fruit has statistically more total antioxidants (around 20%) than conventional fruit, but there is no difference between organic and conventionally grown vegetables in antioxidant content.

Furthermore, while the overall antioxidant levels are higher in organic fruit, there is no difference in the important antioxidants phenolic acids, flavanones, flavones and flavanols, the major contributor would appear to be the carotenoids. As we have already seen fruit is not an important dietary source of carotenoids.

These small differences are unlikely to significantly affect health. This is a bit disappointing personally, as I spent some time researching the effects of antioxidants in Alzheimer’s disease models.

While consumption of antioxidant containing fruit and vegetables have been associated with better health outcomes, the antioxidants themselves do not appear to have any role in this effect (see also here, here and here), despite the number of television advertisements that exhort us to buy antioxidant enriched food. Indeed, the major finding is that high concentrations of fat soluble antioxidant vitamins are associated with detrimental effects.

One of the most convincing effects is an adverse effect of high levels of beta carotene. As we saw, organically grown fruits tended to be higher in carotenoids, but fruit consumption is unlikely to boost carotenoid levels to those associated with higher risk of death.

Pesticides

Organic foods have lower levels of certain kinds of pesticides, but since these are already well below the threshold for toxic effects, this is irrelevant to health. Organic food can be produced with pesticide, typically Pyrethrum (which has its own problems) and Bacillus thuringiensis toxin.

Cadmium

The levels of the toxic metal Cadmium were lower in organically grown cereals than conventional grown cereals. The levels in fruits and vegetables were no different whether they were grown organically or conventionally. Although most peoples intake of cadmium in conventional foods is below that associated with any health risk (unless they are eating food that has been grown on cadmium contaminated soil), this is one area where organic foods may have a larger margin of safety.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line though is that the whole organic vs conventional food is a pointless distraction. Australians don’t eat anywhere near enough fruit and vegetables, in fact only 5.5% of adults have adequate intake of fruit and vegetables. Worrying about whether having 25% more antioxidant in organic fruit is irrelevant when we don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables in the first place, if you eat the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables you will have adequate nutrition with sufficient vitamins and antioxidants for healthy life, the minor differences between organic and conventional foods will have no impact at all.

As someone remarked to me this morning “people will line up overnight for a donut, no one lines up for a broccoli floret” . Therein lies the problem.

The Conversation

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

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

Significant difference between organic and conventional food

A new study led by Newcastle University, UK has found organic crops and crop-based food contain up to 69 percent more key antioxidants than conventionally-grown crops.

The study, which is said to be the largest of its kind, recruited a team of international experts to analyse 343 studies into the compositional differences between organic and conventional crops.

The researchers found that organic fruit, vegetables and cereals provide additional antioxidants equivalent to eating between one-two extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day, in addition to significantly lower levels of toxic heavy metals when compared to conventional crops.

“This study demonstrates that choosing food produced according to organic standards can lead to increased intake of nutritionally desirable antioxidants and reduced exposure to toxic heavy metals,” said Newcastle University Professor of Ecological Agriculture and lead researcher of the study, Carlo Leifert.

“This constitutes an important addition to the information currently available to consumers which until now has been confusing and in many cases is conflicting.”

According to the researchers, the study represented the most “extensive analysis of the nutrient content in organic vs conventionally-produced foods ever undertaken,” and that the findings contradict those of the 2009 UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) commissioned study which found that there no significant differences between organic and non-organic crops.

Leifert says that in contrast to the FSA commissioned study which based its conclusions on only 46 publications covering crops, meat and dairy, Newcastle’s meta-analysis is based on data from 343 peer-reviewed publications on the composition difference between organic and conventional crops now available.

“The main difference between the two studies is time,” says Leifert.

“Research in this area has been slow to take off the ground and we have far more data available to us now than five years ago”.

The study found that concentrations of antioxidants such as polyphenolics were between 18-69 percent higher in organically-grown crops. Substantially lower concentrations of a range of the toxic heavy metal cadmium were also detected in organic crops, together with lower nitrogen concentrations – concentrations of total nitrogen were 10 percent, nitrate 30 percent and nitrite 87 percent lower in organic compared to conventional crops. 

The study also found that pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in conventional crops than organic ones.

 “The organic vs non-organic debate has rumbled on for decades now but the evidence from this study is overwhelming – that organic food is high in antioxidants and lower in toxic metals and pesticides,” said Leifert.

“But this study should just be a starting point.  We have shown without doubt there are composition differences between organic and conventional crops, now there is an urgent need to carry out well-controlled human dietary intervention and cohort studies specifically designed to identify and quantify the health impacts of switching to organic food.”

The study was published in the British Journal of Nutrition and jointly funded by the European Framework 6 programme and the Sheepdrove Trust.

 

Asian export opportunities: The Week in Focus [video]

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In our latest Week in Focus video, we discuss the growing export opportunities for Australian food manufacturers in Asia.

Food magazine journalist, Aoife Boothroyd, talks about the AFGC's partnership with Austrade, which has seen the production of a series of reports aimed at deepening the industry's understanding of export opportunities in Asia.

We also look at the recent signing of the Japan Australia Economic Partnerships Agreement.

 

Japan Australia Economic Partnerships Agreement signed

Japan has now been cemented as a key destination for Australian vegetable exports with the signing of the Japan Australia Economic Partnerships Agreement (JAEPA) according to Ausveg.

Ausveg national manager – export development, Hayden Moore, says that carrots, leeks, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower will benefit most from the agreement with the elimination of the three percent tariff on entry.

Moore also added that Australia's reputation for delivering high quality produce has helped increase the value of exports.

“The increase in the value of vegetable exports from Australia to Japan is indicative of the rise in demand for high quality and safe vegetables in Asia,” said Moore. 

Currently, vegetable exports to Japan are valued at over $51 million, and the total value of vegetable exports to Japan has increased by 26 percent since 2007-08.

“There is still work to be done with Japan as far as market access is concerned. A number of commodities cannot enter Japanese for quarantine purposes, such as pumpkins and potatoes. We encourage the Government to increase its focus on agreeing on quarantine conditions with the Japanese Government.” 

“This will allow Australian vegetable exporters to realise the full potential of JAEPA. We are hopeful that the free trade agreement between Australia and Japan will provide impetus to the campaign for market access for key commodities,” said Moore. 

 

Fair work inspectors to visit greater Darwin

Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors will visit fruit and vegetable growers in the Greater Darwin area this month.

Melon, banana and vegetable growers will be visited by the Fair Work Ombudsman Regional Services Team to ensure seasonal workers are being paid their correct wages and entitlements.

Fair Work is making the unannounced visits as part of its three-year Harvest Trail project, which is in response to persistent complaints and concerns about the horticulture sector’s compliance with federal workplace laws.

Farmers and labour-hire contractors will be asked to open their books, allowing inspectors to view records, with a particular emphasis on minimum pay rates, loadings and penalties.

Record keeping and payslip obligations will also be monitored.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said it is important that horticulture sector employers in Darwin understand their workplace obligations.

James says Darwin fruit and vegetable growers rely heavily on labour from unskilled workers, temporary workers and employees from a non-English speaking background who may not be fully aware of their workplace rights.

“It is important that local employers understand and are complying with their workplace obligations,” she said.

The first preference of Fair Work inspectors will be to work co-operatively with employers to assist them to correct any issues by agreement and put processes in place to ensure future compliance.

However, they will consider enforcement measures in cases of serious non-compliance, such as issuing Infringement Notices (on-the-spot fines) of up to $2550.

In the event of a matter being so serious it warrants subsequent legal action, penalties of up to $51,000 per breach are applicable to companies and $10,200 to individuals.

James said checking that employers are complying with their obligation to have written agreements in place for workers paid piece-work rates is also a key focus of the Harvest Trail program.

“This is a really important issue. In the absence of a piece-work agreement workers are required to be paid hourly rates of pay according to the Horticulture Award 2010,” she said. “We want to ensure employers understand and meet their workplace obligations and we are also seeking information about industry factors that influence compliance levels.”

Ms James says complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman from fruit and vegetable pickers have identified a number of common issues, including:

  • Employees being unaware of who their legal employer is because they do not receive pay slips and are paid cash by a third party who may not be their employer,
  • Employers underpaying the minimum hourly rate under the Horticulture Award 2010,
  • Employers failing to keep time and wages records, particularly for casual employees,
  • Employers failing to give new employees a copy of the Fair Work Information statement, and
  • Employers making unlawful deductions to employees’ wages.

The Fair Work Ombudsman recently established an Overseas Workers’ Team (OWT) in recognition that overseas workers can be vulnerable to exploitation, or require specialist assistance.

Overseas workers are often not fully aware of their workplace rights under Australian laws – and youth, language and cultural barriers can also create difficulties for them.

Complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman from overseas workers come most frequently from South Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese workers. 

 

Jamie Oliver campaign success a “furphy”: AUSVEG

Woolworths has claimed its Jamie Oliver healthy eating campaign has been “great” for growers, but AUSVEG isn’t convinced.

Woolworths has said the campaign has received a “great response from customers” who are “buying more fresh food”, ABC Rural reports.

“It's great for our customers to be eating better and great for our growers to be selling more fresh produce,” Woolworths said in a statement.

But AUSVEG chief executive Richard Mulcahy said Woolworths’ does not have evidence to back its claims.

“Frankly, we're a bit sceptical about what benefits will flow to us,” Mulcahy said. “We'd like to see people increase their consumption, but I'd have to say that generic marketing of fruit and vegetables – there's a long history of this not having much impact.”

“In terms of the overall per capita consumption, we've seen very little movement in 20 years.”

“I don't think this will have any positive impact … I think that's a furphy. I think it's all about market share for a particular chain. Not one country in the world that has embarked in generic marketing has seen any per-capita increase in consumption,” he said.

The campaign has been heavily scrutinised by AUSVEG, who called upon the ACCC to investigate Woolworths’ behaviour, who are allegedly seeking contributions from Australia’s horticulturalists to pay for their Jamie Oliver campaign.

According to AUSVEG, the payment is in the form of a new 40c per crate charge on top of the 2.5 – 5 per cent fee growers are already required to pay Woolworths for them to market and promote their produce.

Woolworths said the contribution was entirely voluntary and that the contribution is less than 2 per cent of the cost of a case of produce.

AUSVEG then wrote to Jamie Oliver, requesting that he ask the retailer to give refunds to the farmers who have contributed to the campaign.

The Jamie Oliver Group responded and said Oliver is concerned, but has no sway with the grocery retailer.

In a letter to AUSVEG, the Jamie Oliver Group said “Jamie, naturally, is concerned when he hears about small producers suffering financial hardship and your letter will be discussed with Woolworths further at our next senior-level meeting to ensure farmers are completely clear about the aims of the program”.

 

New “black apple” developed to rival Pink Lady

The same WA researchers that developed the Pink Lady have grown a new “black apple”, following 20 years of research.

The Department of Agriculture and Food has 75,000 trees sitting in nurseries near Manjimup ready to distribute to growers, The West Australian reports.

It’s expected it will take about two years for the fruit officially known as ANABP 1 to appear on shop shelves.

Agriculture Minister Ken Baston revealed on Wednesday (2 July) that agreements were in place for the apple to go into commercial production, with Fruit West Co-operative managing the process.

Baston said the royalty stream had the potential to underpin the future of Australian apple breeding.

Fruit West Co-operative chairman Ben Darbyshire said he took his hat off to the world-class team based at Manjimup who developed the apple.

"It is a special apple in a lot of ways," Mr Darbyshire said. "It connects with the eye and has a magical taste.

"This apple will be available for every grower to plant and ultimately it will be dev-eloped as a global variety.

"We have tried to align it with the Pink Lady, which came out of the same world-class breeding program."

The apple has been kept under wraps up until now after it was assessed and the intellectual property rights locked away.

The fruit has been taste-tested in virtual secret on consumers while trees were grown in limited numbers on South West orchards.

The apple was developed under the Australian National Apple Breeding Program with investment from the State Government and Horticulture Australia.

 

Citrus producers enjoying 30 percent price boost

Citrus producers in Western Australia are experiencing a price boost due to a strong overseas demand.

WA Citrus Industry Improvement Group chair Shane Kay said early season prices are up about 30 per cent on the same time last year, ABC Rural reports.

Kay said markets such as China are responsible for the price hike, and he expects demand to continue.

"The demand and the price has been quite good," Kay said.

"Most growers I've spoken to are quite happy with the way things are going," he said.

"There's been a lot of citrus exported from Australia this year, the demand into some of the export markets is quite strong from the eastern states.

"The last two or three years have been pretty tough for citrus, it's refreshing to start off on the right foot.

"The way the demand is, I can't see why it will change too much.

Last week The China Agricultural Wholesale Markets Association (CAWA) signed a memorandum of understanding with Citrus Australia, aimed at boosting exports from Australia.

 

Retailers need better labelling education: A&PA

Retailers need to be better educated about country-of-origin labelling education from state and local governments, Apple and Pear Australia Limited has told a parliamentary inquiry.

Apple and Pear Australia Limited industry services manager Annie Farrow said while Australia’s supermarkets, in particular Coles and Woolworths, were “very good” at adhering to labelling laws introduced in 2006, there were “hundreds and hundreds of greengrocers (where) those rules aren’t being enforced”, The Weekly Times reports.

Farrow was giving evidence at a House of Representatives agriculture standing committee inquiry in Melbourne looking into country-of-origin food labelling.

Farrow told the inquiry she visited three green grocers last Thursday and “two had abso­lutely no mention anywhere where their products came from” while the third had three categories labelled from an offering of almost 30.

“We’re not after policemen to go out there and reprimand or fine retailers for not labelling properly,” she said. “But there should be greater effort put on educating retailers.

“Consumers want to know where their products come from.”

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said as the enforcement agency under the code, councils had “a legislated responsibility” to crack down on retailers flouting the rules.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce earlier this year said the inquiry was prompted by widespread misinterpretation of the terms “Made in Australia”, “Product of Australia” and “Made from Australian and imported ingredients”.

In May, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) said it is willing to work with stakeholders to help meet community expectations for country of origin labelling.

CEO Gary Dawson has said that there could be an opportunity to re-work current terms such as “grown in and product of”, to increase community understanding without developing a new network of regulation.

The Australian-Made campaign said they welcomed the country-of-origin inquiry when it was announced, and then gave evidence at the inquiry on 8 May.

Australian Made’s chief executive Ian Harrison, together with compliance and policy manager Lisa Crowe, made recommendations to the committee on how food labelling laws could be improved to support Australian growers and manufacturers.

Harrison and Crowe stated that an effective country-of-origin labelling system that is both understood and trusted by consumers, will help combat companies that are “attempting to mislead consumers regarding their products’ true country-of-origin.”

“Today we again recommended that the regulations under Australian Consumer Law fall into line with the more stringent rules for using the Australian Made, Australian Grown logo, thereby eradicating some of the loopholes that currently exist,” Harrison said.

 

GM techniques: from the field to the laboratory

Welcome to GM in Australia, a series looking at the facts, ethics, regulations and research into genetically modified crops. In this first instalment, Peter Langridge describes two GM techniques: selective breeding and genetic engineering.


Genetic modification (GM) sounds very laboratory-based – people in white coats inserting and deleting genes – but the vast majority of GM work was completed in the field through selective breeding.

Early Middle Eastern farmers collected grain from natural grasslands, but they needed to time their harvest very carefully. If they were too early the grain wouldn’t store well, and if they were too late the grain would spread over the ground making collection difficult.

At some stage, one of these early farmers must have noticed that some heads remained fixed on their stems even after the grain was fully dry. He obviously didn’t understand this at the time, but these were plants with a mutation in the genes controlling seed dispersal.

Farmers began preferentially choosing plants with this useful mutation and planting them, perhaps the first case of breeding and selecting for a novel trait.

Exploiting genetic variation

 

Gregor Mendel. Wikimedia, CC BY

 

Systematic breeding really began in the early 1900s when scientists rediscovered Silesian monk Gregor Mendel’s groundbreaking work on genetic inheritance in peas.

Breeding involves utilising genetic variation to produce new combinations of genes and gene variants. A breeder will cross two different lines and then select offspring that have improved performance.

Breeders are always looking for new sources of variation, normally from within the elite germplasm pool – that is, within established varieties. Many important traits, such as disease resistance, are controlled by single genes and can be crossed into elite lines, with only the resistant offspring selected.

But for many crops the level of diversity available within the elite germplasm pool is very narrow and breeders must look further afield for novel variation. This search led breeders to explore land races (varieties grown by traditional farmers) and even wild relatives (undomesticated progenitors of our modern crops).

In many cases crosses between the wild relatives and modern lines will not produce normal seeds, but the embryos can often be isolated from the developing seed and grown in sterile tissue culture to produce viable, fertile plants.

This technique, called embryo rescue, has been widely used and many modern cultivars contain genes from wild relatives.

 

danbruell/Flickr, CC BY-ND

 

The normal number of genes present in a crop plant is around 30,000 to 40,000 – the same as for humans. In making the crosses all 30,000 genes from the wild relative are introduced but the breeder may only want one gene.

The genes are linked along chromosomes with each chromosome carrying several thousand genes. The breeders need to break up the chromosomes from the wild relative into small fragments so that only the desired region is transferred – a process called chromosome engineering.

This can take several decades of work, making the use of wide crosses technically difficult and slow. Breeders want other methods of generating useful variation.

Engineering mutations

In the 1950s the idea of inducing mutations became an important technique for creating new variation. This involved using ionising radiation, such as X or gamma rays, or chemical mutagens.

These techniques produce random damage to the genetic information in the plant by changing the DNA directly or knocking out segments of the genome (the genetic make-up). Most mutations are deleterious, and the mutagenesis usually generates many thousands of unwanted changes, so the clean-up can be slow.

After exposing the plants to the mutagen, the breeders need to select for the beneficial mutations and remove the deleterious mutations.

Scientifically the ideal solution would be to be able to take a gene from any source and introduce it into your crop plant to change the plant’s characteristics. This would allow breeders to use variation from diverse sources and make changes just one gene at a time without the extensive collateral damage done by mutagenesis or wide crosses. This is what genetic engineering offers.

 

 

Enter the lab coats …

The first genetically engineered crops were produced in the 1980s and, as in all areas of science, the technology continues to advance. The most widely used method today takes advantage of a natural DNA transfer mechanism.

Several groups of soil bacteria are able to engineer plants for their own benefit. These bacteria transfer a segment of their genome into the plant’s genome so that the transformed plant cells will proliferate and produce compounds that only the bacteria can use. In this way the bacteria control the plant development to produce nutrients for the bacteria.

The mechanisms for this type of natural genetic engineering are now well understood, allowing scientists to change the DNA segment transferred so that the genes causing altered plant growth are removed and new genes inserted.

How does this work practically? In a laboratory the scientist will design and build a DNA sequence containing specific sequences that delineate the region of DNA to be transferred (the left and right borders). They then insert the gene of interest and usually a selectable marker, such as resistance to a herbicide.

 

Agrobacterium tumefaciens attaching to a plant cell. Wikimedia, CC BY

 

This construct is then introduced into a bacteria called Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which readily takes up DNA. The bacteria are then applied to growing plant tissues in sterile culture.

After a period the bacteria are removed and the plant tissues placed onto media containing the herbicide. Only the plant cells that have been transformed (those that took up the construct from the bacterium) are able to grow and divide.

These cells are allowed to multiply and divide until they produce plants, which are taken out of sterile culture to a glasshouse where they can grow to maturity. The genes that have been transferred will now be included in the genetic make-up of the plant.

Different species and even varieties will differ in their ability to take up DNA from the bacterium and to regenerate normal plants. Where in the genome the new DNA inserts is usually random but will preferentially occur in regions containing active genes.

Extensive growth trails and evaluation are needed to ensure that the transgenic or genetically engineered plant behaves as expected.

… and back to the field

In Australia all aspects of genetic engineering research are closely regulated. The researcher, organisation and facilities used must all be licensed and meet tight standards.

Before a field trial can be grown, the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) conducts a detailed risk assessment of the genes used, the reasons for the trial, and the design and management of the trial site.

The OGTR have issued 103 licenses for field trials covering 14 different crops. In Australia 37 genetically engineered crops have been approved for commercial cultivation for seven different species, but only GM cotton (eight different events) and canola (three events) are grown to any great extent.

 

BASF – The Chemical Company/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

 

The resistance to GM crops in many parts of the world has encouraged scientists to look for alternative techniques for making targeted changes to the genetic make-up of crops and other organisms.

For example, a new technique called “genome editing” allows us to make specific changes to native genes within the plant that are essentially identical to the changes induced by mutagenesis but at only one site rather than all over the genome. Mutagenesis is widely used and is not subject to regulation – will the same apply to genome editing?

There are other developments that are also challenging the community’s views on new technologies. How will people feel about GM crops where a native gene has been isolated, changed and re-inserted (a process known as cisgenics)?

What about using GM rootstocks engineered for resistance to root diseases, but grafted with non-GM scion so that they produce non-GM apples or avocados?

These questions are now challenging the regulators since the first examples are starting to become available.

The Conversation

Peter Langridge receives research funding from Pioneer/Dupont, the Australian Research Council, the Grains Research and Development Corporation, the South Australian Government, Australia/India Strategic Research Fund and the US AID program . He provides advice to several public sector research organisation in Europe, North America and to international agricultural aid programs.

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

Fair Work inspectors visit Bundaberg

Six Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors will fly into Bundaberg today and make unannounced visits to local fruit and vegetable farms in response to complaints and concerns about non-compliance with federal workplace laws.

Farmers and labour-hire contractors will be asked to open their books, allowing inspectors to view records, with a particular emphasis on minimum pay rates, loadings and penalties. Record keeping and payslip obligations will also be monitored.

In addition to field visits, inspectors will run an information booth tomorrow (24 June) at the Federal Backpackers Hostel in Bundaberg.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said key stakeholders have been enlisted to assist the Agency promote the need for compliance and a “level playing field” for all employers.

These include the Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Growcom and Bundaberg and District Chamber of Commerce.

James says Bundaberg relies heavily on labour from working holiday makers, many of whom undertake seasonal harvest work to help qualify for a second-year visa.

“We have recently received information that suggests some of these workers may be being underpaid, so we intend to investigate and ensure that employers understand and are complying with their workplace obligations,” she said.

The first preference of Fair Work inspectors will be to work co-operatively with employers to assist them to correct any issues by agreement and put processes in place to ensure future compliance.

However, they will consider enforcement measures in cases of serious non-compliance, such as issuing Infringement Notices (on-the-spot fines) of up to $2550.

In the event of a matter being so serious it warrants legal action, penalties of up to $51,000 per breach are applicable to companies and $10,200 to individuals.

James said checking that employers are complying with their obligation to have written agreements in place for workers paid piece-work rates will also be a key focus of the program.

“This is a really important issue. In the absence of a piece-work agreement workers are required to be paid hourly rates of pay according to the Horticulture Award 2010,” she said.

Over the next few years the Fair Work Ombudsman will visit dozens of fruit and vegetable farms throughout Australia as part of its focus on the entitlements of seasonal harvest workers.

“We want to ensure employers understand and meet their workplace obligations and we are also seeking information about industry factors that influence compliance levels,” she said.

James says complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman from fruit and vegetable pickers in the region have identified a number of common issues, including:

  • Employees being unaware of who their legal employer is because they do not receive pay slips and are paid cash by a third party who may not be their employer,
  • Employers underpaying the minimum hourly rate under the Horticulture Award 2010,
  • Employers failing to keep time and wages records, particularly for casual employees,
  • Employers failing to give new employees a copy of the Fair Work Information statement, and
  • Employers making unlawful deductions to employees’ wages.

A decision to pro-actively monitor workplace compliance in Bundaberg follows auditing in Caboolture, South-East Queensland, last year which found that more than 150 seasonal workers had been short-changed about $133,000.

The Fair Work Ombudsman recently established an Overseas Workers’ Team (OWT) in recognition that overseas workers can be vulnerable to exploitation, or require specialist assistance.

Complaints to the Fair Work Ombudsman from overseas workers come most frequently from South Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese workers.

For more information about workplace laws, click here.