New food allergy resource website for young people

Teens and young people living with severe food allergies are being encouraged to start a conversation with their peers via a new website that could potentially save their lives.

Federal Assistant Minister for Health, Dr David Gillespie said the new Coalition Government funded website,, was developed under the National Allergy Strategy.

“Around 250,000 young Australians live with severe – and potentially life threatening – allergies,” Minister Gillespie said.

“Managing severe food allergies can be a significant challenge for teens and young adults, particularly in social situations, or when starting new relationships.

“If others are aware of their allergy and what to do, it can potentially save their lives in the event of a severe allergic reaction.”

Minister Gillespie said research had found many young people feel too embarrassed to talk about their allergy with their peers.

“The website operates just like an app, and allows young people to develop their own avatar and use it to talk to their friends or others with severe allergies about their experiences,” Minister Gillespie said.

“It’s a step removed from having a face-to-face conversation that may make them uncomfortable, and the avatars can even be used to show how an EpiPen works, without the person having to demonstrate it themselves.

“There’s also practical information for young people on how they can manage their severe allergy.”

Minister Gillespie also announced that the Coalition Government would provide $1.1 million next financial year for the National Allergy Strategy, to help progress the implementation of allergy prevention strategies.

“This new funding demonstrates our commitment to people living with allergies and the challenges they face,” Minister Gillespie said.

He said the Coalition Government also provided support for management and treatment of allergies.

“There are specific Medicare Benefits Schedule items for subsidised chronic disease management consultations and allied health services, while in 2015-16 we spent $37.2 million under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule on subsidised allergy medications,” Minister Gillespie said.

“We are also investing in allergen research through the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Government’s new Biomedical Translation Fund.

“Other government initiatives to help people to manage severe allergies include allergen information on food labels and guidelines on preventing or managing food allergies in food for infants and in school canteens.”

High times for Australia’s hemp-in-food sector

Following the recent approval of low-THC hemp seed products to be used as a food additive by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), hemp seeds may soon be coming to a food manufacturer near you. As Branko Miletic writes, now the product just needs the federal government’s blessing.

The Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association (TFGA) CEO Peter Skillern is definitely someone who could be counted as very much a supporter of hemp in food.

“We’ve been arguing this decision was necessary to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the hemp industry in Tasmania. It’s a giant step forward,” Skillern told The Advocate newspaper.

But it’s not just the Apple Isle where the hemp-in-food movement is gaining support, One of Australia’s most passionate hemp- in-food advocates, Hemp Foods Australia (HFA), has calculated the international market for hemp foods to be currently worth around US$ 1 billion ($1.3 billion) annually.

Speaking on the potential for hemp in the domestic food market, HFA CEO Paul Benhaim said the demand for Australian hemp-based foods will “quadruple in the next few years.”

“This is another positive step in the years long work and investment in achieving legislation for Omega-3 rich hemp as a food in Australia,” he said.

More approval needed

The decision by FSANZ was another step toward encouraging federal ministers to approve of the plant for human consumption – a decision that is due to go before the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation on April 28, when the next Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting is scheduled to take place.

However, not everyone is sure about hemp being approved for food use. NSW Greens upper house MP Jeremy Buckingham has said previous resistance to the legalisation of hemp-derived foods had come from health and police ministers in Victoria and New South Wales who have twice raised concerns about hemp’s interaction with road-side drug testing.

“They’ve said there’s a health risk, they’ve also said it could give false positives in term of mobile drug testing.”

“There’s absolutely no evidence for that anywhere in the world,” Buckingham said.

“All over the world people are rushing into this industry, and Australia is missing out because our politicians are stuck in the 20th century,” he told the ABC.

Benhaim said he and the HFA were confident that the ministers will grant legislation on April 28, which will see hemp foods become legal to purchase from November 2017.

“[This decision] will also contribute significantly toward more sustainable farming in Australia, with the added bonus of creating considerable job opportunities for Australia’s farming industry,” he said.

“Hemp Foods Australia is very excited about seeing the versatility of hemp seeds, hemp oil and hemp protein being used throughout the food and beverage industry.”

The community attitude towards hemp has also changed markedly over time, with the community opinion now declared as being “extremely positive” according to Benhaim.

“This [attitude] has changed significantly since I first became involved in the industry in the early 1990’s.”

“People used to think that hemp may contain drug-like effects. Of course that is not true. You could smoke a field of hemp and all you would do is get a headache – FSANZ has proven this multiple times, and the public also understands this is a healthy superfood.”

Hemp as a superfood

According to Pure Healing Foods, hemp seeds these days are being classified as a “superfood”, one that has been shown to provide a range of health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing inflammation along with a range of weight loss benefits.

From a chemical point of view, hemp seeds are packed with an array of useful fats, proteins, vitamins and trace elements including Omega 3 and Omega 6, Gamma Linolenic

Acid (GLA), amino acids, carotene, phospholipids, potassium sulfur, calcium, copper and Vitamins B1, B2, B6, D, E and chlorophyll.

According to a Rutgers University study, while its fatty acid composition is most often noted, with an oil content ranging from 25-35 per cent, whole hemp seed is additionally comprised of approximately 20-25 per cent protein, 20-30 per cent carbohydrates, and 10-15 per cent fibre, along with an array of trace minerals.

With a complete source of all essential amino and fatty acids, hemp seed oil is a complete nutritional source noted the Rutgers study.

In light of this nutritional data, in the US, while not yet approved for human consumption, hemp seeds are being touted as an additive for stock feed, with Colorado the latest state to draft legislation to approve the seeds for livestock feeding.

Colorado livestock could be eating hemp early next year, thanks to a bill which directs the Colorado Department of Agriculture to study the use of hemp in animal feed.

On a federal level, the US government started allowing farmers to grow hemp under limited circumstances back in 2014.

The United States Food and Drug Authority (USFDA) still classifies hemp the same way as the whole Cannabis sativa plant – even if it has a concentration of no more than 0.3 per cent Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid or THC, the intoxicating substance found in marijuana. This means its passage through the various US state and federal legislatures could still be fraught with a range of hurdles.

But it’s the addition to food for human consumption that excites organisations like the HFA.

“As well as the excellent nutritional properties, hemp has a great flavour and tastes nice on its own,” said Benhaim.

“I expect hemp to be part of every food category you can imagine – from drinks, to ready meals, to dried goods, frozen and more. Hemp truly is a tasty and versatile food that contains the nutritional benefits that ensure the consumer comes back for more each time.”

Export markets set to flower

 It’s not just domestic consumption where hemp as a food additive may find a market-places like North America, Japan, Korea and Europe are the main markets for such products, and HFA said that it has positioned itself to be at the forefront of the Australasian market having the only fully integrated production plan capable of thousands of tonnes of high quality products made in a HACCP environment.

The Australian government is also onboard and is currently helping upgrade the HFA factory at Bangalow in northern New South Wales with a $600,000 grant that is going towards the $1.18 million state-of-the-art processing facility.

However, Benhaim is at pains to stress that HFA will be taking small steps to start with.

“At the moment, we prefer to work at our core business, which is farming, processing and preparing raw materials (hemp seeds, oil, protein and flour) for others to take advantage of and to market themselves,” he said.

New jobs for Melbourne-based Mexican food supplier

Boutique Mexican food supplier El Cielo Foods will create ten new jobs, invest in state-of-the-art equipment and boost its productivity with the help of a grant from the Victorian Government.

Visiting El Cielo Foods in Port Melbourne, Minister for Industry and Employment Wade Noonan announced the company had received funding from the Future Industries Manufacturing Program.

El Cielo Foods will purchase and install equipment including conveyers, packaging and bagging machines, hoppers and industrial sifters.

The grant will also be used to establish a new facility in Airport West and upskill existing workers through specialised training for a new production line.

The company hopes to triple its production of corn chips – sourced from locally grown corn – to meet increased demand.

Established in 2012, the company is a leading manufacturer of traditional corn tortilla, traditional corn chips and tostadas.

El Cielo Foods produces its own corn flour and masa (dough) on site in Port Melbourne using traditional Mexican manufacturing processes, and distributes them nationwide.

This grant builds on the 19 projects already underway to support Victorian manufacturers, which are set to create 159 new full time jobs.

“These grants are giving businesses like El Cielo foods a chance to grow their workforce and expand production,” commented Minister for Industry and Employment Wade Noonan.

“We’re proud to be helping manufacturers invest in new technologies that will transition Victoria towards an advanced manufacturing economy.”

Image: El Cielo Foods



Welfare Group calls for taxes on sugary drinks, alcohol

The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has called on the Government to implement a raft of measures, including taxes on alcohol and sugary drinks, as an alternative to budget cuts.

“After two years of chasing the ill-conceived 2014 Budget cuts, it’s time the Government recast its Budget strategy and moved on from the one-sided focus on spending cuts, particularly in social security,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“ACOSS proposes a suite of measures that will save $9.4 billion by 2018-19 in addition to putting $4 billion into critical social infrastructure to reduce poverty and inequality in Australia.

“Australia is a low-spending country on social security, spending just 9% of GDP on welfare compared with the OECD average of 12.4%. We are also the sixth lowest taxing country of 34 OECD countries.”

The welfare group says the revenue accrued from the changes should be used to reform these welfare payments.

Specifically, ACOSS wants a ‘sugar tax’ on sweetened drinks that it says would save $500m in 2018-19. In addition, the organisation wants the Government to abolish the Wine Equalisation Tax and WET Rebate, and tax wine and ciders at (two) uniform rates. This, it says, would save $2,300m in 2018-19.

Goldie said that, apart from raising revenue, these measures “should improve public health and help ease future pressures on the health care system”.

Further measures proposed by ACOSS include changes to capital gains tax, deductions to negative gearing, removal of the private health insurance rebate, abolishing the extended Medicare safety net, and superannuation contribution reforms.

Bega Cheese fined for dangerous goods breach

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has fined Bega Cheese Limited, Bobbins Transport Pty Limited and an employee of the transport company for not carrying the appropriate dangerous goods transport documentation.

EPA Regional Director for South and West Gary Whytcross said that compliance with the regulations reduced the risks transport of dangerous goods could pose to the community and environment.

“Bega Cheese, the transport company and driver all had a responsibility to ensure the appropriate dangerous goods transport documentation was carried with the vehicle,”  Whytcross said.

“Having this information on what dangerous goods are being transported to hand, is particularly important if there were to be an accident; it reduces the risk to police and the emergency services personnel responding to the accident, providing crucial information to inform their response and allow them to act quickly.”

The dangerous goods offences were detected during a joint EPA, NSW Police and Roads and Maritime Services compliance operation at Bega in early 2016.

During the operation EPA officers inspected a heavy vehicle carrying 13 x 1000L intermediate bulk containers classified as dangerous goods under the Dangerous Goods (Road and Rail Transport) Act 2008.

The EPA fined Bega Cheese $1,300 for consigning dangerous goods for transport without compliant transport documentation.

The transport company, Bobbins Transport was fined $2,000 for failing to ensure compliant transport documentation was carried and the driver of the vehicle was fined $260 for failure to carry transport documentation.

The tragic story of Soviet genetics shows the folly of political meddling in science

A few years ago, one of us (Ian) was lucky enough to be invited to visit the N.I. Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry in St Petersburg, Russia. Every plant breeder or geneticist knows of Nikolai Vavilov and his ceaseless energy in collecting important food crop varieties from all over the globe, and his application of genetics to plant improvement.

Nikolai Vavilov was pilloried because he wasn’t a political favourite in Soviet Russia.
Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

Vavilov championed the idea that there were Centres of Origin (or Diversity) for all plant species, and that the greatest variation was to be found in the place where the species evolved: wheat from the Middle East; coffee from Ethiopia; maize from Central America, and so on.

Hence the Centres of Origin (commonly known as the Vavilov Centres) are where you should start looking to find genotypes – the set of genes responsible for a particular trait – with disease resistance, stress tolerance or any other trait you are looking for. This notion applies to any species, which is why you can find more human genetic variation in some African countries than in the rest of the world combined.

By the late 1920s, as director of the Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Vavilov soon amassed the largest seed collection on the planet. He worked hard, he enjoyed himself, and drove other eager young scientists to work just as hard to make more food for the people of the Soviet Union.

However, things did not go well for Vavilov politically. How did this visionary geneticist, who aimed to find the means for food security, end up starving to death in a Soviet gulag in 1943?

Heroic science?

Enter the villain, Trofim Lysenko, ironically a protégé of Vavilov’s. The notorious Vavilov-Lysenko antagonism became one of the saddest textbook examples of a futile effort to resolve scientific debate using a political approach.

Lysenko’s theories went against the latest science, but prevailed due to politics.

Lysenko’s name leapt from the pages of history and into the news when Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, mentioned him during a speech at a meeting of chief scientists in Canberra this week.

Finkel was harking back to Lysenko in response to news that US President Donald Trump had acted in January to censor scientific data regarding climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency. Lysenko’s story reminds us of the dangers of political interference in science, said Finkel:

Lysenko believed that successive generations of crops could be improved by exposing them to the right environment, and so too could successive generations of Soviet citizens be improved by exposing them to the right ideology.

So while Western scientists embraced evolution and genetics, Russian scientists who thought the same were sent to the gulag. Western crops flourished. Russian crops failed.

The emerging ideology of Lysenkoism was effectively a jumble of pseudoscience, based predominantly on his rejection of Mendelian genetics and everything else that underpinned Vavilov’s science. He was a product of his time and political situation in the young USSR.

In reality, Lysenko was what we might today call a crackpot. Among other things, he denied the existence of DNA and genes, he claimed that plants selected their mates, and argued that they could acquire characteristics during their lifetime and pass them on. He also espoused the theory that some plants choose to sacrifice themselves for the good of the remaining plants – another notion that runs against the grain of evolutionary understanding.

Pravda – formerly the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party – celebrated him for finding a way to fertilise crops without applying anything to the field.

None of this could be backed up by solid evidence. His experiments were not repeatable, nor could his theories claim overwhelming consensus among other scientists. But Lysenko had the ear of the one man who counted most in the USSR: Joseph Stalin.

Head to head

The Lysenko vs Vavilov/Mendel/Darwin argument came to a head in 1936 at the Conference of the Lenin Academy when Lysenko presented his “-ism”.

In the face of scientific opinion, and the overwhelming majority of his peers, Pravda declared Lysenko the winner of the argument. By 1939, after quite a few scientists had been imprisoned, shot or “disappeared”, including the director of the Lenin Institute, there was a vacancy to be filled. And the most powerful man in the country filled it with Trofim Lysenko. Lysenko was now Vavilov’s boss.

Within a year, Vavilov was captured on one of his collection missions and interrogated for 11 months. He was accused of being a spy, having travelled to England and the United States, and been a regular correspondent with many geneticists outside the Soviet Union.

It did not help his cause that he came from a family of business people, whereas Lysenko was of peasant stock and a Soviet ideologue. Vavilov was sent to a gulag where, tragically, he died in 1943.

Meanwhile, his collection in Leningrad was in the middle of a 900-day siege. It only survived thanks to the sacrifice of his team who formed a militia to prevent the starving population (and rats) from eating the collection of more than 250,000 types of seeds, fruits and roots – even growing the potatoes in their stock near the front to ensure the tubers did not die before losing their viability.

In 1948, the Lenin Academy announced that Lysenkoism should be taught as the only correct theory, and that continued until the mid-1960s.

Redemption and regrowth

Thankfully, in the post-Stalin era, Lysenko was slowly sidelined along with his theory. Today it is Vavilov who is considered a Soviet hero.

In 1958, the Academy of Science began awarding a medal in his honour. The leading Russian plant science institute is named in his honour, as is the Saratov State Vavilov Agrarian University. In addition, an asteroid, a crater on the Moon and two glaciers bear his name.

Trofim Lysenko speaking at the Kremlin in 1935, with Stalin on the far right.

Since 1993, Bioversity International has awarded Vavilov Frankel (after Australian scientist Otto Frankel) fellowships to young scientists from developing countries to perform innovative research on plant genetic resources.

Meanwhile, research here in Australia, led by ARC Discovery Early Career Fellow Lee Hickey, we are continuing to find new genetic diversity for disease resistance in the Vavilov wheat collection.

In the post-Soviet era, students of genetics and agriculture in Russia are taught of the terrible outcomes of the applications of Lysenkoism to Soviet life and agricultural productivity.

Lysenkoism is a sad and terrible footnote in agricultural research, more important as a sadly misused “-ism” in the hands of powerful people who opt for ideology over fact. It’s also a timely reminder of the dangers of political meddling in science.

The Conversation

Ian Godwin, Professor in Plant Molecular Genetics, The University of Queensland and Yuri Trusov, Plant molecular biologist, The University of Queensland

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

Main image: Wikimedia

Tasmanian Government backs food approval for hemp

The Tasmanian Government is backing the push to approve hemp for use in food products sold in Australia and New Zealand.

As the ABC reports, the proposed law change is due to go before an Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation in April, and the Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister Jeremy Rockliff is lobbying other governments (state and federal) to support the proposal.

“We’ve been working together since we came to government to change the views of those nationally when it comes to allowing hemp food products,” Rockliff told Industrial hemp growers.

The use of hemp in food is already legal in most countries, given that hemp is not the same thing as the drug marijuana and cannot induce a ‘high’ when consumed. This is due to the fact that it contains no or very low levels of THC, the drug component that causes such an effect.

According to Phil Warner from Ecofibre Industries, the banning of hemp stems from its association with marijuana.

He told the Advocate that 90 per cent of the cannabis species have “no drug potential” and added that “it was demonised in the 1961 Single Convention [a narcotics forum] when they didn’t even know what cannabinoids were.”


Russia to ban imports of New Zealand beef

Russia is planning to temporarily ban beef and beef by-products from New Zealand, claiming they contain listeria and ractopamine, a banned feed additive.

AFP reports that Russia’s agricultural safety body Rosselkhoznadzor said in a statement that the products had been involved in “repeated violations” of standards.

In addition, the watchdog is considering a similar ban on New Zealand fish because of claims it has been found to contain mercury and listeria microbes.

Chief executive of New Zealand’s Meat Industry Association Tim Ritchie told the Ministry for Primary Industries’ residues program had not picked up the presence of ractopamine.

“As far as I’m aware there has been no formal communication through the normal regulatory channels,” he said.

Ractopamine promotes leanness and muscle growth in livestock. In New Zealand, it may be used with pork, but is prohibited for use with sheep and beef cattle.

While it is banned in Russia and the EU, it is allowed in other countries, including the US, Canada and Brazil.

Ai Group welcomes Gladys Berejiklian as new NSW Premier

The Australian Industry Group has welcomed the news that Gladys Berejiklian has replaced Mike Baird as state leader of the Liberal Party and Premier of NSW.

“Ms Berejiklian has proven in parliament to be very capable, intelligent and focused. Quietly, but with great determination, she has contributed to the State’s economic strength and its reputation as being open for business and the driver of national growth,” Ai Group NSW Branch Head, Mark Goodsell, said in a statement.

“As Minister for Transport, she helped bring a customer focus to public transport operations.

“Her predecessor, Mike Baird, leaves a great pipeline of infrastructure building. The challenge for the new Premier is to ensure those projects are used to underpin a broad economic base for the State by maximising the opportunities available for competitive local companies and supply chains to contribute.

“Ms Berejiklian’s understanding of the links between economic development and community well-being and cohesion, demonstrated in her time as Treasurer, will serve her well in her new role.”


Australia tries to plough on with TPP as Trump dumps it

The government will hold a parliamentary vote on the controversial Trans Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) despite the fact the US will not ratify it.

The ABC reports that, soon after President Donald Trump’s inauguration over the weekend the White House issued a statement saying that, as part of its strategy to protect American jobs, it would not participate in the TPP.

However, as AAP reports, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the Government will continue its efforts to see the deal come to fruition.

“We need trade, trade is driving jobs,” he told Triple M radio.

“We’re looking at every opportunity to expand the markets for Australian exports.”

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby told ABC Radio the deal was also in the interests of the United States.

“If you believe in restrictive trade why stop there? Why not just have Idaho just trading with Idaho? And Tennessee trading with Tennessee?” he said.

“It ultimately doesn’t work.”

However, shadow trade minister Jason Clare said the Government must now look for alternatives.

 “The way that the TPP works is that without the United States, the TPP doesn’t come into effect,” Clare said.

“That means the TPP is dead and Donald Trump has killed it.”


Fears Efic could fund offshore manufacturing

Australia’s export credit agency, the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic), could end up financing manufacturers that have moved offshore looking for cheaper labour and manufacturing costs, according to The Guardian.

The Australia Institute has warned in a Senate submission that a new bill to scrap the requirement on Efic to only support manufacturers that “manufacture substantially or wholly” in Australia could encourage it to fund offshore manufacturing.

The Australian minister for trade, Steve Ciobo said in November last year that the new bill would augment Efic’s ability to support small and medium-sized manufacturers who export overseas.

The change would allow Efic to finance businesses that manufacture mostly overseas rather than just provide loan guarantees.

“[The change] rightly focuses on the benefit flowing back to Australia from the export activity – like export earnings – rather than details of where the goods are assembled, where investments are made, or who the buyer is,” Ciobo said.

However, the Australia Institute said it its submission to the Senate inquiry that a garment company based in Australia could move all production offshore but still be eligible for Efic’s services”.

“This has the potential to not only deprive finance to companies that produce in Australia but also to give advantage to their competition in other countries.”

A spokeswoman for Efic said the agency was not prepared to comment.

Hemp poised for possible food approval

Hemp foods may soon be on the Aussie kitchen table with regulators set to possibly approve the plant for human consumption in April 2017.

Legislation changes are due to go before the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation next year, when the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meet. Industry leaders keenly awaiting the decision which will pave the way for Australians to reap the health, economic and environmental benefits of a healthy local hemp food industry.

Australia’s largest grower of hemp, Hemp Foods Australia, believes the decision would be significant for the economy, environment and the health of Australians.

The international market for hemp foods is currently estimated at $1 billion annually. If approved, demand for Australian hemp foods is expected to quadruple.

Hemp Foods Australia founder, Paul Benhaim, said Australian hemp farmers are excited about the prospective legalisation of the crop as a food and its separation from marijuana.

“This is a very positive step towards more sustainable farming in Australia – in addition to added job opportunities for Australia’s farming industry,” he said.

“Food Standards Australia and New Zealand has recommended that low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – the pyscho-active ingredient in marijuana) hemp be approved as a food in Australia. We have to remember that hemp is not marijuana and contains no or very low levels of THC, the drug component of marijuana.”

Hemp is also one of the most versatile and eco-friendly substances on the planet and is gaining global popularity.

If approved, Australia could save 2 billion litres of water per year simply by replacing cotton farming with hemp. This simple change could remove over 10 million kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“In addition to this, as a food, hemp is a highly nutritious source of plant-based protein and can be used as food ingredients like flour, oil and protein powder” Benhaim said.

“Hemp is a plant-based, rich source of Omegas, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and is also free from soy and diary.

“Hemp seeds contain more polyunsaturated fatty acids than any other food and are the only food to contain Omega 3 and 6 in just the right amounts to meet our nutritional needs.

“Just one tablespoon of Hemp seeds contains over 7,000mg of essential fatty acids.”

In the right proportions, hemp has also been shown to help regulate blood clotting, body temperature, blood pressure, reproduction and immune function.

The ten things Australia needs to do to improve health

In Australia, one in every two people has a chronic disease. These diseases, such as cancer, mental illness and heart disease, reduce quality of life and can lead to premature death. Younger generations are increasingly at risk.

Crucially, one-third of the disease burden could be prevented and chronic diseases often share the same risk factors.

A collaboration of Australia’s leading scientists, clinicians and health organisations has produced health targets for Australia’s population to reach by the year 2025.

These are in line with the World Health Organisation’s agenda for a 25% global reduction in premature deaths from chronic diseases, endorsed by all member states including Australia.

Today the collaboration is announcing its top ten priority policy actions in response to a recent health report card that identifies challenges to meeting the targets. The actions will drive down risk factors and help create a healthier Australia.

1. Drink fewer sugary drinks

One in two adults and three out of four children and young people consume too much sugar. Sugary drinks are the main source of sugar in the Australian diet and while many other factors influence health, these drinks are directly linked to weight gain and the risk of developing diabetes.

Putting a 20% tax on sugary drinks could save lives and prevent heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. The tax would also generate A$400 million each year that could be spent on much needed health programs.

2. Stop unhealthy food marketing aimed at kids

Almost 40% of children and young people’s energy comes from junk food. Children are very responsive to marketing and it is no coincidence almost two-thirds of food marketing during popular viewing times are unhealthy products.

Restricting food marketing aimed at children is an effective way to significantly reduce junk food consumption and Australians want action in this area. Government-led regulation is needed to drive this change.

3. Keep up the smoking-reduction campaigns

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia, although the trends are positive.

Campaigns that highlight the dangers of smoking reduce the number of young people who start smoking, increase the number of people who attempt to quit and support former smokers to remain tobacco free.

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia.

4. Help everyone quit

About 40% of Aboriginal people and 24% of people with a mental illness smoke.

To support attempts to quit, compliance with smoke-free legislation across all work and public places is vital. Media campaigns need to continue to reach broad audiences. GPs and other local health services that serve disadvantaged communities should include smoking cessation in routine care.

5. Get active in the streets

More than 90% of Australian young people are not meeting guidelines for sufficient physical activity – the 2025 target is to reduce this by at least 10%.

Active travel to and from school programs will reach 3.7 million of Australia’s children and young people. This can only occur in conjunction with safe paths and urban environments that are designed in line with the latest evidence to get everyone moving.

6. Tax alcohol responsibly

The Henry Review concluded that health and social harms have not been adequately considered in current alcohol taxation. A 10% increase on the current excise, and the consistent application of volume-based taxation, are the 2017 priority actions.

Fortunately, the trends suggest most people are drinking more responsibly. However approximately 5,500 deaths and 157,000 hospital admissions occur as a consequence of alcohol each year.

7. Use work as medicine

People with a mental illness are over-represented in national unemployment statistics. The 2025 target is to halve the employment gap.

Unemployment and the associated financial duress exerts a significant toll on the health of people with a mental illness, and costs an estimated A$2.5 billion in lost productivity each year.

Supported vocational programs have 20 years of evidence showing their effectiveness. Scaling up and better integrating these programs is an urgent priority, along with suicide prevention and broader efforts.

8. Cut down on salt

Most Australian adults consume in excess of the recommended maximum salt intake of 5 grams daily. This contributes to a high prevalence of elevated blood pressure among adults (23%), which is a major risk factor for heart diseases.

Around 75% of Australian’s salt intake comes from processed foods. Reducing salt intake by 30% by 2025, via food reformulation, could save 3,500 lives a year through reductions in heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

Reducing salt intake by 30% by 2025 could save 3,500 lives a year.

9. Promote heart health

Heart disease is Australia’s single largest cause of death, and yet an estimated 970,000 adults at high risk of a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) are not receiving appropriate treatment to reduce risk factors such as combined blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications. Under-treatment can be exacerbated by people’s lack of awareness about their own risk factors.

National heart risk assessment programs, along with care planning for high-risk individuals, offer a cost-effective solution.

10. Measure what matters

A comprehensive Australian Health Survey must be a permanent and routine survey every five years, so Australia knows how we are tracking on chronic disease.

All of these policies are effective, affordable and feasible opportunities to prevent, rather than treat, Australia’s biggest killer diseases.

Top Image:

The Conversation

Rebecca Lindberg, Research Coordinator, Victoria University; Kevin Peter Mc Namara, Senior Research Fellow in Health Services Research, Deakin University, and Sharleen O’Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, Deakin University

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

Baiada improves practices following wages scandal

Poultry processor Baiada Group has improved its workplace practices since last year’s findings of employee exploitation, according to a report by the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman last year examined the employment practices of contractors engaged at the company’s processing sites in NSW, and found exploitation of overseas workers by contractors and very poor, or no governance arrangements, by the company relating to the various labour supply chains.

A report published today details the progress the company has made in improving compliance with workplace laws at its sites as a result of entering into a Compliance Partnership with the Fair Work Ombudsman just over a year ago.

The Compliance Partnership involved Baiada last year publicly declaring it had a “moral and ethical” responsibility to join with the Fair Work Ombudsman to eliminate the exploitation of vulnerable workers by contractors at its sites.

Today’s report notes the important systems reforms Baiada has undertaken to ensure it knows who is working on its sites, and that they have been paid correctly. Baiada has also ensured workers previously underpaid have been able to claim backpay and, where a contractor has not rectified an underpayment, Baiada has taken responsibility and paid-up.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James said that while good progress has been made, the real test is the sustainability of changes over the life of the Proactive Compliance Deed and whether the culture has shifted to one of compliance throughout Baiada’s labour supply chain and across all its sites.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman will continue to work with Baiada and monitor compliance in this regard to ensure the progress continues to embed compliant practices throughout its labour supply chain and will once again report on progress in a year’s time,” she said.

Baiada Managing Director Simon Camilleri said the Proactive Compliance Partnership is a core priority for the company and has changed the way Baiada manages and operates its contract labour providers.

We have implemented significant reforms across our business to ensure contractors’ employees at our sites are being treated fairly and lawfully by their employer,” Mr Camilleri said.

“Baiada now has a stringent contractor compliance system that is rigorously enforced across all its processing sites.

“This includes Baiada taking responsibility for paying all contractors’ employees directly so they are protected from potential underpayment.”


Health leaders call for 20% sugar tax

Public health advocates meeting in Parliament House will call for a 20 per cent levy on sugar sweetened beverages as part of a broader list of 10 health priorities for Australia.

Professor Tom Calma AO, Chancellor of the University of Canberra will launch Getting Australia’s Health on Track – a policy report for a healthier Australia.

The event is hosted by the Australian Health Policy Collaboration (AHPC) together with the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA). Also speaking are Ministers Gillespie, King and Senator Di Natale.

Getting Australia’s Health on Track was developed by a national collaboration of 70 leading chronic disease experts and organisations who have also worked together on the related Australia’s Health Tracker. Australia’s Health Tracker, a national chronic disease report card was launched in July this year. Recently, the second phase of this work Australia’s Health Tracker by Area launched, providing localised data and reports on chronic diseases.

Now this work enters its third phase – Getting Australia’s Health on Track – which outlines a suite of policies that will help address the problems revealed in the Tracker data sets.

“Currently, less than 1.5 per cent of spending is dedicated to prevention. One in two Australians are now living with a chronic disease; we must take preventative actions now for a healthier future,” commented Rosemary Calder, Director AHPC.

“These 10 priority policy actions are more than health policies and offer significant social and economic benefits for Australia. Australia’s Health Tracker reveals some of the nation’s greatest health challenges – now here is a list of some of the best solutions.”

Apart from the sugar tax, the priority policy actions are:

HEALTHIER DIETS: Protect children and young people from unhealthy food and beverage TV marketing;

REDUCE SMOKING: Enhance media campaigns to reduce smoking;

REDUCE SMOKING: Reduce health and mortality disparities in disadvantaged populations caused by smoking;

INCREASE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: Invest in active travel initiatives to and from school to kickstart a national physical activity plan;

REDUCE HARM FROM ALCOHOL: Consistent volumetric tax on alcohol products and increase current tax rate;

IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH: Scale up supported vocational programs for people with a mental illness;

REDUCE BIOMEDICAL RISK: Reduce salt content in processed foods and meals to decrease the risks of high blood pressure;

REDUCE BIOMEDICAL RISK: Scale up primary care capacity in primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular risks;

MONITOR HEALTH: Invest in comprehensive national measurement and monitoring of chronic diseases and their risk factors in the population over time.


Why Trump is right, and wrong, about killing off the TPP

President-elect Donald Trump is right: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a damaging deal and deserves to be killed off.

But he tells a half truth about why the trade accord among a dozen Pacific Rim nations is a bad deal. In Trump’s view, trade agreements like NAFTA have allowed developing countries to “steal” American manufacturing jobs and decimate the well-waged middle class. This is why he says that America should reject the TPP.

But shifting the blame for American joblessness and stagnant incomes obscures the more complex, largely home-grown pressures that led U.S. companies to offshore manufacturing production to low-wage jurisdictions. Promising to tear up certain trade deals and impose tariffs on imports (chiefly from China and Mexico) will do very little if anything to reverse the problem.

The real problem is that these agreements don’t actually do enough to support freer trade. We’ve been studying trade agreements and the political foundations of industrial competitiveness in the United States, East Asia and beyond – for decades. We have witnessed how so-called “free trade deals” have become less and less about opening markets and more about entrenching monopolies. Australia, where we’re based, is also a member of the proposed TPP and, like America, stands to benefit from the deal’s abandonment.

Who’s really to blame for America’s manufacturing decline?

When Trump blames globalization for having “wiped out our middle class,” he misses the point that the main actors behind successive waves of globalization since the 1990s have been U.S. corporations themselves. And when Trump blames China (or Mexico) for stealing American jobs, he misses the point that it is U.S. companies that have been most aggressively downsizing their labour force and distributing production abroad.

Blame shifting also misses the point. It’s American corporations themselves, the key drivers of globalization (which have been the chief beneficiaries of this “downsize and distribute” approach) racking up “super profits” from what is effectively rent-seeking. They do this by exploiting – and aggressively seeking to extend – generous monopoly rights granted to them through intellectual property laws.

While Trump rails against America’s growing trade deficit with China, the reality is that the largest category of imports from that country (about 28%) is electrical equipment (for example information technology (IT) products) very often generated (designed, outsourced or contracted) by U.S. companies. These companies, like Apple, hold the patents, copyright and trademarks.

This has paved the way for some serious distortions in accounting. For example, recent research has shown that the full value of the sale of iPhones in the United States (which are assembled in China) are counted against China’s trade deficit with America.

In reality, China contributes only around 3.6% of the value of iPhone sales in parts and labor, itself importing the remainder of the more (and less) technologically advanced parts (from Japan, Germany and South Korea and beyond). U.S. companies contribute only 6% to the total parts and labor of an iPhone, but Apple takes the lion’s share of the final sale price thanks to its patent and trademark ownership.

Apple still takes a big share of the profit even though the parts and labor for an iphone mostly don’t come from the U.S.
Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

So when an iPhone sells in the United States for about $500, only $159 of this reflects content imported from China. The rest goes to American firms. And while that $159 is counted against China’s deficit with the United States, China itself only accounts for $6.50 of that value.

Seen in this light, we should not be surprised that 55% of the price U.S. consumers pay for goods imported from China actually goes to U.S. companies. Following from this, were Trump to make good on his promise to slap tariffs on imports from China, this would effectively penalize many U.S. companies.

The related problem is that decades of downsizing the manufacturing workforce and moving production overseas have gradually denuded America’s industrial ecosystem whereby the networks of equipment makers, suppliers and manufacturers needed to turn innovative ideas into products are disappearing. As one of us has shown in research, extreme offshoring is not only undermining skilled employment in the U.S. but also putting at risk the innovation that has underpinned American technological dynamism since the end of World War II.

Consequently, it’s increasingly difficult to find workers with the skills necessary to make the technologically sophisticated goods associated with the better-paid jobs of yesteryear. For example Silicon Valley, the home of most U.S. technology companies, is now a misnomer since very few semiconductors, which are primarily made of silicon, are produced there. Indeed, a more appropriate name today would be “App Valley” – and apps are not exactly the basis for a vibrant economy.

So why abandon the TPP?

Here’s where free trade deals do come into it.

Successive American administrations have further reinforced this extreme downsizing process by pushing trade agreements like the TPP that pay lip service to market access (free trade). In reality, these agreements entrench monopolies and tie the hands of governments that would otherwise take a more proactive approach to building new advanced industries and upgrading existing ones with new technology.

The creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 marked the first major shift in international trade deals away from those that prioritize freer market access and towards those that entrench monopolies through the award of generous intellectual property provisions – even at the expense of economic and social goals like encouraging innovation and protecting human health.

Subsequent reforms to the WTO’s intellectual property agreement (for example the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) gave governments at least some scope to redress the organisation’s most economically and socially distorting impacts. And the WTO’s Doha round of trade negotiations sought (albeit unsuccessfully) to focus attention on the primary issue of trade liberalization rather than further extending monopoly rights.

But the improvements being made at the WTO level are sorely missing from most bilateral and regional trade deals, especially those being driven by the U.S. Many of these – from the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement to the now defunct TPP – have sought to further extend the monopoly rights of IP-protected firms. These are the very corporate actors that most aggressively pursue the “downsize and distribute” approach.

From Apple and Dell in the IT space to Pfizer and Merck in pharmaceuticals and Nike and Gap in clothing, America’s patent, copyright and trademark-rich businesses reap major rewards for their shareholders by aggressively reducing labor costs through outsourcing. They also do it through extracting monopoly rents from their patented and trademarked technologies and designs. As recent research revealed, this also has major, negative implications for corporate investment and wage levels in the United States.

A better approach to trade

Obviously, the promotion of rent-seeking by entrenching monopoly rights has nothing to do with free trade. But the reality is that, for the United States at least, this has become a primary goal of its “free trade” agreements.

This is why the United States should abandon the TPP – and why Australia should support its abandonment. Abandoning the TPP, and requiring our governments to focus their efforts on trade deals that take a prudent approach to market access and a tough line on rent-seeking – would be beneficial for both our countries.

The Conversation

Elizabeth Thurbon, Senior Lecturer in International Relations / International Political Economy, UNSW Australia and Linda Weiss, Professor of Political Science, University of Sydney

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

Sugar tax idea “bonkers mad”, says Joyce

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has slammed the proposal to introduce a sugar tax and said eating less and exercise are the ways to reduce obesity.

As the SMH reports, Joyce was responding to a report presented to  Parliament which claims there should be a tax of 40 cents per 100 grams of sugar on sugary soft drinks.

The report by the Gratton Institute estimates that community or “third party” costs of obesity were about A$5.3 billion in 2014/15; and says a tax would not only reduce obesity levels but also recoup some of these costs.

But Joyce, who is also Agriculture Minister and has warned of the devastating affect a sugar tax would have on the sugar industry of North Queensland, said the National Party would not support it.

“If you want to deal with being overweight, here’s a suggestion: stop eating so much and do a bit of exercise,” he said.

“This is one of these suggestions right from the start we always thought was bonkers mad but now it’s getting more and more momentum so we have to say, ‘We are not going to be supporting a sugar tax’.”

He said the comparison with the tobacco excise does not hold because all cigarettes are bad for you, while the occasional soft drink is not.

“I believe in the freedom of the individual … We the government are not going to moralise about what you take out of the fridge,” he said.

A sugary drinks tax could recoup some of the costs of obesity while preventing it

Obesity is a major public health problem In Australia. More than one in four adults are now classified as obese, up from one in ten in the early 1980s. And about 7% of children are obese, up from less than 2% in the 1980s.

Obesity not only affects an individual’s health and wellbeing, it imposes enormous costs on the community, through higher taxes to fund extra government spending on health and welfare and from forgone tax revenue because obese people are more likely to be unemployed.

In our new Grattan Institute report, A sugary drinks tax: recovering the community costs of obesity, we estimate community or “third party” costs of obesity were about A$5.3 billion in 2014/15.

We propose the government put a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to recoup some of the third-party costs of obesity and reduce obesity rates. Such a tax would ensure the producers and consumers of those drinks start paying closer to the full costs of this consumption – including costs that to date have been passed on to other taxpayers. There is the added benefit of raising revenue that could be spent on obesity-prevention programs.

Prevalence of obesity in Australia.
Author provided

The scope of our proposed tax is on non-alcoholic, water-based beverages with added sugar. This includes soft drinks, flavoured mineral waters, fruit drinks, energy drinks, flavoured waters and iced teas.

While a sugary drinks tax is not a “silver bullet” solution to the obesity epidemic (that requires numerous policies and behaviour changes at an individual and population-wide level), it would help.

Why focus on sugary drinks?

Sugar-sweetened beverages are high in sugar and most contain no valuable nutrients, unlike some other processed foods such as chocolate. Most Australians, especially younger people, consume too much sugar already.

People often drink excessive amounts of sugary drinks because the body does not send appropriate “full” signals from calories consumed in liquid form. Sugar-sweetened beverages can induce hunger, and soft drink consumption at a young age can create a life-long preference for sweet foods and drinks.

We estimate, based on US evidence, about 10% of Australia’s obesity problem is due to these sugar-filled drinks.

Many countries have implemented or announced the introduction of a sugar-sweetened beverages tax including the United Kingdom, France, South Africa and parts of the United States. The overseas experience is tax reduces consumption of sugary drinks, with people mainly switching to water or diet/low-sugar alternatives.

There is strong public support in Australia for a sugar-sweetened beverages tax if the funds raised are put towards obesity prevention programs, such as making healthier food cheaper. Public health authorities, including the World Health Organisation and the Australian Medical Association, as well as advocates such as the Obesity Policy Coalition, support the introduction of a sugar-sweetened beverages tax.

What the tax would look like

We advocate taxing the sugar contained within sugar-sweetened beverages, rather than levying a tax based on the price of these drinks, because: a sugar content tax encourages manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their drinks, it encourages consumers to buy drinks with less sugar, each gram of sugar is taxed consistently, and it deters bulk buying.

The tax should be levied on manufacturers or importers of sugar-sweetened beverages, and overseas evidence suggests it will be passed on in full to consumers.

We estimate a tax of A$0.40 per 100 grams of sugar in sugary drinks, about A$0.80 for a two-litre bottle of soft drink, will raise about A$400-$500 million per year. This will reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by about 15%, or about 10 litres per person on average. Recent Australian modelling suggests a tax could reduce obesity prevalence by about 2%.

Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Low-income earners consume more sugar-sweetened beverages than the rest of the population, so they will on average pay slightly more tax. But the tax burden per person is small – and consumers can also easily avoid the tax by switching to drinks such as water or artificially sweetened beverages.

People on low incomes are generally more responsive to price rises and are therefore more likely to switch to non-taxed (and healthier) beverages, so the tax may be less regressive than predicted. Although a sugar-sweetened beverages tax may be regressive in monetary terms, the greatest health benefits will flow through to low-income people due to their greater reduction in consumption and higher current rates of obesity.

The revenue could also be spent on obesity programs that benefit the disadvantaged, reducing the regressivity of the tax.

While the beverage and sugar industries are strongly opposed to any tax on sugar, their concerns are overblown. Most of the artificially sweetened drinks and waters, which will not be subject to the tax, are owned by the major beverage companies.

A sugar-sweetened beverages tax will reduce domestic demand for Australian sugar by around 50,000 tonnes, which is only about 1% of all the sugar produced in Australia. And while there may be some transition costs, this sugar could instead be sold overseas (as 80% of Australia’s sugar production already is).

A tax on sugary drinks is a public health reform whose time has come.

The Conversation

Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute and Trent Wiltshire, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

Energy prices, taxes threatening food sector jobs

High energy costs are putting pressure on food manufacturers and threatening jobs in the sector, according to the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s State of the Industry annual report.

The 2016 version of the report, to be released today, notes that employment in the sector has “hit a wall”, standing at 317,000 jobs. This total was 322,000 in the previous year.

Exports were up 14 per cent on the previous year, but operating costs were an issue, particularly with a shortage of gas supply contracts available, supermarket price wars, and in terms of taxation.

“Company tax cuts for all business are more important than ever as a means of sparking investment, and targeted investment allow­ances must also be considered,’’ Gary Dawson, the AFGC’s chief executive told The Australian, urging the opposition to pass a proposed tax cut for companies with revenues over $10 million.

Dawson said that gas price rises of up to 95 per cent were being seen in Victoria and NSW. The states had abundant gas reserves, yet bans on unconventional gas extraction.

“We have the crazy situation where cheap ­energy should be a source of comparative advantage for Australia but instead gas and electricity price increases are putting us at a disadvantage,” said Dawson.

The 2015-2016 report is in contrast with last year’s release, which found over 3,000 jobs created in the period, a “spectacular” surge in trade with exports up 28 per cent, and “double-digit growth across a whole range of categories.”


Food governance conference for Sydney Uni this week

Sydney Law School and the Charles Perkins Centre are set to co-host a food governance conference at the University of Sydney this week.

Food Governance: The role of law, regulation, and policy in meeting 21st century challenges to the food supply takes place at Sydney Law School from 1-3 November.

The conference will examine how factors such as growth, climate change, and marketisation are challenging the ability of the world’s food systems to provide the world’s people with adequate, nutritious safe and sustainable food.

It will look at food-specific law as well as other legislative and policy regimes and ask how they affect the supply and distribution of food.

The conference provides an opportunity to hear about the latest research in this area and to hear from and network with leading researchers, decision makers, and advocates.