Fast food v councils: the battle for hearts, minds and bellies

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has just finished hearing submissions in a case against McDonald’s opening an outlet in the town of Tecoma. The case is part of a growing trend of councils recognising the insidious impact of fast food on their communities and refusing permission on public health grounds.

It was brought by the multinational fast-food corporation after Yarra Ranges Shire Council declined to grant the company a planning permit to build. The campaign against the proposal was spearheaded by the local Tecoma Village Action Group and their efforts resulted in over 1,100 individual objections being sent to the council.

Our changing diets

Rates of obesity in Australia and many other developed nations have increased rapidly over recent decades. And unhealthy diets that include too much energy-dense fast food is a key contributor to the growing prevalence of obesity, diabetes and other adverse health conditions in both adults and children.

In 2009-10, Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed that the average Australian household spent over $30 a week on fast food and takeaway items. That means each household spent over $1500 a year on fast food, an increase of over $7 a week from 2003-04.

We know that many factors influence the food we choose to purchase and consume. Busier lifestyles, more working parents, and longer working hours all play a role. But beyond individual factors, we suspect the number and type of food stores in our neighbourhood also contribute to food purchasing decisions.

 

Fast-food outlets mapped by residents of a district in East London. Mile End Residents

Access = consumption?

Fast-food stores are now more accessible than ever. And the combination of more access and busier lifestyles has likely contributed to increasing consumption of these products. While the benefit of fast food and takeaway meals is that they allow us to achieve more in our day, such consumption comes at a cost to our health.

Major fast-food companies consider a number of things when choosing the location of new outlet, including the population characteristics of an area, ease of access, and the visibility of the proposed site (for instance, whether it is on a main road). As a result of such considerations, a number of fast-food outlets are often located in close proximity to each other. And we often see neighbourhoods with large numbers of fast-food outlets.

Researchers and policy-makers are increasingly paying attention to the placement of fast-food and takeaway outlets in low-income neighbourhoods and near schools. The location of new stores is of interest because of the poorer health observed in low-income neighbourhoods and a recognition of how important it is for children to be making healthier lifestyle choices.

Although there’s increasing recognition that the neighbourhood we live in influences health behaviours, planning laws often don’t recognise this. Traditionally, proposals for development can only be opposed on planning grounds, for instance, how the development would impact aesthetics, signage, crime, parking, and traffic.

Healthier food environments

Internationally, there are a number of recent examples of the use of planning laws to limit the amount of fast food that communities are exposed to. In 2008, the City of Los Angeles passed a bill prohibiting the opening of new fast-food restaurants in low-income areas.

And, in the United Kingdom, a local council banned hot food takeaway shops from opening within 400 metres of schools’ youth facilities and parks as a way to combat childhood obesity.

 

Shimelle Laine

There’s a growing push in Australia too, for planning agencies to actively consider the health consequences of new fast food outlets. A recent South Australian case highlighted the growing awareness of the impact local food environments on behaviours and health.

Residents of a western suburb in Adelaide tried to stop a McDonalds outlet being built within 200 metres of a primary school. This case was a rare instance of fast-food access being considered in terms of consumption behaviour in Australia.

But studies considering the link between fast-food access and consumption with an adequate level of detail are rare and the evidence inconclusive. So the appeal could not be upheld on these grounds. Instead, the council decision to grant a planning permit to McDonald’s was overturned on appeal because it was at odds with other planning requirements.

Like the Tecoma and Adelaide cases, future battles between councils, communities and major food retailers will most likely be referred to the courts and administrative tribunals for final decisions.

In the meantime, the quest to better understand how different individuals interact with their local food environment and how new developments lead to changes in eating patterns continues. Better evidence would ensure that the health impacts of such proposals are more strongly considered in the future.

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

The Conversation

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

Migration bill will hurt us: produce industry

Australia’s largest representative body for the produce industry has slammed a draft migration bill, saying it shows the federal government will unnecessarily target the industry.

Ausveg says the Migration Amendment Bill 2012 released last week by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Hon. Chris Bowen MP, will negatively impact one of Australia’s most important industries.

“Federal Government plans to target growers under immigration reforms that are manifestly unfair,” AUSVEG said.

While the government maintains that the new laws aim to deter and punish employers who hire illegal workers, Ausveg says their concerns are unfounded.

“Illegal workers undermine the integrity of Australia’s migration program, reduce work opportunities for Australians, and expose vulnerable workers to exploitation,” Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen, said.

Ausveg said heavy reliance on foreign workers for seasonable work through labour hire companies is vital to ensuring the profitability of the industry and that the draft Bill is unfarly targeting the produce industry.

“These workers must adhere to strict visa conditions in order to work legally on Australian farms, however, the proposed Bill appears to place additional responsibility with vegetable growers to double check the legalities,” Ausveg chief executive Richard Mulcahy said.

Image: The ABC

All GM foods to be declared on labels if Californian bill passes

Genetically modified (GM) food is a controversial issue that is set to become an electoral one in the US, with one state set to vote on the practise.

In November, California will be the first state to vote on whether declaration labels will be mandatory on all genetically modified food.

Up to 18 states in the US have attempted to pass similar laws in the same way, but so far all have failed to make it to the statewide ballot.

But in California, Proposition 37 as it is known, has received over a million citizen signatures, indicating it will be successful and foods that have been genetically modified with have to include that information on labelling.

Those against genetically modified foods believe consumers have the right to know if what they’re eating has been created or altered in such a way.

Major food manufacturers including PepsiCo, Nestlé and Coca-Cola, however, are opposed to the legislation, arguing that fears over the lack of long term health impacts of genetically modified foods are misguided.

They even argue that the benefits of genetically modified food far outweigh the perceived negatives.

"Bioengineered crops are the safest crops in the world," Bob Goldberg, a molecular biologist who's a professor at UCLA and a member of the National Academy of Science said.

"We've been testing them for 40 years.

“They're like the Model T Ford.

“There is not one credible scientist working on this that would call it unsafe."

Up to 80 percent of all processed foods sold in the US are made with genetically modified ingredients, including corn, soybeans, sugar beets and cotton oil.

If the proposal became law in California, genetically modified processed foods would be required to include the words "Partially produced with genetic engineering" on the front or back label, while foods entirely made through GM systems would h have to declare so with a sign on the shelf.

Where do you stand on genetically modified foods? Do you think Australians need input, similar to California?

Piggery under investigation for animal cruelty

Shocking footage allegedly taken at a piggery outside Canberra, showing cruel and inhumane treatment of the animals there, has been released by activists.

Animal Liberation apparently raided the piggery on Friday night, where they recorded images of buckets filled with dead piglets and workers beating the sows while they were alive.

Fly infestations were also recorded in the footage, and Yass police has confirmed that a piggery near Murrumbateman is under investigation.

''This piggery is one of the worst examples of factory farming where animals are treated like 'production machines' and no thought is given to their capacity to suffer,” Animal Liberation NSW executive director Mark Pearson, told AAP.

''Images also included buckets of dead piglets, a sledgehammer used to bludgeon pigs, and sows with open sores.''

He said Animal Liberation NSW gathered and verified footage for two months before contacting authorities on Thursday.

Andrew Spencer, chief of industry lobby group Australian Pork Limited, also weighed in on the footage.

''The majority of pork producers in Australia rigorously adhere to world best practice when it comes to animal welfare,'' he said.

''There is no way that we can tolerate treating pigs like this.''

Earlier this year a number of other shocking abattoir conditions were unveiled, including one in NSW’s Hawkesbury region, an illegal operation in Victoria, which led to criminal charges, as well as a broiler farm that was found to be underfeeding chickens, causing them removed from the premises.

New laws, which will be introduced in NSW on 1 July next year, will ensure the humane treatment of animals in all Australian meatworks, by employing certified Animal Welfare Officers.

 

Police expected to end Coles warehouse strike

 

It is expected that Victorian police will be called in to end the blockade outside the Coles Sommerton warehouse.

Workers have been striking for over a week and preventing trucks from coming in or out, in their fight for better pay and conditions.

The Supreme Court yesterday banned the National Union of Workers from organising the protest, leading local nurses to join the picket to boost the numbers.

The Toll Group, which manages the warehouse for Coles, is adamant the blockade is illegal, and is holding discussions with police to stop it.

But striking workers are not backing down, and in a show of defiance, brought in extra firewood yesterday to keep warm at night.

Last Friday, the 600 striking workers won the right from Fair Work Australia to continue picketing, but management of the warehouse then applied for an emergency injunction to end the strike on Saturday.

What do you think of the protest? Should they be stopped by police, or are they entitled to fight?

Supreme Court expected to enforce end to Coles Warehouse strike

Despite predictions that striking workers at the Coles factory in Melbourne will lose their legal battle today, they have pledged to continue their industrial action.

After the 600 striking workers at the Sommerton factory won the right from Fair Work Australia to continue picketing on Friday, management of the warehouse then applied on Saturday for an emergency injunction to end the strike.

Toll Group lawyer Stuart Wood said the 600 striking workers need to be stopped to allow the 150 workers who want to go back to work, to do so.

'There are real-life individuals whose livelihoods are being impacted by the picket,' he told the court.

'It is having a deleterious impact on employees who wish to cross the picket and work at the Somerton site.'

The Toll Group have told the Victorian Supreme Court that stopping the strike by National Union of Workers (NUW) members is urgent because they have blocked trucks from entering or exiting the Somerton warehouse since Tuesday.

The matter was adjourned until today when union lawyers failed to appear in court.

They were not present because they had not been properly served with legal documents, which Wood said was a deliberate action intended to create significant tactical advantage by extending the blockade until today.

NUW state secretary Tim Kennedy told reporters at the picket line yesterday, that he is expecting the Supreme Court rule in favour of Toll’s application.

He said workers will continue to strike regardless.

The workers are calling for better pay and conditions.

Striking Coles workers reject offer, Fair Work expected to be called in

The dispute between workers at a Coles warehouse in Melbourne and their employer continues to escalate, with workers rejecting an offer from the company yesterday and expectations it will reach the industrial umpire today.

The strike began on Tuesday, over what workers say are conditions inferior to those at other Coles warehouses, and their decision to block trucks entering the site led to predictions that the action would soon impact Coles consumers.

The Toll Group, which manages the 600 staff at the Somerton warehouse on behalf of Coles, offered a boost of 0.5 per cent to workers' annual pay increases, bringing it to 4 per cent.

Other entitlements previously put forward, including payment of shift loading on annual leave, and the ability to earn rostered day’s off (RDO’s) were left out of the company’s offer, according to National Union of Workers (NUW) Victorian secretary, Tim Kennedy.

It is expected that the Toll Group will make an application to Fair Work Australia at 10:30 this morning to lift the picket, Kennedy said.

"The purpose of the application is to try and remove the picket," he told AAP.

But the union will contest the action, arguing that the industrial action is legal and peaceful.

"We believe and we're confident what we're doing out at Somerton is legal and within the bounds of protected action, and that it is safe and peaceful," he said.

"We feel we're on very strong grounds to defend that application."

He said the workers will continue to strike until they get the response they need from Coles.

"We prefer to be sitting down with Coles and Toll management to resolve the dispute rather than having these technical arguments" he said.

Coles warehouse strike to impact supply

As a strike at a Coles warehouse enters its second day, experts have warned the impact will take less than a week to impact supply to supermarkets.

About 600 workers are striking at the Somerton warehouse in Melbourne’s north, calling for improvements to working conditions including shift lengths and the accumulating rostered days off (RDO’s).

The workers say their working conditions are worse than those at all other Coles warehouses.

Victorian supermarkets will start to see a decrease in the availability of products including toilet paper, beer and toothpaste.

"I think you will see an impact at about the six-day mark, there could be empty shelves," National Union of Workers state secretary Tim Kennedy told the Herald Sun 

"If they do run out of beer then they will probably start talking to us."

Imported beer brands including Heinekin, Corona and Becks could be affected, he said.

Coles, which has stood down hundreds of workers at the distribution centre, argues that the action is unlawful, and has lodged an application with Fair Work Australia this morning, The Age reports.

The supply impact of the strike will spread, Coles predicts in its application.

"The company believes that industrial action will spread to all three sites," Coles said in the application.

Coles has apparently spent millions of dollars on trying to lessen the impact of the strike by sending products to other warehouses, but workers at the Somerton warehouse say they are determined to continue the action until they get a response.

"Most consumers will not take the risk to go to a Coles supermarket now in the belief that things may not be there," Kennedy told reporters at the warehouse.

"They'll probably go to the competition, so it will have a significant effect on sales for Coles."

Workers began their strike outside the plant at 6am Tuesday and braved the rain and freezing conditions last night to continue their fight.

The union said it was set to speak with Toll management which manages workforce issues at the site later on Tuesday.

Christopher Whitefield , spokesman for Toll Management, which manages workforce issues at the site, said the company had offered a four per cent pay rise, which is higher than similar work sites.

"In order to keep attracting and retaining the best people, Toll will continue to balance the needs of the business to remain competitive within the industry," Whitefield said in a statement.

What do you think of the workers' strike? Is impacting the supply to stores the only way to get the attention they need?

Heir to TetraPak business arrested over wife’s death

The heir to the multibillion-dollar TetraPak packaging business has been arrested after his wife was found dead in their luxury London home.

Eva Rausing, 48, was found dead in the west London home she shared with her husband yesterday.

Hours earlier, 49-year-old father-of-four Hans Kristian Rausing, was arrested after he was found driving erratically in South London and found to be carrying Class A drugs.

Police then searched his home and found more illicit substances, as well as his wife’s body.

Scotland Yard has confirmed he is being questioned over the ‘unexplained death’ and that the body found was Eva Rausing's.

Further tests are being conducted after an autopsy failed to establish a formal cause of death.

Police confirmed to British media that Hans Rausing was receiving medical attention, but would not confirm whether he remained under police guard.

It’s not the first time the couple’s drug problems have reached the media, with Eva Rausing arrested outside the U.S. Embassy in London in 2008 for allegedly trying to bring crack cocaine and heroin into building in her handbag, leading to a police search of their $10 million London town house, which uncovered small amounts of cocaine, crack and heroin.

They were charged with drug possession but the charges were later dropped.

The Rausing family issued a statement at the time, saying relatives were "deeply saddened" by the couple's drug problems and they hoped they could overcome their addictions.

Hans Rausing's Swedish father helped transform the TetraPak business into the successful manufacturer of laminated cardboard drink containers it is today.

Image: The Daily Mail

Injured meat worker wants $500 000

A Rockhampton meatworker injured when three knives plunged into his body is seeking more than $750 000 in damages.

Steven Charles Larson was working as a slaughterman at the JBS Nerimbera abattoir in 2009 when the freak accident occurred, leaving him with stabs to his neck, collarbone and hand.

The now 41-year-old wounds resulted in permanent damage and pain to his neck and left hand, and has also ruined his career possibilities, the court has heard.

Documents lodged with the Supreme Court in Rockhampton stated that at 5:45am on 14 July 2009, the Mount Morgan man was preparing for his shift by sharpening his knives in the "kill floor" anteroom.

The room was located directly below a set of stairs leading to the floor, and when a colleague was walking up the stairs, she dropped her knife kit.

Three knives fell and speared Larson, according to the claim.

Larson is suing for the loss of his weekly pay packet of $800 for the past three years and then for the next 25 years.

The total compensation will total over $500 000.

Larson is also seeking compensation for his medical expenses, both past and continuing, for the injuries sustained in the accident.

Larson has "endured and continues to endure pain, suffering and diminution of the enjoyment of the amenities of life,” according to the statements, which also say the company is "vicariously liable" for the actions of Larson's colleague.

They argue that JBS failed to provide a safe workplace by ensuring proper barricades would stop falling knives hitting employees.

It’s not been an enjoyable time of late for JBS, with news yesterday that it would be closing the Dinmore meatworks on Friday in response to workers walking off the job.

The move comes after a number of work stoppages, as workers fight for a four per cent annual pay rise to be included in a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

Management at JBS Australia’s Dinmore meatworks said the decision by workers to walk off the job for four hours on Friday will mean the entire plant will have to be closed all day.

Australian meat included in attempted Chinese smuggle operation

Chinese media is reporting that meat smugglers have tried to get Australian products across the border.

Customs officials in the Chinese city of Chenzhen seized the ship which was attempting to smuggle frozen goods into the country to avoid duties, according to newspaper China Daily.

At 1800 tonnes, and with a value of US9.4 million, the discovery has been described as the biggest bust of its kind since 1997.

Authorities detained five of the ship's 18-member crew, after discovering the 60-container ship loaded with undeclared beef, chicken wings and pork tripe.

Australia is not the only country to be implicated in the discovery, with China Daily reporting that the smuggled meat originated from the United States, Brazil, New Zealand, as well as Australia,

The meats presented a potential health and safety issue because they had not been inspected or quarantined, and the transportation method could have been detrimental to the quality of the meat, according to officials.

 

There is no suggestion that any Australian exporter or meat producer had any knowledge of the attempted smuggle, and as Aaron Lori, Meat and Livestock Australia’s South East Asia and China analyst explained, it would be easy for an Australian product to be included without anyone’s knowledge.

 

"Often, the exporter at home has no idea where their product is going to once they sign it over to the buyer," he said.

"It may go through many different sets of hands after that before finding its way into some smuggling operation under the cover of darkness.

"I would doubt very much that this is Australian beef involved because we have legal access into China, but American beef is in high demand there and it's very easy to buy US beef in China wet markets, even though they have no legal way to export to China."

Over 500 000 tonnes of illegal meat is traded across China each year, he estimates.

This trade is often referred to as the grey channel," Mr Iori said.

"It's not legal, but it's also very common and my guess is the Chinese in Shenzhen have gone on a crackdown and there could be a whole host of reasons for this."

The meat is mostly traded illegally through Hong Kong, near the southern port city of Shenzhen, and through Vietnam.

Coles and Woollies wiping out regional grocers: lobby group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrests made over bombings of PepsiCo subsidiary

A drug cartel lieutenant and several other alleged gang members have been arrested over a series of firebomb attacks on a Mexican snack company owned by PepsiCo.

Dozens of Sabritas delivery trucks were burned and buildings damaged at five distribution centers in Michoacan and the neighboring state of Guanajuato.

Mexican police are providing heightened security for the PepsiCo subsidiary, with about a hundred state and federal police standing guard at distribution centres, according to Julio Hernandez, a spokesman for western Michoacan state.

He said the attacks will further impact investment in the state.

“There will be effects on investment,” Hernandez said.

“In fact, private investment, both foreign and domestic, has been stalled in recent years.

“There hasn’t been any.”

It’s believed the attacks could be linked to the company’s refusal to hand over protection money to the gangs, who have terrorised locals and businesses throughout the drug war which has gone on more than five years.

The bombings are believed to be the first time a multinational company has been targeted by drug gangs in Mexico.

Guanajuato state attorney general Carlos Zamarripa four alleged members of the Knights Templar cartel in connection with the attacks.

Vice president of Sabritas-PepsiCo, Francisco Merino, told local media earlier this week that company officials were not aware of any demands for protection payments, which drug gangs frequently use to control areas and bring in extra income for illegal activities.

Prosecutors say the four men arrested have carried out murders, kidnappings, drug sales, extortion and loan sharking, along with demanding payments from street vendors and vendors of pirated goods.

Image: The Daily Mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Differing food safety laws a risk for consumers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The issues with the Senate Inquiry

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

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

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

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

Australian made: are people really willing to pay more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potato farmers call for investigation into McCain’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Folic acid reduces childhood cancer rates

Folic acid has been proven to reduce the chances of neural tube defects (NTDs) in unborn babies, and now new research has found it could also reduce the most common types of cancers in children.

Research from Washington University and the University of Minnesota, published in the current issue of Paediatrics, looked at the rates of childhood cancer before and after to mandatory folic acid fortification.

“Our study is the largest to date to show that folic acid fortification may lower the incidence of certain types of childhood cancer in the United States,” Professor Kimberly Johnson, one of the researchers, said.

Since 1988 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required foods with folic acid to be fortified, and Australia implemented a similar initiative over a decade later, in 2009, when  it became  mandatory for Australian millers to add folic acid, which is a form of the B vitamin folate, to wheat flour for making bread.

Johnson said a concern many countries have in deciding whether or not to fortify foods to reduce neural tube defects in newborns is the possibility that fortification may cause other issues, including cancers or pre-cancerous lesions.

A spokesperson from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the body that regulates the mandatory fortification, told Food Magazine the initial opposition also came from within the industry.

“There was initial opposition from the flour milling industry as they believed it would add considerable costs to their operations for new facilities, and increased ongoing operating and verification costs,” she told said.

During the two-year consultation period, FSANZ comprehensively assessed the potential health benefits and risks from increasing intakes of folic acid across the population and based on all available scientific evidence, adding folic acid to wheat flour for making bread in Australia is safe for the whole population.

It says it is “continuing to monitor emerging scientific research on folic acid and public health and safety,” and that “no new evidence has emerged to change our original conclusion that mandatory fortification with folic acid is safe.”

The folic acid fortification has had a positive impact on the rates of NTD’s, including Spina Bifida, in both countries, but now the benefit is thought to extend even further.

Johnson, who authored the study with Dr Amy Linabery said their research showed a reduction in the rates of  Wilms’ tumor, a type of kidney cancer, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNET), a type of brain cancer, in children since the folic acid fortification.

Wilms’ tumor rates were increasing prior to the mandatory folic acid fortification, but trended downwards around the time of the introduction.

 “PNET rates increased from 1986 to 1993 and decreased thereafter,” Johnson said.

“This change in the trend does not coincide exactly with folic acid fortification, but does coincide nicely with the 1992 recommendation for women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.”

The study looked at data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) from the 1986 to 2008.

The SEER program has been collecting information on cancer rates throughout the US since the early 70’s.

Over 8,829 children, from birth to age four, who have been diagnosed with cancer, are included in the study.

Image: The Mirror

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most Australians think we have an alcohol problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Olive Company fined for misleading “extra virgin” labelling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Junk food ads aimed at children fall 60 per cent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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