Visy accused of using Hell’s Angels for debt collections

Packaging company Visy has labelled reports that it uses Hells Angels bikie gang members as debt collectors as “nonsense.”

According to Victorian newspaper The Herald Sun, a whistle-blower has revealed a connection between the bikie gang and the packaging company.

Visy allegedly pays the Hells Angels a retainer to ensure bikies are available for the company to use as “problem solvers” when required.

The Herald Sun reports that the senior police sources detected the connection in police intelligence files and detectives are now investigating the ties.

Superintended Gerry Ryan, head of bikie gang Taskforce Echo wouldn’t comment on specific reports, but did say police are aware of some questionable activity since debt collector regulations in Victoria changed last year.

"We are monitoring this closely," he told The Herald Sun.

"Taskforce Echo has received recent intelligence of instances where members of outlaw motorcycle gangs have been used to collect debts from individuals and businesses.

"We are monitoring these activities closely and will act swiftly if offences are being committed, including the use of physical force, harassment and intimidation tactics."

Last year the Victorian government changes the regulations for debt collectors so that they don’t have to be officially registered to undertake the role.

The move has been widely criticised, with opponents saying that without monitoring or registration, individuals or companies could pose a significant threat to those in debt.

According to a former senior employee at Visy, the connection with Hell’s Angels has been in place for years and was personally approved by founder Richard Pratt, who died in 2009.

These links first emerged in the County Court in 2007.

The former employee alleges that Visy was owed significant sums of money by criminals connected to the fruit and vegetable industry, and when they refused to pay up, the packaging company decided it had to meet muscle with muscle.

"So Visy kind of had to find someone of equal status to the market heavies to collect what was owed by the sort of people who just ignore requests from traditional debt collectors," the whistleblower said.

"A senior Visy employee knew a couple of Hells Angels through a former job.

“He approached them and that's how the relationship started, with Richard Pratt's knowledge and approval."

Image: News Ltd.

Coles and Woollies not entirely to blame for supermarket wars, Dick Smith tells Inquiry

Dick Smith has warned against forcing the break-up of Coles and Woolworths, saying it would only further damage the food sector.

Speaking at the Senate Inquiry into the Australian food processing sector this morning, the entrepreneur also said government protection of the food industry, by enforcing a quota of Australian products, would be a positive move.

Industry protection funds, similar to those in the car industry, could be another viable option, he said.

In his submission to the Inquiry, Smith blamed the current supermarket climate, which is pushing Australian companies and farmers out of work, on rich foreign companies, namely ALDI.

He said dividing up Coles and Woolworths will not improve the situation “because I think they will just become uncompetitive when they become small with the internationals we allow them to compete with.”

Smith voiced his concern that the current “extreme capitalism” environment will lead to WalMart and Costco being the only supermarket companies in the world.

He told the Inquiry he does not believe the infamous milk price wars, which saw Coles drop the price of private-label milk to $1 a litre and Woolworths quickly follow suit, was either of their faults, but rather the blame is squarely at the feet of foreign-owned cheap food retailers.

''I think Coles and Woolworths were reacting to the situation that Aldi and Costco have come here,'' Smith said.

He also wants penalty rates in Australia looked at, and says a reduction in the rates would improve our competitiveness.

''Do we value our country towns?” he asked

“Which I do, do we want to go to these country towns and find them boarded up?

“Because our farmers are paying $20 an hour for labour, (and) will never be able to compete with people paying $5 an hour.

''But don't blame Coles and Woolworths for it, I think we are getting off the track…I think it is the fact consumers want the cheapest prices.''

Smith maintains Australians would readily pay slightly higher food prices if it ensured the future of the food industry.

Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that while most Australians say they would like to buy Australian produced and processed food, the main contributing factor is low price.

Similar rules to those in television broadcasting which impose a certain quota of locally-made content, would be effective in the supermarket sector, he said.

''One idea that I heard a number of days ago which could have potential is that we require Australian supermarkets to have a certain percentage of their sales, say 25 per cent, to be from Australian-owned processors and made and grown in Australia,'' Smith said.

''The advantage in doing that is it will create a level playing field.''

Last month Smith, along with Greg Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer started calling for a dedicated “Australian made” aisle in supermarkets to allow shoppers to easily understand which products are locally made and produced, and therefore keep local industries alive.

The current packaging and import regulations leave most consumers confused, they said.

Smith predicts that ALDI’S share in the supermarket sector, currently sitting at 8 per cent, will increase gradually over coming years.

 

AFGC releases Packaging White Paper

In a bid to ensure a more strategic and proactive packaging sustainability sector, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has released a White Paper on the ‘Future of Packaging.’

The white paper has been developed in consultation with retailers, government, recycling companies, retailers and consumers.

It aims to provide more strategic and realistic action for packaging sustainability.

The AFGC and its stakeholders have committed to going ‘beyond compliance’ with the APC, addressing broader waste and sustainability issues and identifying opportunities that will increase sustainable packaging.

The AFGC says that while significant progress has been made towards sustainability, with higher recycling rates and more lightweight packaging, more needs to be done to ensure a sustainable future for the packaging industry.

They want the focus on waste and litter to be expanded on and an improvement to the poor level of understanding about the important role that packaging plays in delivering products to consumers and the implications of this for sustainability.

In December 2011 the Packaging Impacts Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) was released for comment, aiming to identify new measures with potential to increase packaging resource recovery rates and decrease packaging litter.

The government is now considering new packaging policies to address not only recycling and sustainability, but also to provide a simple front-of-pack nutritional labelling system to curb obesity rates.

Dick Smith fronts Senate Inquiry into food industry

Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith will front the Senate Inquiry into the food processing industry and supermarket dominance today.

The Inquiry has come up against problems getting people and companies to participate in the process, as the supermarkets bully them into silence through their market control.

Smith is one of the few who is openly critical about not only the anti-competitive practises of the supermarkets, but also the government policy that is ruining the entire Australian food industry.

The case against ALDI

He  has taken a slightly different angle in his submission to the Inquiry, effectively blaming foreign-owned supermarket ALDI for most of the problems in the supermarket sector.

“ALDI’s lower prices primarily come from having lower labour costs, that is, they employ less Australians,” Smith writes in his submission. 

“When Coles and Woolworths follow this particular trend, (as they will be forced to) where in a large supermarket you might only have one or two Australians employed our food prices may be slightly cheaper but in the long term our taxes will  very likely go up to pay for the social services of people who no longer have jobs.

“When ALDI stocked a limited range of products there was hope that the Australian owned retailers could survive because they could sell the other necessities that were required, place a higher price on those and obtain an extra margin to cover their extra staffing overheads. 

“The alternative was to go broke.

“That’s  now  all changed.  

“ALDI have announced that they are going to increase their product range so a typical Australian family can buy all of their products in an ALDI store. 

“This will result in Coles and Woolworths either following ALDI further on this lower cost, 90% private label, “lack of choice” model or losing substantial market share and eventually failing.”

Woolworths and Coles are already increasing their private-label products at a rapid pace, pushing Australian companies out of business and placing unfair demands on producers and transporters.

Supermarkets killing drivers

Yesterday the Transport Workers Union (TWU) accused the major supermarkets of causing road deaths by forcing truck drivers to drive for unsafe lengths of time and meet unrealistic deadlines.

"The union is saying very clearly to Coles and the other retailers that [their] practices have to change, that they are literally killing people on our roads because of the economic pressure," TWU federal president Tony Sheldon told ABC News.

"What happens with Coles and other major retailers with dominating the market at 32 per cent of road transport tasks, is that they say to manufacturers, they say to farmers and they say to transport operators that you've got to do this work the cheapest and the fastest way you possibly can.

"They're price takers, which means the trucking industry either makes the decision to do the work or they don't have a job."

Collapse of Australia's beetroot industry

Smith points towards the beetroot industry as a prime example of the damaging impact the ridiculously low prices have on Australia.

“As an example, for many decades, a simple can of Australian grown beetroot has sold for about $1.50 in our supermarkets and this has allowed a viable farming and  processing industry to exist,” he said in his submission to the Inquiry.

“The cost price of such a can is about 90 cents, the remainder being the supermarket overheads and profit margin. 

"Not at any time in the past few decades have I  heard of consumers complaining about the price of a can of beetroot. 

“In fact, it’s about half the price of a cup of coffee and I find it truly amazing that it could be so cheap, considering that Australian award wages and conditions are included in the price.

“Notwithstanding the lack of pressure on price, ALDI started to sell beetroot at 75 cents a can.   Immediately, Coles and Woolworths matched the price, as they had to.  

“ALDI proudly claimed that the beetroot they were selling was from Australia however they did not state that this would basically sound the death knell to our beetroot growing and processing industry.

“Within a short period of time, Heinz announced the closure of its beetroot processing plants in Australia, sacking hundreds of workers and Australian farmers were ploughing their beetroot crops back in the ground. 

“Heinz announced that their beetroot from now on will be grown and processed overseas.

“At the present time, there are still stocks of Australian beetroot at 75 cents a can, but it’s obvious that once these go, if the price is to remain the same, all beetroot in future will come from overseas. 

“We will have lost a complete industry, but this didn’t happen  because of pressure from consumers. 

"This is an important point. 

“It happened because one of the most astute examples of modern “extreme” capitalism, fully foreign owned ALDI, decided to flex its power.”

Smith said another differentiating factor between ALDI versus Coles and Woolworths is that the latter two are publically-listed companies, dependant on and accountable to shareholders, whereas ALDI is privately owned by a German company.

The “highly secretive” ALDI is therefore creating an uneven playing field, he said in his submission.

"Intentionally vague" labelling

He also takes aim at the labelling laws for country of origin, claiming they are deliberately misleading.

 “The current food labelling laws in Australia are intentionally vague so the requirements are accepted by the large multinational companies who  have political clout,” he said. 

“Although there have been campaigns such as the “Australian Made” mark, this was in reality an indication that the majority of the cost of production of a product was made up with Australian content. 

“For example, if the cost of a jar, a lid, label and an ingredient such as sugar represented greater than 50% of the total cost, but the primary ingredient (say, the strawberries in strawberry jam), was imported, the label could  still  state  “Australian Made”.

“In more recent times many labels bear the words “Made in Australia from imported and local ingredients”.  In this case, the local content may be very small.”

Smith’s own company, which produces food ‘as Australian as you can get” has felt the impact of the obsession with cheap, often imported food, and is personally watching his products getting pushed out of the market.

“Turnover peaked at $80 million per year in 2002 and has now dropped to $8million per annum as most Australians move to lower prices,” he said of his company, Dick Smith Foods.

“It’s interesting to note that the prime reason Coles have refused to stock our products is that  they are about 30 cents more expensive, and they believe Australian consumers will not  support this extra cost.”

A statement from Senator Richard Colbeck, the Liberal Senator for Tasmania who called for the Select Committee last year, said he is pleased that the Inquiry has secured both Coles and Woolworths to appear as witnesses at a subsequent meeting in Canberra next week.

The committee is due to release the findings of the Inquiry by 30 June.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: The Guardian
 

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

Airplane food tastes strange … and here’s why

Many people find being high up an unpleasant experience. This is not just mountain sickness or acrophobia – it turns out our taste buds too have no head for heights.

Taste is not just determined by the gustatory qualities of the food. It is also substantially influenced by the state of your mouth. Transient changes in our sense of taste are quite common.

This can occur with gum and dental disease and mouth problems such as thrush and mucositis associated with a cold/flu or chemotherapy. Some medications can also alter taste sensation including some anti-hypertensive drugs, antibiotics and antihistamines.

Contaminated pine nuts may also trigger a persistent unpleasant taste, known as pine mouth.

Low zinc levels can also alter our sense of taste. Most Australians don’t receive their recommended daily intake (RDI) of zinc. This can be a particular problem as, unlike iron and other trace metals we need for health, we don’t store zinc in our bodies, so we need a daily fix to maintain healthy levels.

The best dietary sources of zinc are crustaceans, meat and poultry. Many cereals and other products are now fortified with zinc. Zinc is also present in many nutritional supplements and multivitamins.

Strict vegetarians are at increased risk of low zinc levels, partly as they avoid zinc-rich meat and partly as fibre in plants reduces zinc absorption. Alcoholics and those with digestive diseases are also more likely to become zinc-deficient.

Changing tastes

So what about the food served on a plane? Actually, there may really be a reason why meals doesn’t taste any good at altitude (beyond the fact you are flying cattle class).

As most commercial flights go up, the atmospheric pressure is slowly reduced, on average, to the equivalent of standing on the summit of Mount Kosciuszko (2,228 metres or 7,310 feet above sea level).

That’s why ear-popping occurs on take-off, as air within the middle ear expands, builds up pressure and eventually pops out through the Eustachian tubes into the nose.

Newer aircraft, such as the Airbus A380, keep a lower cabin pressure (1,500 metres), equivalent to standing at Falls Creek, Victoria, at about 1,780 metres.

It is well known that reduced atmospheric pressure and lower oxygen levels dull the appetite. But even the modest changes in altitude associated with plane travel may be sufficient to change sensitivity for some tastes.

One small study showed that the threshold for tasting sweet or salty tasting substances increased when you go from sea level to 3,500 metres, while thresholds for sour and bitter went down. In other words, really sweet things didn’t taste so bad, but slightly acidic or bitter things, such as a sauvignon blanc or coffee, tasted a whole lot worse.

High and dry

The dry atmosphere inside a plane’s cabin also dries out the mouth. Typically relative humidity is very low at less than 10%. The only place on the ground that gets this low is in Death Valley, California. By comparison, average humidity in the Sahara Desert is about 25%.

Although most people notice dry, sore eyes and dry, itchy skin after long flights, progressive drying of the nose and mouth also occurs, producing an unpleasant “pastie” sensation (much like cotton in the mouth).

In particular, saliva reduces its water content to become more concentrated and more viscous. This can leave a salty taste in the mouth and affect the level at which salt can be tasted in food. An increased concentration of glutamate (which naturally occurs in saliva) can also produce an unpleasant taste.

More importantly, taste in food is a function of its solubility in saliva. Taste molecules must dissolve in the salivary fluid layer to reach and stimulate taste receptors.

Again, a dry mouth makes this more difficult for some tastes, especially sweet and salty. At the same time the buffering capacity of saliva falls, increasing the intensity of sour tastes in food and drink.

When you are dry, almost any cold drink tastes good, even those that would be distasteful when you are well hydrated. This fact, in combination with aforementioned changes in taste sensitivity, may partly explain recently publicised reports by Lufthansa scientists that tomato juice is more popular on flights, while few people touch the stuff on the ground.

A rational response would be to serve more sweet and spicy food on planes and less astringent wine, to be as appetising as food tastes on the ground.

But because of the noise, the vibration, the cramped conditions, and re-heated mass-produced food, eating on planes won’t ever make for a pleasurable dining experience – so just keep coming round with the cold water, thanks!

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

Merlin Thomas is a Professor of Preventative Medicine at Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute.

Local manufacturers call for dedicated Australian-made aisles in supermarkets

Australian food manufacturers are 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.

Glenn Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer and entrepreneur Dick Smith are just two of the high profile names calling on the industry to take action.

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.

"That may mean two milk areas, two butter areas but at least customers, when they choose something from that designated area, know they are buying Australian-made products," he said.

Coopers became Australia’s largest brewer following Foster’s controversial sale to London-based SABMiller in September last year, and has always pledged to remain proudly Australian made and owned.

“Being the largest Australian-owned brewer is a badge of honour we will wear with pride,” managing director Tim Cooper said at he time.

“This represents the reward for 150 years of hard work in brewing by the Cooper family."

Along with being the chairman to one of Australia’s most successful beverage companies, Cooper is also the deputy chairman of the Australian Made, Australian Grown campaign group, which aims to encourage more Aussies to buy local products and make the Australian Made definitions simpler.

He does not believe the Australian-made aisle would be a big cost or time implication for the supermarkets, which already have a number of local products, but are difficult to find amongst all the other imports.

"Say, for example, it was 30-odd per cent [of floor space set aside]," he said.

"Well, supermarkets may already have that level of Australian content of food as part of their normal stock but it’s just not clearly defined as an area."

"Hopefully, enough people will get behind it to give some sort of leg up to our farmers who are, in many areas, being clobbered by imports.

"I’ve been told about a Mallee onion grower getting four cents a kilo for his crop.

"These guys are continually under pressure to match cheaper import prices."

And while most food and beverage companies are reluctant to speak up against the anti-competitive and bullying behaviours of the major supermarkets for fear of the repercussions, Cooper said he is not going to be afraid of speaking up for local industries.

"What is wrong with protecting our own industry to a certain degree?" he said.

"I don’t see anything wrong with that and most people would support it too, but our politicians, for some reason, don’t want to."

Consumer watchdog CHOICE is also behind the plan to make it easier for shoppers to buy Australian made.

"Consumers would like, where possible, to choose Australian products to support local growers," spokesperson Ingrid Just said.

"Consumers are certainly keen to understand where their food is from and it is important for that to be clearly on the label."

Contrary to the opinion of many shoppers, Cooper maintains that increasing the number of Australian made products in a shopping trip would not drive costs up.

Dick Smith has been vocal about Coles’ rejection of his Australian made and packaged fruit spreads, which it says will not sell enough to make a profit.

“Woolworths is taking the five new products, but Coles won’t, mainly on price!" he told workers at Penrith’s O-I Glass factory in February.

“Coles are letting Australians down, in this particular case.

“I couldn’t believe it.

“[It’s a] beautiful Australian product, but the minute they found out it was 20 cents dearer, their belief was ‘no.’

“If you go into Coles, and Coles have previously been good supporters of Australia, you’ll find that in their fruit spread range, from what I could see, everything is imported!

“Whereas Coles used to say when you were selling something to them ‘you’ve got to make some money, just as we’ve got to make some money,’ now they actually say ‘we don’t actually care if you go broke, we’re just going to sell the cheapest.’

Smith told Channel 7’s Sunrise program this morning that while the idea of an Australian-made aisle in supermarkets is good, he is unsure if it would work in reality.

Qantas snack supplier apologises over in-flight maggot contamination

The manufacturer of the Qantas snack which was contaminated with maggots has issued an apology for the “utterly regrettable” incident, which it says was restricted to that particular packet.

The Sydney Biscuit Company issued a media statement over the incident, explaining that the individual portion of Trail Mix which was found to have maggots inside was not part of a larger batch carrying the same problem.

“This product is supplied to our customers throughout Australia who then store it themselves or with third party suppliers until it is required for use or transport it for use within Australia or Internationally, The Sydney Biscuit Company’s chief executive, Harvey Crabtree said.

Crabtree explained that a root-cause analysis and investigation are in progress with the customer and a third party responsible for logistics and storage, as no contamination had been detected in the manufacture or packaging processes.

“Since this format of product first appeared on this particular service and route some four years ago we have distributed in excess of five million savoury snacks – a figure and products we are very proud of, many passengers send us in e-mails and stories relating to their travels and experiences,” Crabtree said.

“All products leave our site in A1 condition.

“We also retain samples from each and every batch of product produced and packed.

“Our retained samples relevant to the batch which left the business in November 2011 are showing no indications of integrity issues.

He said the company has HACCP and FSANZ accreditation and works to the high level of quality control and assurance set by the organisations.

Eucalyptus oil distributor fined over false ‘Made in Australia’ claims

The consumer watchdog has found the distributor of Double D eucalyptus oil falsely labelled its product as ‘Made in Australia,’ and have ordered they pay a $6 600 fine.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACC) found the product was made from imported oil, which the company tried to pass off as Australian so they could increase costs.

"Consumers should be able to rely on the accuracy of labels, especially when they are prepared to pay a premium for products made in Australia," ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.

The consumer watchdog issued a notice stating it had reasonable grounds to believe that Club Trading & Distribution lied about the oil in its 100ml bottle when it said it came from Australia.

In reality, the oil was actually imported from China and Southern Africa.

"Australian grown eucalyptus oil is readily available to distributors and primary producers are harmed when imported oil is falsely labelled as being made in Australia," Sims said.

"Traders making made in Australia claims need to ensure that their labels are kept up to date to reflect changes in sources of supply.

"Failure to do so may lead to a contravention of the Competition and Consumer Act, infringement notices or court action.”

Steggles defends “free to roam” claims still on products

Steggles chickens are still being advertised as “free to roam” despite the consumer watchdog labelling such claims by the company as misleading and deceptive last year.

In September the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it was taking a number of chicken suppliers to the Federal Court, claiming they wrongly advertised chickens as free range.

According to the ACCC, national Steggles suppliers Baiada Poultry and Barttner Enterprises, La Iconica suppliers, Turi Foods and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation were misleading or deceptive in the promotion and supply of chicken products.

The ACCC said the impression that Steggles chickens are raised in barns with plenty of room to roam freely used in the advertisement and promotion greatly influence consumers, and in reality, most of the animals have a space no larger than an A4 sheet of paper.

Despite La Ionica’s decision to stop using the “free to roam” claim and pay the $100 000 penalty as a result of the court case, Steggles and Baiada are refusing to bow to pressure and are instead arguing against the ACCC’s claims.

John Camilleri, the managing director of Steggles’ owner Baiada Poultry yesterday told the Federal Court in Melbourne that he ordered the slogan ”free to roam in large barns” be removed from chicken packaging in August last year.

He said the differing rates at which products are stored and sold makes it impossible to eradicate any reference to “free to roam” claims overnight, and his objective is to have “hardly any” chicken with the slogan for sale by the end of April this year.

”What we don’t have control of is any stock that’s in obscure locations,” he said.

”Some of these products have a shelf life of 18 months.”

He said Baiada limits the density of chickens in its sheds to 36 kilograms per square metre, although the limit set by national poultry rearing regulations is 40 kilograms per square metre.

During the case, Camilleri vocalised what many in the industry already know about the storage and distribution protocol of the major supermarkets.

The ACCC’s counsel, Colin Golvan, SC, asked him to explain why a frozen chicken bought by a representative of the regulator last month in the Melbourne CBS still had “free to roam” on the packaging.

Camilleri explained that the product had old packaging, because ”God knows how long Coles have been storing that or where it’s been stored.”

The trial is continuing.

Third of Auspack Plus floorspace already snapped up

The packaging and processing industry is alive and well, with the news that a third of the floor space for the largest biennial exhibition in Australia has already been sold, even though it won’t be held until 2013.

Auspack Plus organisers opened up entry for exhibitors only three months ago, and already 1900 square metres of available space as been snapped up.

Event manager Luke Kasprzak said the exhibition will allow those in the sector to stay on top of new developments and technology.

“Auspack Plus is the largest biennial packaging and processing machinery and materials exhibition in Australia and is a recognised vehicle to showcase ‘What’s NEW’ in manufacturing and packaging technology,” he said.

“We have already had a significant sign up for stands from companies that include HMPS, JL Lennard, ABB Australia, Accuweigh, insignia, ERC Packaging, Heat & Control, Fibre King, KHS Pacific, Kiel Industries, Linco Food Systems, Propac Industrial, Nordson Australia, Walls Machinery, Matthews Intelligent Solutions, TNA Australia, Fallsdell Machinery, Contract Packaging Systems and RML Engineering,“

Auspack Plus 2013 will be held at the Sydney Showgrounds, Sydney Olympic Park from 7-10 May 2013.

To attend Auspack Plus, or to exhibit there, contact Luke Kasprzak.

Regulate “low fat,” “high calcium” food claims: FSANZ calls for submissions on standard

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) wants tougher regulation on food company’s abilities to use claims including "low fat," "good source of calcium" or "low salt" in their advertising.

The food regulator is calling for submissions on its draft nutrition, health and related claims standard, which FSANZ chief executive Steve McCutcheon said would regulate the voluntary use of health and nutrition claims.

“There are two principal types of claims; nutrition content claims such as ‘low in fat’ or ‘source of calcium’, and health claims, which refer to a relationship between a food and health, such as calcium and bone health,” he said.

FSANZ also wants comments on the part of the proposal considering regulation of ‘fat free’ and ‘percentage fat free’ claims.

The changes are part of the federal government’s promise to overhaul the food packaging industry by introducing a simple front-of-pack nutrition panel and get tougher on health claims on foods, following calls from consumer watchdog CHOICE and other health groups for a compulsory traffic light nutritional system to solve the obesity crisis.

Last year CHOICE pledged to "name and shame" food companies who made dodgy health claims and in October it revealed the unhealthiest ready-to-eat desserts labelled as‘fat-free’ and ‘reduced fat’, showing that they are not always a healthy option.

The previous FSANZ draft standard was subject to public consultation in 2009.

FSANZ has considered issues which arose from the Review of the draft legislation by the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation and acknowledges that a diverse range in stakeholder opinions about this complex proposal are present.

It believes the draft standard strikes a balance between disparate views.

“FSANZ welcomes comments from government agencies, public health professionals, industry and the community on this draft of the proposed new standard,” McCutcheon said.

Submissions close on 16 March 2012.

Dick Smith making moves to stop “foreign invasion” of cheap food products

Dick Smith is doing his bit to ensure the survival of Australian food businesses, opening a store exclusively stocking local products.

The entrepreneur’s General Store in Belrose, on Sydney’s northern beaches will is showcasing quality food products from small regional markets from around the country, Manly Daily reports.

The recently opened store also launched online ordering last week.

Smith says the store aims to stop the “foreign invasion,” of cheap food products putting Australian operations out of business and restart the industry that was once valued at $80 million.

Shoppers will be able to purchase items sources directly from the producers, including cordials from Queensland, toffees from South Australia, honey from Tasmania and salts from Victoria.

Smith said he is optimistic about the future for the industry, and believes the major supermarkets may not have their strategies right.

“It was an absolute feeding frenzy from customers hungry to do their bit to support battling Australian farmers and food producers,” he said.

“The major supermarkets keep telling me that all Australian consumers want is the cheapest.

“However, in the space of an hour almost all our stock of magnificent Australian gourmet products had sold out and our website had crashed.”

Numerous Australian food manufacturers have closed their doors or sent their operations offshore, as the cost of doing business here rises and companies can’t compete with cheaper private-label brands.

HJ Heinz has been one of the more vocal of the disappointed and angry industry, with the company’s chief financial officer and executive vice president, Arthur Winkleback telling US analysts in August that the demise of many Australian companies can be attributed to the supermarket war and said they have created an “inhospitable environment” for manufacturers.

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

Johnson labelled Australia the “worst market” in June, saying Australian consumers would be the “biggest losers” from the decision to strip branded products.

Woolworths and Coles have announced plans to increase the presence of private-label products available on shelves, despite a report finding that if the current supermarket environment continues, 130 000 of employees from the food and grocery sector alone will be out of work by 2013.

They’ve also been accused of deliberately copying well-known packaging to confuse consumers.

Image: Dick Smith Foods

Less snoozing, more excess kilos: in today’s busy world, how do we sleep more?

New research shows more evidence that our busy lifestyles are contributing to our expanding waistlines.

Research by Sweden’s Uppsala University researchers published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, uncovered a specific brain region that contributes to a person’s appetite and is more active when sleep deprived.

Researchers Christian Benedict, Samantha Brooks, Helgi Schiöth and Elna-Marie Larsson from Uppsala University and researchers from other European universities were able to systematically examine which regions in the brain that control appetite suppression are influenced by sleep loss.

And it’s not just extreme sleep loss that can impact the brain’s functions, a person only needs to be acutely sleep deprived to suffer the consequences.

In the story, 12 average-weight males were shown images of food, and the researchers assessed their brain function using magnetic imaging.

The study was performed when the subjects had experienced a normal night’s sleep and then compared to those when they had a sleepless night.

“After a night of total sleep loss, these males showed a high level of activation in an area of the brain that is involved in a desire to eat,” Christian Benedict said.

“Bearing in mind that insufficient sleep is a growing problem in modern society, our results may explain why poor sleep habits can affect people’s risk to gain weight in the long run.”

One in three Australians are overweight and one in four is obese, so finding the reasons behind the obesity epidemic have become a massive national focus.

Crash diets, sedentary lifestyles and an overwhelming availability of processed foods have been blamed for the health epidemic that could see the current generation of children being the first to not outlive their parents and earned it the title of "the new smoking."

The health impacts of obesity and related conditions have become more well known throughout the country, and in a bid to further educate society, kilojoule information on fast food menus will become mandatory in July this year, while the federal government will develop a simple, front of pack nutritional labelling system for all packaged foods sold in Australia within a year.

This week is also Healthy Weight Week, an initiative launched by the Dieticians Association of Australia aiming to encourage everyone to be aware of their healthy weight range and implement lifestyle changes to achieve it.

With the cost of living continuing to sky-rocket, nobody could possibly afford to simply walk away from a career to catch up on sleep, so what is the solution for busy Australians losing sleep and gaining kilos?

Reduction in Aussie beer consumption leads to 70 glass factory job cuts

The changing preferences of Australian beverage consumers have led to 70 job cuts O-I Glass’ Melbourne factory.

O-I Australia will close a furnace at its factory in Spotswood in March.

The job cuts will occur by June and Australian Workers Union Victoria secretary Cesar Melhem said they will include 50 glass manufacturing workers, with trade and engineering employees making up the rest of the numbers.

Currently 320 people are employed at the factory, but with the Australians drinking less locally-made beer and instead choosing imported beer or cider, the need for glass has dropped leading to a 15 per cent decrease in production acoss the industry, a change that has been felt at the Spotswood factory.

Brian Slingsby, general manager O-I Glass said there is no question that the drop in alcohol was the cause of the job losses.

"The decision to reduce our Melbourne plant’s furnaces from three to two follows ongoing deterioration in market conditions in Australia and weak consumer sentiment," he said in a statement.

"This had led to declining food and beverage sales across the country, particularly in the beer and wine segments."

While Melhem said the AMU has been assured any redundancies will be voluntary in this case, there is now uncertainty about the longevity of other jobs at the plant.

"It now becomes a question: will the plant be viable long-term by having two furnaces?” he said.

“Not long ago they used to have five furnaces.

"Our members are a bit nervous about the future, and rightly so.

“We are looking at sitting down with the company to look at putting a plan in place to make sure we can secure the viability of the plant for the next five, 10, 20 years."

NZ packaging fire caused by overcrowded factory

A fire inside a packaging plant in New Zealand has been blamed on the operation working “over capacity.”

Haw Packaging, in Hastings on the north island, was issued a letter from authorities stating the facility was overcrowded, after a smaller blaze last year.

The company makes egg crates and packaging for fruit, and on Tuesday 18 people from six homes were evacuated, as fire crews feared the huge blaze would spread to nearby factories and houses.

The fire was the third at the site, and Hawke’s Bay fire brigade assistant area manager Nigel Hall said the company was warned about some “general housekeeping” that needed to be performed following the last blaze in October which was caused by a front loader scrapping the concrete, causing a spark and igniting paper.

"The premises has basically outgrown its capacity in relation to the storage of the product that they are producing,” he said.

"The packaging stack, from the Fire Service’s point of view, is too close to the premises.

"The owner knows this and they have been planning to move from this site for at least a year."

Hawk Packaging general manager Tim Combs admitted the company knew it was storing packaging to close to the side of the building, and the size of the plant did provide “some challenges.”

"The last two fires that we’ve had both started in our paper store room, which is a concern,” he said.

"One of the reasons we were looking to shift was to be able to store products more efficiently than we currently have it."

Combs began considering a move when he bought the business two years ago and the company is looking to relocate in July.

"Essentially as soon as we came here we had a look at the business.

"We thought we needed to move forward over the next 10 years or so.

"Plans have been in place from as soon as we arrived, and so I’d like to think we’ve been working on addressing the necessary issues since we arrived here."

He said the company has been working hard to reduce any fire risk.
"I’ve been in the paper industry for 20 years now and we never take fire risk lightly.

“It’s something that is always a priority for us.

"At the end of the day, that doesn’t excuse the fact that we still had a fire."

Image: Hawkes Bay Today

SA, QLD want tougher rules on ‘Made in Australia’ labels

Food companies who can currently get away with misleading labelling about the country of origin of a product will face tougher restrictions if Queensland and South Australian governments get their way.

The two states are working together to argue for better food labelling laws to enable consumers to make informed decisions when deciding on food.

Under current regulations, shoppers are being misled by products claiming to be Australian, and South Australian Minister for Business Services and Consumers John Rau wants that changed.

He wants less loopholes available to food manufacturers and suppliers, who are able to use the “made in Australia” label even if the product was fully imported.

There only has to be a suggestion that it was “substantially transformed” in Australia and half the cost of production occurred here for a product to display the label, and Rau says the rules create confusion for shoppers.

“In practice, this means that manufacturers can get the word ‘Australia’ on their goods, even if the
ingredients are entirely from overseas and more than 50 per cent of production costs occur in other
countries,” Rau said.

“I doubt whether many consumers would be aware that a product labelled ‘Made in Australia’ could
be manufactured from 100 per cent imported ingredients.”

Queensland and South Australian consumer affairs ministers decided at a recent meeting to call for tougher regulations to put in place, because current standards are not working.

“The new national consumer laws have not fixed the problem,” Rau said.

“In fact, they have increased confusion.

“South Australian consumers want to buy local to support Australian producers.

“Accurate country-of-origin food labelling is essential to enable consumers to make informed decisions.”

“A uniform approach to country-of-origin labelling is clearly required in the national consumer legislation and we will be working to produce a new proposal to clear up this confusing area,” he said.

“This new approach should make it perfectly clear where raw ingredients come from, regardless of how and where they are transformed.

Potentially harmful BPA still present in canned foods

Research conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund has found harmful levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) in a number of popular canned products.

The study by the US organization found many of the canned goods commonly used over Thanksgiving and Christmas, including gravy, carnation milk, corn, beans and cranberry sauce, contain potentially damaging levels of BPA.

“Single servings of almost half of the products tested had levels of BPA comparable to levels that laboratory studies have linked to adverse health effects,” the report said.

Jeanne Rizzo, president and chief executive of the Breast Cancer Fund said families should be able to feel safe when eating festive meals.

"How many more Thanksgivings will families have to worry about this uninvited guest before manufacturers finally decide to take it out of cans?”

BPA is used to make the epoxy-resin linings of metal food cans which forms a barrier between the metal and the food which helps to prevent bacterial contamination.’

Problems can arise when the toxic chemical leaches from the resin and make its way into food.

In Laboratory studies, BPA has been linked to adverse health effects inclusing breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in girls, type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is particularly damaging to young children.

In September BPA was found in a variety of soups and foods marketed to children, prompting calls to have the chemical banned entirely.

Last year, a similar study by consumer watchdog CHOICE found 33 of the 38 products they tested contained BPA and only one serving of 29 of contained a dose of BPA exceeding safe daily level of exposure for a 70kg adult.

In July 2010, the Australian government introduced a voluntary deal with major retailers to phase out BPA in baby bottles and tinned foods.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand monitors the presence and regulation of BPA in Australia and says studies have shown there are some safe levels of the substance.

“The internationally established safe level, called the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI), for BPA is 0.05 mg per kilogram of body weight per day,” it says.

“The TDI is an estimate of the amount of a substance in food that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk.

“It is based on animal studies and incorporates a safety factor which allows scientists to calculate a safe level of consumption for humans.”

The other important factor, according to FSANZ, is that the amount of BPA a person would have to ingest for it to be dangerous is quite high.

“A nine month old baby weighing 9 kg would have to eat more than 1 kg of canned baby custard containing BPA every day to reach the TDI, assuming that the custard contained the highest level of BPA found (420 parts per billion) in a recent survey by CHOICE,” FSANZ states.

While some levels of exposure to the chemical may be safe, the problem is the lack of information declared by companies about BPA in its products.

"Consumers have no way of assessing BPA levels just by looking at cans on supermarket shelves," Gretchen Lee Salter, policy manager at the Breast Cancer Fund said.

"The findings of this report highlight the urgent need to remove BPA from food packaging so that shoppers can be confident that the food they are purchasing is safe for their families—not only on Thanksgiving, but every day."

William Goodson, M.D., a breast cancer surgeon and senior clinical research scientist at California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, published a study in September showing BPA causes non-cancerous cells to grow and survive like cancer cells.

"We know from recent research that a BPA meal creates a spike of this estrogenic chemical in the blood," he said.

"Natural hormones work by spikes, so this is exactly what you don’t want, especially in young kids, who shouldn’t have any estrogenic spikes at all."

Consumers have sent out 50,000 letters to canned food manufacturers urging them to get BPA out of canned foods and replaced with a safer alternative, as part of it’s the Breast Cancer Fund’s Cans Not Cancer campaign,

A number of food manufacturers have heeded the advice, including General Mills and Nestle, who have announced progress on alternatives to BPA in canned foods.

The Breast Cancer Fund wants regulation to make it mandatory for companies to disclose BPA levels in products.

Front-of-pack food health labels to be developed within a year

Foods sold in Australia will have front-of-pack labelling with easy to understand nutritional information within a year, but it will not necessarily be the controversial traffic light system.

That was one of the key decisions made during the meeting on nutrition and preventative health with state and federal government ministers in Melbourne on Friday.

In response to the recommendations in the Food Labelling Review Report – or Blewett Reprort – the Federal Government’s Forum on Food Regulation will consult with representatives from health organisations, industry and consumer groups to develop the new system.

The decision to have simple front-of-pack nutritional labelling is somewhat surprising, given that the government announced prior to the meeting that it would not be supporting the traffic light system.

Since the scheme was first suggested by consumer watchdog CHOICE, the Australian Food and Grocery Council has been arguing that the traffic light scheme is too simplistic to work.

It released a statement on Friday supporting the decision by government representatives.

“As previously stated, Australia’s food and grocery manufacturing industry is happy to work with the Forum on Food Regulation to look at global evidence on developing a preferred approach to a single, front-of-pack food labelling system,” chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“The recently released Institute of Medicine report, commissioned by United States Government, as well as the work done by EUFIC in Europe may be good starting points.”

It is still unclear what will be included in the front-of-pack labelling, which will have to be more informative than the traffic light labelling but still clear and easy to understand.

Once the design and content of the labelling is decided, companies may be given up to two years to implement the changes, which is the amount of time alcohol manufacturers have been given to voluntarily introduce pregnancy warning, before regulation is implemented.

Health claims on packaged foods and drinks will also undergo a drastic overhaul, to prevent misleading health claims such as ‘low fat,’ ‘high fibre,’ and ‘no added sugar.’ being made.

The Forum’s also decided to appoint Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to undertake broad consultation on a draft standard for health claims and present a final standard is presented to Ministers next year has been welcomed by the AFGC.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King, who chaired today’s meeting said the initiatives show the government are highly concerned with poor health and obesity rates and are thus making it a top priority.

“In considering its response to the recommendations, the Forum proposed actions over the next five years that endeavour to improve information on food labels to meet consumers’ needs, and minimize regulatory burden on industry and barriers to trade.”