Australia’s commercial kangaroo industry: hopping to nowhere

Australia’s commercial kangaroo industry is the world’s largest consumptive mammalian wildlife industry. Calculated on a ten-year period, an average of three million adult kangaroos are killed each year in the rangelands for pet meat, meat for human consumption and hides. But pressures on the industry may well see its collapse.

For example, despite years of negotiations, Russia is still refusing to lift its ban on Australia’s kangaroo meat. Russia once accounted for 70% of exports from the commercial kangaroo industry. But in August 2009, the country banned imports of kangaroo meat from Australia due to hygiene concerns, citing high levels of E. coli and salmonella. Despite the Australian Government investing at least $400,000 to address these issues, Russia remains unconvinced about food safety. The ban may be here to stay.

Another lucrative kangaroo product is leather, used for soccer shoes and other high value products. Adidas, a leading supplier of sport shoes, has also banned kangaroo leather due to concerns for the welfare of dependent young kangaroos killed or abandoned as a result of the commercial kill.

These bans do not bode well. A representative from the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia was recently reported saying: “I think we are starting to have to seriously consider the end of the kangaroo industry nationally.”

But how did we end up here? And where can we go?

European and colonial contact with kangaroos

In 1770, Captain James Cook described the kangaroo as being like a mouse in colour, a greyhound in size and shape but a hare or deer in locomotion. Europeans killed kangaroos initially as a food source for the colonies and then later for recreation. However, in the 1800s pastoralists increasingly saw kangaroos and other marsupials as “pests” that needed to be killed.

By the 1880s, all of the states of eastern Australia had introduced legislation for the destruction of kangaroos and wallabies. For example, NSW’s Pasture and Stock Protection Act 1880 declared kangaroos and wallabies to be vermin and bounties were offered for their heads. As a result, a massive number of these animals were killed.

From 1883 to 1920, NSW killed around 3 million bettongs and potoroos (Potoroids). Three of these species are now extinct (possibly due in part to the introduction of the red fox). Although all macropods are now protected species, the long shadow of these efforts at extermination are still felt today.

Concern for kangaroos

Scientific study of kangaroos developed during the 20th century, resulting in an increased interest in their conservation. In 1969, CSIRO researcher John Calaby argued that the red kangaroo had become endangered due to “uncontrolled meat hunting and drought”. In 1974, the United States Government banned the import of kangaroo products.

In response, the Commonwealth Government banned the export of kangaroo products and took some power over the industry from the state governments. The Commonwealth’s ban was later lifted and a regulatory system with quotas was put in place. This still operates today.

 

The Australian government carefully regulates the export of kangaroo meat. jazzijava/Flickr

 

Pest status

From its earliest beginnings, the kangaroo industry has relied upon popular perceptions of kangaroos as “pests”, particularly in rural communities. Even today it is frequently argued that kangaroo populations must be reduced. Common reasons cited are that they compete with livestock for resources in the rangelands and that their numbers have increased because of the installation of artificial waterholes.

However, the programs of management have not correlated with increased pastoral productivity, and long-term observations in north-western NSW indicate that kangaroos and livestock only compete when pasture is drought-affected. Kangaroos and livestock have different foraging styles that generally lead to the two groups being ecologically separate.

The red kangaroo, which is the most abundant rangeland species, does not show water-focused grazing as livestock do.

The latest economic assessment found that kangaroos cost pastoralists around $44 million a year. The cost to graziers was estimated at $15.5 million. The cost to crop farmers was estimated to be $11.9 million and fencing damage was estimated at $16.7 million.

This assessment did not take account of any of the benefits of having kangaroos in the landscape. Indeed, kangaroos have 16 million years of evolutionary history in the Australian landscape and may contribute to its well being.

Where to from here

If the commercial kangaroo industry collapsed tomorrow, it appears likely that some landowners may take matters into their own hands and shoot kangaroos non-commercially. Such an occurrence may present a risk to the conservation of kangaroos and to their welfare. Research by the RSPCA found that there is a far higher degree of cruelty in non-commercial killing than in commercial killing. Issues arise around the decreased accuracy of shooting by farm personnel.

It is time for the federal and state governments to reassess kangaroo management. The industry has been based upon erroneous underpinnings, portraying kangaroos as “pests” without any clear justification. Landowners may need options in the cases where kangaroos are reducing the productivity of their properties. But shooting kangaroos does not need to be the first response.

One option being trialled in other countries are insurance policies whereby pastoralists are able to insure against damage caused by a particular wild species and receive payments when damage occurs. Another approach is for landholders to benefit from wildlife via ecotourism. Perhaps it is time for Australia to consider such approaches and take pride in our kangaroos.

This article is partly based upon Keely Boom et al, ‘'Pest’ and resource: A legal history of Australia’s kangaroos' (2012) 1(1) Animal Studies Journal 17-40.

Keely Boom works for THINKK, the Think Tank for Kangaroos at the University of Technology Sydney. THINKK is supported by the Sherman Foundation, the Institute for Sustainable Futures, Voiceless: the animal protection institute, WSPA, the Clover Moore Salary Trust Fund, IFAW and the Albert George and Nancy Caroline Youngman Trust.

The Conversation

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AFGC report confirms decrease in food manufacturing

The Australian Food and Grocery Council’s (AFGC) annual State of The Industry report has shown a decrease in the food manufacturing industry's output.

The fourth AFGC/KPMG report showed that overall output was down 4.5 per cent for 2010-11, as well as a decrease in employment of 2.2 per cent for the sector in the financial year 2011-12.

Factors putting pressure on food manufacturing such as the squeeze on margins by the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, the high dollar, and high input costs were in the news last month, with Terry Davis, the CEO of SPC Ardmona, speaking of the need for changes to payroll tax and taxation depreciation allowances.

Gary Dawson, the council's CEO, said the report highlighted a difficult environment. According to the research, based on ABS data, there were 335 fewer businesses operating in the industry in 2011-12 compared to the previous year.

“The sector’s growth, competitiveness and ability to create jobs are under threat,” Dawson said.

“The findings of State of the Industry 2012 serve as a warning to policy makers at all levels of government that the Australian food and grocery manufacturing sector – Australia’s largest manufacturing sector – is facing an environment where input costs are rising on everything from commodities to labour to energy, and retail price deflation continues to cut margins, placing the sector under increasing pressure.”

The AFGC has used the report’s release to call for reform in areas such as the mandatory reporting system, streamlining energy efficiency and water use reporting requirements and “clarification that standards and labelling relating to food composition and safety are administered by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and all other consumer related labelling requirements should be in consumer law.”

Sodium levels in Australian foods increasing

Despite the increasing awareness about the health impacts of high sodium consumption, a new report has found hidden salt in Australian food has risen almost 10 per cent in three years.

In what the Australian Heart Foundation has labelled ‘deeply alarming’ findings, a George Institute for Global Health report found the average increase in salt in 28 000 food products was 9 per cent.

Between 2008 and 2011, a time when the education and awareness about the dangers of high salt consumption was at its highest, the amount of hidden sodium in foods was actually increasing.

In oils, sodium levels rose by 16 per cent and in sauces and spreads that increase was 13 per cent.

While Australians are becoming more aware of the impacts of sodium consumption, and not ‘directly adding it at the table, many are also unaware about hidden sodium in foods, particularly processed products.

Food labelling in Australia has been slammed in recent years for being confusing and misleading, and last year the federal government pledged to create a mandatory front-of-pack labelling system for all packaged foods in Australia within a year.

A recent survey by consumer watchdog Choice also found the amount of salt in cereals, particularly those aimed at children, is worryingly high.

Despite cereal manufacturers committing to reducing salt in their products, and Kellogg’s declaring they had done so before the deadline, the Choice survey of 195 ‘salt-reduced’ cereals found that salt levels of the products were still far too high.

Despite reductions of at least 20 per cent since the last Choice survey, this year’s cereal survey found Kelloggs, Sanitarium and Aldi brand breakfast cereal versions of ‘corn flakes’ and ‘rice bubbles’ still had significant salt content.

Choice said that while improvements in salt-reduction have been made, many of the Australian cereals ‘did not deserve the healthy image they portray.’

‘We think more energy should be devoted to reducing the sodium and sugar content of cereals, particularly those targeted at children,’ Choice spokesperson, Ingrid Just said.

Choice has also called on more regulation surrounding health claims and serving sizes, with spokesperson Ingrid Just telling Food Magazine last month that manufacturers are deliberately skewing the serving sizes of products to make them appear healthier in the at-a-glance front-of-pack nutritional labelling.

“Those manufacturers who use thumbnail percentage [daily intake] labels on the front of packs often look to that serving size because it brings some of those percentages down,” Ingrid Just said.

“So for consumers who may use that to compare products, they are getting an unrealistic reading, as the serving sizes may not be the same.”

In Australia, manufacturers are responsible for deciding on appropriate serving sizes, and as such, they often vary between different sized of the same product.

A Mars Bar serving, for example, is stated as 18, 36 or 53 grams, depending on the pack size.

Comparatively, the US serving sizes are regulated by government body the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Earlier this year the Heart Foundation found the average Australian eats around nine grams of salt a day, about three grams more than the recommended intake.

In May, Dr Robert Grenfell, National Cardiovascular Health Director at the Heart Foundation said “cutting the nation’s salt intake by three grams a day would prevent an estimated 6,000 Australian deaths a year due to heart disease,” adding that the health body is ‘very concerned’ about hidden salt in Australian food.

Are you surprised by the findings about how much hidden salt is in our foods?

Aussies buying less private label products

In a small win for Aussie food companies, big-brand grocery item purchases have increased, while private label products have decreased.

A new Neilson poll shows that private label grocery items have fallen for the first time in five years.

The big food companies who have been struggling against the rapid increase in home brand products will surely be hopeful the 0.7 per cent drop in private label grocery sales from this time last year is possibly an indication that Australian consumers are committed to keeping these companies alive.

The Nielsen report found ‘household penetration’ of the supermarket’s own ‘home brands’ have dropped from 95.5 per cent in 2011 to 94.8 per cent this year.

The findings back reports in recent months that found nearly half of all shoppers go out of their way to buy Australian-made produce, while more than a third buy Australian wherever possible.

The news comes after previous studies earlier this year found the number of private label products being purchased in Australian supermarkets is increasing.

The report also found that while consumers are becoming more dedication to food brands, they are not demonstrating the same loyalty to the supermarkets, with the rate of cross-shopping increasing to over 88 per cent in 2012.

Supermarkets ‘providing an enjoyable experience’ and ‘staff service’ were factors impacting store loyalty, Nielsen Retail Industry Group Executive-Director Kosta Conomos explained.

“As retailers continue to focus on the same initiatives such as private label, loyalty reward cards or low shelf prices, shoppers are increasingly seeing them as ‘hygiene factors’.

“Unless further differentiation occurs among Australian retailers, we’ll continue to see very high penetration levels and cross-shopping, with low levels of loyalty.

Allergy free milk produced by cloned cow

Allergy free milk could soon become a reality after New Zealand scientists successfully produced hypoallergenic milk by using a genetically modified cow.

In a world-first breakthrough, New Zealand’s largest research institute AgResearch has bred the first cow in the world able to produce high-protein milk with reduced amounts of beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), a whey component known to cause allergic reactions.

"It's a very significant result," the institute's research director Dr Warren McNabb said.

Further studies on the milk is needed before it can be tasted by humans, but McNabb said it could eventually be produced commercially and marketed as a low allergy substitute.

"If this milk is to be hypoallergenic, as we suspect it will be, then we've got to get over the hurdle of social acceptance of this type of technology before you can then apply it in the national herd.”

"It's going to come down to what this country decides. It's more of a social issue than a scientific one."

The researchers from the University of Waikato and AgResearch in Hamilton have been working on the project since 2006 and first found success using mice. They then produced Daisy using a technique called ‘RNA interference’ which basically inhibits the expression of the BLG protein.

Next steps for the project include breeding from Daisy and producing more cows like her to see if the same results can be reached.

However GE Free New Zealand has slammed the research calling it a ' "frightening development not a breakthrough".

"This is a depraved macabre experiment that is the worst type of animal cruelty," GE Free New Zealand president Claire Bleakley said.

Bleakley called on the New Zealand Ethics Board to shut down the research "immediately".

"AgResearch after 12 years of failure and hundreds of dead embryos has developed one calf, expressing less [BLG] than normal milk cows.

''BLG is an essential part of milk. It lowers blood pressure … It is essential for healthy digestion, immune system function and the formation of healthy bones skin, teeth and muscle development."

Work to reduce the allergens in milk and other products is also underway in Australia with research at the University of New South Whales aimed at altering the properties of the allergenic proteins.

As Food Magazine reported in May, the food allergy research group at UNSW, led by Dr Alice Lee, is working towards developing nano-sensors that can better detect allergens in food and indentify how these allergens change after harvest during food processing, and eventually result in an adverse reaction when consumed by humans.

“Food allergy has been an emerging food safety concern especially in developed countries,” Lee, a senior lecturer in Food Science and Technology, said.

Boiling water without bubbles – that’s just our cup of tea

Imagine a specially-engineered surface that could allow liquids to boil without bubbling. This sounds counter-intuitive and, in a way, it is. But consider the following.

When a small drop of water is dropped onto a very hot frying pan, it skitters around and takes up to a minute to evaporate. A video of this phenomenon is embedded below.

On initial contact, the hot surface vaporises part of the drop and creates an insulating vapour layer between the drop and the hot surface, much like the air gap in a double-glazed window. This vapour layer can only be sustained if the hot surface is above the so-called Leidenfrost temperature. It also acts as an efficient lubricant and can reduce the drag on a hot sphere travelling through water by up to 85%.

 

 

The Leidenfrost vapour layer also plays an important part in boiling and cooling. If in place of small drops of water in a hot frying pan, we have a hot kettle filled with water, the Leidenfrost vapour layer will collapse when the kettle cools below the Leidenfrost temperature, resulting in an explosion of vapour bubbles as the water makes direct contact with the (still) hot surface.

Until recently, this rather violent explosive ending for vapour, reminiscent of the death throes of a star, was thought to be inevitable when a hot surface in contact with water cooled below the Leidenfrost temperature.

Everything changes

In a report published yesterday by my colleagues and I in the journal Nature, it was found that by modifying the heating surface to give it nano-scale roughness and a coating to render it highly water repellent – or super-hydrophobic – the Leidenfrost vapour layer can be sustained at all surface temperatures, thereby eliminating the vapour explosion.

A video illustrating our work can be watched here.

The research was undertaken by members of the University of Melbourne, the King Abdul University of Science and Technology, Saudia Arabia, and Northwestern University in the US.

It might sound a little complicated but the way it works is simplicity itself. The rough, water-repellent surface acts like the fakir bed of nails so that the water rests on the peaks of the rough nano-scale surface layer and makes very little solid-liquid contact.

 

We’ve nailed it. minipixel

 

With the right combination of roughness and chemical modification, the bubble explosion resulting from collapse of the Leidenfrost vapour layer can be suppressed.

These results may be useful in applications in which “quiet” boiling is required – whether it be for a non-intrusive kettle or boilers that generate minimal vibrations and noise.

The general principle this work reveals is that, in any process in which heat is transferred between a solid and a liquid during heating, cooling or freezing – or more generally a change of phase – the surface properties of the solid heat source or sink should be factored into the design.

Examples of potential areas of application may be controlling ice formation on the ailerons of aircrafts, the fogging and frosting of mirrors and windows and in refrigeration, in which the liquid coolant is a refrigerant, not water.

If you thought liquids had to come to an explosively violent end, we may just have burst your bubble.

Derek Chan receives funding from the Australian Research Council. He is affiliated with the Faculty of Life and Social Sciences, Swinburne University of Technology, the National University of Singapore and the Singapore A-STAR Institute of High Performance Computing.

The Conversation

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Confusion and controversy over alleged GM experiment in China

Parents in China’s Hunan province have expressed concerns that a study their children participated in served GM rice to the youngster’s without their parent’s knowledge.

The study was conducted as part of a joint project between Tufts University in the US and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Nutrition and Food Safety Institute to try and combat malnutrition amongst children in rural areas.

The corresponding research paper said that in 2008, 68 children in Hengyang, Hunan province, were fed golden rice — a GM variety of rice — to test if it could help children with vitamin A deficiencies.

However, conflicting reports from multiple sources as to whether the rice was in fact genetically modified have led to a flurry of media reports and speculation.

One of the authors listed on the paper, Yin Shi'an, has stated that the study did not use GM rice and that the vegetables and rice fed to the children as part of the study were all purchased locally.

Hu Yuming, a researcher at the Hunan CDC who is listed as the second author of the research paper, also denied the use of golden rice and added that he had not been asked by the journal to sign the paper before the publication.

There have also been conflicting reports regarding the application process that would have allowed US researchers to import and administer golden rice as part of the study, with some Chinese officials stating that there would have been no issue for the researchers whilst others maintain that no official application was received.

All this has done little to quell the fears of the involved children’s parents, who read about the paper on the internet and now worry that their children have been exposed to potentially harmful, untested GM ingredients.

As reported by China Daily, the parent’s confusion is being compounded by the conflicting reports and a history of deliberate misinformation and health cover-ups by the government.

South Australian researchers partner with Italian universities to produce ‘super spaghetti’

Researchers at the university of Adelaide are working in partnership with two Italian universities to try and produce pasta that is better quality and has greater nutritional value for human health.

The two projects are being conducted by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls at the University's Waite Campus and the universities of Bari and Molise in Italy.

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

The study looks specifically at key aspects of the cell walls in durum wheat, the variety most commonly used for making pasta.

The first project, in conjunction with the University of Bari, will investigate how the growth of durum wheat affects the levels of starch and dietary fiber within it, and how the fiber levels in pasta can be improved.

The second project, in conjunction with the University of Molise, will investigate the important roles played by two major components of dietary fiber – arabinoxylans and beta-glucans – in the quality of pasta and bread dough.

Associate professor Rachel Burton, chief investigator on both projects, released a statement saying that “"The term 'super spaghetti' is beginning to excite scientists, nutritionists and food manufacturers around the world,"

“In simple terms, 'super spaghetti' means that it contains a range of potential health benefits for the consumer, such as reducing the risk of heart disease or colorectal cancer. Our research – in collaboration with our Italian colleagues – is aimed at achieving that, but we're also looking to improve the quality of pasta as well as its health properties," said Burton.

Those involved hope that their research will help pasta manufacturers in South Australia and Italy to carve a niche by supplying domestic markets with specialist pasta products that will benefit the health of consumers

Sugar High: How Certain Flavours Act as Antidepressants

Chocolate addicts everywhere have long been aware that the dark stuff increases levels of serotonin, our body’s ‘feel-good’ chemical.  But new research has found that certain compounds which help make up the flavour in foods are strikingly similar to chemicals used in mood stabilising drugs.

Whilst many foods are associated with mood modification – such as a soothing cup of tea, or a comforting bowl of chicken soup – it’s only now that scientists have a direct comparison between the physiochemical and structural properties of certain flavour molecules and pharmaceutical antidepressants.

The research team, led by Dr Karina Marinez-Mayorga from the Torrey Pines Institute of Molecular Studies in the US, focused on foods that are suggested to have mood enhancing effects and found that many of the compounds shared a similar profile with that of valporic acid, a widely used prescription mood-stabilizing compound.

The team screened the flavour ingredients of over 1, 700 foods, searching for similarities in chemical structure to approved antidepressants, pharmaceutical drugs and other agents with reported anti-depressant or mood-enhancing effects.

What’s interesting is that the mood-enhancing effects are linked primarily to flavour, rather than a specific nutrient or chemical. 

Dr Martinez-Mayorga stated that: “molecules in chocolate, a variety of berries and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids have shown positive effects on mood”.

“The large body of evidence that chemicals found in chocolate, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, teas and certain foods could well be mood enhancers encourages the search for other mood modulators in food.”

Frankenfood or crops of the future? Gaps in the perception of GM food safety

Humans have always faced tricky safety problems with food because we eat plants, which are the most ingenious pesticide chemists on the planet. Plants produce an amazing panoply of chemicals to deter animals from eating them. We’ve responded biologically to this challenge by evolving chemical detoxification mechanisms in the liver.

Culturally, we’ve responded by inventing cooking and other food pre-treatments that allow us to eat dangerous foods, such as kidney beans, rapeseed oil and tapioca.

We even add spice to life by adding low quantities of plant poisons to recipes to improve flavour. And we breed our crop plants to reduce toxins. In short, “natural foods” are not necessarily safe and most of our crops are not as natural selection produced them.

Safety regime

 

Cooking and other pre-treatments protect us from the chemicals in plants. Alpha/Flickr

 

Safety assessment of genetically engineered food (called GM or transgenic food) is yet another application of human ingenuity and the harnessing of past experience to obtain sustenance. It starts by careful comparison of the genetically-modified food (and any new components that are deliberately added to that food) against the safety record of existing dietary components for which we have a history of safe human consumption.

All new genetically engineered foods are assessed in a systematic way by food safety agencies (such as FSANZ in Australia), and detailed descriptions of these assessments appear on agency websites.

Assessments involve tests of proteins for toxicity in animal-feeding trials and tests for changes in the allergen content of the food. Scientists have completed numerous animal-feeding studies to ensure the safety of genetically-modified foods.

A comprehensive analysis of chemical composition is also carried out. The genetic stability of crop varieties is checked, as are the detailed structure of the DNA inserts. Extensive use of gene and protein databases enables better assessment of the chance of adverse outcomes.

Nagging doubts

 

Heavy spotting on corn kernels reveals the activity of a mobile DNA parasite. Celebrated American maize geneticist Barbara McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1983 for her discovery of the mobile DNA parasites that cause much genetic variation in plants. Damon Lisch PLoS Biology Open Access License

 

But many people continue to worry about unexpected changes to food when it is genetically engineered. This concern has caught the attention of many scientists, whose response has been to evaluate the odds of unexpected adverse outcomes by comprehensive chemical and genetic surveys of crop varieties (chemical fingerprinting).

The good news from 44 different genetically-modified crops' chemical fingerprinting studies (including work on maize, soybean, wheat and barley) is that the chance of unintended changes with transgenic crops is less than the risk of unintended changes occurring in new crop varieties created by conventional breeding.

These food fingerprinting investigations show the precise composition of a crop is readily affected by the position of the plant in the field in which it is being grown, climatic differences between farms, variation in soil chemistry and differences in crop composition generated by conventional breeding. These factors all produce more unexpected alteration of food composition than do the methods used to make GM food crops.

In a recent critical report by an anti-GM group, these major findings are not given adequate recognition. Indeed, one may reasonably ask why anti-GM reports should be given credence when they ignore well documented science from numerous independent laboratories.

Natural genetic engineering

A huge body of basic discoveries in genetics demonstrate that in nature and in farm fields, plant chromosomes are continually subjected to numerous DNA insertions and chromosome rearrangements that mimic the changes that occur when new DNA is introduced by genetic engineering.

These DNA changes come from a variety of processes, including radiation damage and the activities of numerous virus-like DNA parasites that are abundant in plant chromosomes. This frequent natural DNA scrambling is ignored by critics of GM technology.

 

Orange juices blond and red. The red pigments arise from a natural DNA rearrangement that’s similar to what happens in laboratory-based genetic engineering of plants. John Innes Centre

 

One example of such “natural genetic engineering” was recently found in studies of an unusual (non-GM) orange tree variety growing in Sicily. This is a variety that produces blood-red oranges. The red fruit pigments are anthocyanin plant chemicals that are absent from the juice of conventional sweet oranges and may well have beneficial health properties.

Blood-orange varieties emerged several centuries ago as a natural mutation. We now know that this mutation occurred by insertion of a mobile genetic parasite near a key gene, called Ruby, whose activity is needed for successful red pigment formation. Ruby was turned on by the accidental insertion of parasitic DNA near her location in the chromosome.

This is the type of genetic manipulation that genetic engineers do in the lab but, in this case, a natural DNA parasite did it in a Sicilian orange grove.

Another example of natural genetic engineering was discovered in an Illinois soybean field in 1987, where a (non-GM) colour-mutated soybean flower appeared spontaneously in a field of soybeans.

This natural mutation was named wp. It’s interesting to crop-breeders and farmers because it produces larger soybean seeds that are richer in protein. Further investigation showed that in the wp mutation, a complicated new DNA insertion into the soybean chromosome triggered flower pigment formation. This complicated DNA rearrangement was catalysed by a natural DNA parasite.

 

Pink wp mutant soybean flower on the right, parental purple on the left. Gracia Zabala and Lila Vodkin

 

DNA parasites?

DNA parasites are foreign DNA. They are triggered into movement to a new chromosome site when plant cells are stressed. This happens when inter-species crop hybrids are formed by cross-pollination (which is often the case in conventional breeding of major food or feed crops such as wheat or Triticale), or by the stresses of cold nights in Sicilian orange groves.

Geneticists have discovered numerous inter-species transfers of genetic parasites, but more to the point, they have discovered examples of movement across species boundaries of other types of genes, such as those involved in important crop physiological activities.

 

Mark Rain

 

Just this last February, for instance, scientists from Brown University in the United States showed that genes providing more efficient photosynthesis have moved between distantly related grass species.

All the key features of laboratory genetic manipulation of crops — random DNA insertion in chromosomes, foreign DNA, altered expression of genes, DNA rearrangements — are exhibited by natural genetic mutations that occur in plants.

Our exposure to unexpected genetic events occurring in genetically-engineered food is lower than our exposure to the unintended genetic changes served up by conventional foods we’ve eaten for years. And underpinning this more recent scientific finding is the fact that there’s solid assurance of GM food safety from the intense scientific scrutiny and government oversight that GM food has received at all stages of its development over the last 30 years and more. Food from GM crops is at least as safe as traditional foods.

David Tribe does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article except the University of Melbourne, where he is paid for teaching research and community outreach by a standard salary arrangement with the University. He has no relevant affiliations that might entail a conflict of interest in scientific analysis.

The Conversation

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Steggles and Sydney Roosters join forces for children’s charities

Chicken supplier Steggles and NRL team the Sydney Roosters will donate more than $60 000 to and dedicate this Sunday’s match to four children’s charities.

The charity match between the Roosters and the West is dedicated to raising much needed funds for the four children’s charities the Steggles Roosters Charity Nest supports, the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia, Lifestart, Children’s Health Foundation Queensland and Save Our Sons.

The annual charity match is one of a number of events taking place during Steggles Charity Nest Week and 5000 free entry tickets available at the gates.

The Steggles Roosters Charity Nest initiative has already raised $114,000 this season and this Sunday’s match will see Steggles and the Roosters present $15,000 to each of the four charities.

The Sydney Roosters will play in a special Steggles Charity Nest jersey, and at half time Steggles Chook Raffle will raffle a family holiday valued at $4 000.

The children from the charities will also form a guard of honour for the players as they enter the field and activities including face painting, a jumping castle and pass the ball competitions will be on offer.

Steggles is also donating 30 cents from every specially marked Steggles Family Feast chicken sold during the month to the charities, which alone is expected to raise $90,000 for the Steggles Roosters Charity Nest.

Roosters chief executive Stephen Noyce said the Steggles Roosters Charity Nest, which began in 2010, is raising more money each year.

 

“The Steggles Charity Nest is a wonderful community initiative – one we are all incredibly honoured to be a part of at the Sydney Roosters.

“We are so proud to have worked together with Steggles to make such a substantial donation.”

The unique partnership between Steggles and the Sydney Roosters sees Steggles has already raised over $531 000 for Australian children’s charities  

Steggles will also donate $1000 for every winning point in the match, and the Roosters $250. 

Four’N Twenty expands product range to combat market pressure

Iconic Aussie pie maker Four’N Twenty is diversifying its product range, as the pressure of the supermarket price wars increases and food manufacturing jobs continue to be lost.

Four’N Twenty’s parent brand Patties Foods said last month that the ever-increasing number of private label products in supermarkets will damage the business.

To that end, the company has researched and identified some key areas in need of a breath of fresh air, and have launched products to fill one already.

The Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps, which will be available at convenience stores nationally, fill a significant gap in the market, according to the company.

“Consumer research shows there was no real breakfast solution in the petrol and convenience market, and Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps score highly on overall appeal, convenience and purchasing intent,” the company said.

 

Four’N Twenty Brand Manager, Mark Malak, said Four’N Twenty is confident the new options, which are hand made in the company’s Bairnsdale, Victoria facilities, will be well received in the market place.

 

The Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps consist of either tomato, ham and cheese or sausage, egg, bacon and BBQ sauce in a warmed tortilla wrap and Four’N Twenty Brand Manager, Mark Malak said they are perfect for a hot savoury breakfast on the go.

“Consumers want more choice in the hot food section. We all know it’s important to have a good breakfast – and too many busy people skip it for want of a convenient, tasty and value-for-money option,” he said.

“Brekky Wraps are a totally new offering designed to give on-the-go consumers an attractive breakfast alternative.

“If you’re after a quick, easy and tasty savoury breakfast, Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps are just the thing.

“We’ve used only the finest ingredients.

“For a true Aussie favourite, there’s a delicious ham Brekky Wrap with chunks of tomato and melted cheese.

“And we have a Brekky Wrap with scrambled egg, a slice of bacon and a seasoned sausage patty glazed with Barbecue Sauce – an offer sure to appeal to Aussie Blokes everywhere.

“Each wrap is hand-folded in a light tortilla wrap, making it easy to eat on the go.

Four’N Twenty Brekky Wraps are available in the hot food section of convenience stores nationally, priced at $4.95.

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UK dairy farmers protest price cuts

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

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

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

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

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

Government involvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aussie farmers suffeing same issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supermarkets have too much power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The 5 strangest ways food will be different in future

Food that comes out of a printer, giant skyscraper farms to meet the increased world food demand, drinks made of urine and jelly made out of humans.

These are just some of the wackiest ways food is set to change in the future, according to experts.

Check out the full list at Cracked.com, but be prepared to be utterly grossed out.

Are people born by caesarean section more likely to be obese?

A study recently published in the British Medical Journal (project Viva) has found that children born by caesarean section have a higher rate of obesity at age three than children born naturally. At first glance, how someone is born seems unlikely to cause obesity, so should expectant mothers considering a caesarean birth be worried?

The study recruited women during early pregnancy and then followed their children after birth (1,255 in total). Data were collected on a wide range of lifestyle and health factors from both parents and children.

Just over 20% of the children were born by caesarean section. Even after accounting for differences in birth weight and the mothers' pre-pregnancy weight, infants born by C-section had twofold higher odds of developing obesity. The authors postulate that a caesarean birth somehow alters our biology in such a way that there’s a greater risk of developing obesity.

A very basic view of obesity biology is that it’s a consequence of skewed energy balance – if you pump in more calories than your body needs, it will store the excess energy as fat. Although there’s a lot of truth in this model, it’s a gross oversimplification of how our bodies work. It certainly offers no explanation for why rates of obesity should differ between children born by different routes.

So we need to consider what other factors are involved in obesity and how they might relate to birth mode. The prime candidate among these is gut microbes.

 

A sensory survey of healthy people pooing will confirm we all have individual differences. Kevyn Jacobs

 

Obesity can be readily induced experimentally by feeding a high-calorie diet to mice. This makes it sound like a cut-and-dried case for diet being the main factor. But the microbes that live in the gut (the gut microbiota) also contribute to our nutrition.

The involvement of gut microbiota in nutrition has been tested by keeping mice delivered by caesarean section in germ-free isolators to have them grow up with no microbes. Researchers found diet-induced obesity was extremely difficult to generate in the absence of microbes.

The killer experiment, however, was when researchers re-introduced microbes into these previously germ-free mice. Mice that were colonised with microbes from fat mice (who’d been fed the high-calorie diet) put on a lot more weight than those that were colonised by microbes from lean mice. This indicates that the microbes in our gut influence how much of the food we eat actually gets turned into fat.

So the risk factor is what gut microbes you have and what we really need to be asking is whether a caesarean birth change our gut microbiota. Addressing this question requires you take a great interest in poo, since much of it is basically gut microbes.

In healthy adults, the microbial community is stable over time, but individually distinctive – each of us has a unique collection of microbial mates. Even a brief sensory survey of healthy people pooing will confirm we all have individual differences.

How we get these differences is essentially a combination of what microbes we are exposed to (our environment), what food we give them (our diet) and time (our developmental stage). Babies born by caesarean section will definitely have a different initial exposure to microbes and this latest study forces us to consider the possibility that this initial difference could cause lifelong differences that predispose some to obesity.

 

A stable microbial community isn’t formed until we have a fully developed immune system and an adult diet pattern. Steven Depolo

 

Although birth is when we first encounter microbes, the process of acquiring a stable gut microbiota takes time. As any parent knows, an infant’s poo will change dramatically in texture, smell and even colour over the first year and introducing anything new to the diet often precedes an interesting experience. A stable microbial community isn’t formed until we have a fully developed immune system and an adult diet pattern – well after age three.

To assess the risks of a caesarean birth for later obesity we need to know the relative importance of birth mode and postnatal environment on microbial colonisation. Studies in both animals and humans suggest that diet and environment over the postnatal period are more important than events immediately around birth.

Those aspects of the postnatal environment that appear most important are infant diet (especially breastmilk as opposed to formula milk) and the gut microbiota of the people most closely exposed to an infant (both parents, any siblings and childcare).

Interestingly, the Project Viva study also found significant differences between paternal and maternal body mass index (children delivered by caesarean were more likely to have overweight parents) and breast-feeding patterns (children delivered by natural birth were more likely to have initiated breast-feeding and to have been breastfed for longer).

This fascinating study shows how environmental factors influence our insides. Whether caesarean deliveries drove the difference in obesity observed in the Project Viva cohort or were simply associated with other postnatal environmental factors is a question that requires further study. For now, I wouldn’t let worry about obesity trump other reasons for considering a caesarean birth.

Andrew Holmes receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Health & Medical Research Council.

The Conversation

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

Accessing the market with innovation

Over 60 years ago, expert psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, a crucial breakthrough for understanding human behaviour and requirements, and it is still used today.

The most important of the needs outlined in his pyramid are the ‘Basic,’ or ‘Physiological’ needs: food, water, shelter and warmth.

Basically, the things essential to keep you alive.

But why is this relevant to packaging? Because what we’re talking about here is how everyone gets some of these most important requirements.

If a person can’t open the package to consume food or water to keep them alive, it is more than a little problem.

Without being dramatic about this, it is a matter of life and death, or at the very least nutrition.

Even the most able-bodies and healthy people know the frustration of not being able to open a package, whether it be food or electronic goods or a packet of pens.

But for an increasing number of Australians, the ability to open many packages is impossible.

“In packaging, there has been a shift towards portion control items andsmaller pack sizes.

“Statistics show that there are 6.4 million people with arthritis or a disability in Australia, seven million people are 50-plus, 1.7 million have problems with their eyesight,” Fergal Barry from Arthritis Australia told Food Magazine.

“If you combine the over-50’s with the number of people with arthritis or a disability, that means one in two are facing some kind of restriction with opening packages.”

“When you to open a jar if pickles, for example, you’re actually performing several tasks at once.

“You’ve got to pick it up and hold it, so the weight and shape of the jar impacts that.

Then there’s the friction, if it’s damp for example, it might be more difficult to hold.

“Then there is the labelling and font size and the effectiveness with how messages are communicated.

“And then the lid!

“The width and the depth of the lid will come into play, as will breaking the seal and resealing it.

“So because it is a combination of tasks, it becomes more difficult.”

Dealing with an ageing population

Our ageing population is growing quicker than medical and assistance services can keep up with, and a recent report found that more than 40 per cent of older Australians living in community housing are “malnourished or at risk of malnourishment.”

Much of this malnourishment can be attributed to the quality of food elderly Australians have access to, how easily they can prepare it, but most importantly, if they can open the packaging it comes in.

And it’s not only in their homes that elderly people are struggling to open food packaging, with those in hospitals often not much better off, as Jacky Nordsvan, Packaging Specialist at Nestlé, told Food Magazine.

“The report by the health services basically showed that poor ease-of-use food packaging is a significant contributor to malnourished elderly in public hospitals,” she said.

“Particularly in public hospitals, where the food is bought in packaged meals, this obviously makes it more difficult for patients to feed themselves.

Nestlé is leading with way in accessible food packaging, to address the needs of not only elderly Australians, but everyone who has ever struggled to get a package opened.

“As they get older, people are less likely to want to ask people to do stuff for you, so it is a real problem we need to address.”

This is where a bunch of Maslow’s other needs on his hierarchy come into play, including safety needs on the rung up from the most basic of needs, all the way up through the self-esteem needs including achievement and respect, to self actualisation needs at the top of the pyramid, which includes talent and fulfilment.

When you look at it like this, and think that packaging is often overlooked by the majority of society, it makes you realise that more has to be done in this market.

1 in 2 Australians struggles to access packaging

“It’s not just focused on that [elderly] part of the population, anything that is hard to open that we can make easier is good for all consumers,” Nordsvan said.

“The reason we’re seen as leaders in the area is because at a packaging conference a couple of years ago, we laid out our packaging and asked people if they could open it and they could use their hands or a knife of hammer and we even had a little mannequin of a husband when it got that hopeless and I think that had our packaging reps been there they would have been mortified about how hard it was.”

Nestlé is one of the partners in Arthritis Australia’s mission to improve packaging accessibility, which Barry points out is about more than just getting a package opened.

“The British use the term ‘openability,’ but I think it suggests by its very nature that it is just about opening packaging, whereas the term we use, ‘accessibility’, is much broader than that,” he said.

“There is more to ‘accessibility,’ there is the openability requirement, which is about being able to open a package.

“There’s the labelling, and people’s ability to read messages and other communications, and lastly the cognitive elements, which is the ability for the consumer to understand messages.”

The collaboration of Arthritis Australia, NSW Health and a number of other manufacturers is a huge step forward for not only developing accessible packaging, but making consumers aware of the importance of doing so.

Fighting for a spot

With all the mandatory information, such as nutritional guides and ingredient lists, added to the essential marketing aspects, on packages which are frequently being cut down to create portion-sized offerings, it’s very crowded place these days.

Add to that the pressures of the high Australian dollar and its impact on exports as well as the strain placed on companies through the supermarket price wars, and you have a very competitive, difficult situation for manufacturers and suppliers.

But if companies are willing to innovate their packaging, like Nestlé has, they will find that they have an extra selling point in the market.

While there will be some costs to changing current packaging to make it accessible, Nordsvan explained that the most crucial way to cut those costs is to consider these needs in the design stages, not when it has been launched and problems identified.

“If you put the consumer in the front of your mind when designing packaging, it is a driver for innovation and when we compare designs, we come up with improvements,” Barry explained to Food Magazine.

“For manufacturers and brand owners in this country with private label increasing in the way that it is, how do you compete with China on cost in Australia?

“We have the Accessibility Benchmark Scale which ranks packaging from a plus eight to minus eight, so if a supermarket is trying to decide between two companies supplying private label packaging, and these isn’t much difference on food quality or price, but the packaging is higher on the accessibility scale, it could win the contract.”

“Now you can say ‘ours is a plus-six and there is a plus-two so ours is far easier to open and will make more sales because unlike us, they have already eliminated parts of the market.’

“It could be your brand that gets deleted from shelves.

“Failure to act when the competition is innovating will lose you the business.

“It will help win business for some, but it will lose it for others.

“And if anyone is sitting there saying ‘that won’t happen,’ well it already is.”

 

Robatech, Fallsdell, Proseal & Result Packaging head to AUSPACK PLUS 2013

Robatech, Fallsdell, Proseal Australia and Result Packaging are just some of the companies who will be heading to Sydney for AUSPACK PLUS 2013 and between them they will be showcasing new hot and cold glue technology, MAP in-line tray sealers and new ink jet technology.

Robatech announced that they will be displaying their advanced hot and cold glue technology on their stand during AUSPACK PLUS.

Milton Krowitz, National Sales Manager, Robatech, said that with the trend towards personalised print products, printers are finding production runs to be smaller than they have been in the past.

“Greater flexibility is therefore required in order to cost effectively manufacture these smaller runs of print products which are then packaged into folding boxes. Robatech innovative glue application system Corrutack-2 offers an ideal solution to meet this trend: It provides exceptional gluing flexibility for folding boxes as it can be easily readjusted for different types and lengths of production runs.” Krowitz said.

Error-free production with Corrutack-2

Corrutack-2 is a new system for the gluing of flaps of corrugated board and is suitable for flexo-folder gluer machines. Fixed gluing stations often impair a rapid change from top to bottom gluing, or board cut-outs block the run through the station. Corrutack-2 offers an ideal solution in such cases: The adhesive application and the glue verification take place contact-free, and the system is so flexible that it can switch very quickly from top to bottom gluing.

User-friendly gluing of liquid adhesives

CartoGlue LP, the mobile low-pressure cold glue system, enables flexible and fast utilisation on postal envelope machines, folding machines and flexo-folder gluer machines. The cold glue trolley feeds dispersion adhesive and uses up to four heads to apply it to print products and converting materials. The optional 7" touchscreen of the pattern control enables the user-friendly creation of application patterns.

According to Scott Templeton, General Manager of Proseal Australia, this will be their third consecutive AUSPACK PLUS, which is an indication of the success of the exhibition.

“Proseal Australia is very pleased to be exhibiting at AUSPACK PLUS 2013 as we see the show as a great way to showcase our machinery range and an excellent opportunity to meet new contacts and catch up with existing clients,” Templeton said.

“In 2013 Proseal will be showcasing our latest range of full vacuum MAP in-line tray sealers. The MAP in-line tray sealers are designed and built specifically for use in high-demand food production environments and the high-speed vacuum MAP machines will provide an excellent solution for many applications.” he said.      

Darren Cameron, Sales Consultant, Fallsdell Machinery, said that like other exhibitors the company is also looking forward to exhibiting at the 2013 AUSPACK PLUS.

“Fallsdell will once again be exhibiting a great range of our New Equipment as well as Equipment from our long list of Worldwide Agencies. AUSPACK PLUS is a great opportunity for us to showcase, under one roof, our full range and services to our customers and potential clients.”  Cameron said.

Michael Dossor, National Sales & Marketing Manager, Result Packaging added that they look forward to every AUSPACK PLUS as it is a major industry event.

“AUSPACK PLUS allows Result Packaging the opportunity to build our brand by showcasing our entire equipment range, and to develop new customer relationships opening the doors to more business,” Dossor said. 

“Result Packaging will be showcasing the new Leibinger’s JET3 and JET2neo which are state-of-the-art technology that will revolutionise ink jet printing," he said.

AUSPACK PLUS 2013 is a ‘must-attend’ exhibition on the Australian Packaging and Processing calendar and will be held at the Sydney Showgrounds, Sydney Olympic Park from the 7th to the 10th of May 2013.

AUSPACK PLUS is owned and presented by the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA), Australia’s only national packaging and processing machinery organisation.

To receive a prospectus on exhibiting at AUSPACK PLUS 2013, contact Luke Kasprzak, Event Manager, on PH: 02 9556 7972 or email LKasprzak@etf.com.au

 

Major food companies targeting low income communities more likely to lead unhealthy lifestyles

A new report has found that major food processors are targeting low and middle income areas with their unhealthy products, armed with the knowledge that consumption of unhealthy foods is higher in amongst those societal groups.

"There is significant penetration by multinational processed food manufacturers such as Nestle, Kraft, PepsiCo, and Danone into food environments in low-and-middle income countries, where consumption of unhealthy commodities is reaching—and in some cases exceeding—a level presently observed in high income countries", international researchers wrote in this week's PLoS Medicine.

Led by David Stuckler from the Univiversity of Cambridge, the authors from the UK, US and India analysed trends in unhealthy food and beverages, including sugary drinks and processed foods that are high in salt, fat, and sugar, alcohol, and tobacco between 1997 and 2010 and forecasted to 2016.

They discovered that not only is the rate of consumption of unhealthy foods and drinks growing faster in low to middle income communities, it is also growing faster than any high-income market in history.

In April a US study found conclusive evidence that where a child lives has a significant impact on their chances of being obese.

A neighbourhood’s good walkability, proximity to high quality parks, and access to healthy food can lower the chances of being obese by almost 60 per cent, the study found.

Then last month a new Australia-wide study found that people living in rural areas are more likely to consume alcohol and be overweight and obese.

The researchers of the latest study also found that higher intake of unhealthy foods correlates strongly with higher tobacco and alcohol sales.

They believe the global rise of transnational food and drink companies penetrating these areas more likely to have unhealthy lifestyles is a deliberate and dangerous move.

"Until health practitioners, researchers, and politicians are able to understand and identify feasible ways to address the social, economic, and political conditions that lead to the spread of unhealthy food, beverage, and tobacco commodities, progress in areas of prevention and control of non-communicable diseases will remain elusive."

Earlier this month a new study found 95 per cent of Australian children over two exceeded their recommended intake of saturated fat.

Edible packaging could reduce waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need plans and education to protect agricultural land: farm group

As the debate over foreign ownership of prime agricultural land and Australia being Asia’s ‘foodbowl’ rages, a new review by a leading farming group has found that the land needs to be preserved.

The Australian Farm Institute (AFI) found that everybody thinks their particular interest in land should be prioritised, whether they’re environmentalists, farmers, miners, or even overseas and urban developers.

The Does Australia need a national policy to preserve agricultural land? report also looked at the suggestion that local production would have to increase by 70 per cent to become the world ‘foodbowl’ Prime Minister Gillard wants us to be.

She made the comments last month, saying Australia should embrace the growing Asian middle class, and gear itself towards supplying their food.

But it has been slammed by experts, who say Asia won’t need Australian food because it has already made contingencies to supply for its own people, and by farmers who say the PM is out of touch with farmers and that current policies are hindering the industry, not helping it.

The AFI recommended in its report that  Australian policy-makers should think carefully about future farmland management.

The report is largely focused on mining and the onset of coal seam gas and its impact on farming and the environment, but it also touches on the hugely controversial foreign ownership of agricultural land, and the governmental policies to encourage investment from overseas companies.

"We can only go by what the statistics tell us and there are no useable statistics on how much agricultural land is being lost to competing interests and foreign owned farming companies each year," AFI executive director Mick Keogh said.

There were calls earlier this year for a register of all the investors in Australian land, to provide transparency for the industry and wider Australian society.

"An increasing number of people are starting to express concerns that Australia is being too reckless with its best agricultural land and future generations might regret decisions that are currently being made about the future use of that land," Keogh said.

"Agriculture productivity is directly related to the quality of a soil and prevailing climatic conditions and while Australia appears to have plenty of land in reality only about three per cent is actually suitable for cropping and even less of this is considered to be prime agricultural land.

"With urban, mining and environmental demands taking up more land and foreign investors also purchasing significant areas it's legitimate to ask whether Australia can realistically plan to become the future food bowl of Asia."

The AFI's research also found Australia did not have a good understanding of where our prime land is located or how much of it was not being used for agriculture.

Earlier this week, the Federal Government’s plans to make Australia the Asian food bowl were labelled “a waste of taxpayer’s money” by the Wilderness Society, and a poll found over 80 per cent of Australians are also against plans to encourage Chinese investment in agricultural land.