Frozen berries scare propels focus on traceability

Food safety today is taking centre stage with the spotlight clearly beaming down on the need for an unequivocal, standard practice across the entire food sector.

The recent 2015 frozen berries case is not the first food safety incident of its kind and it won’t be the last. According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Product Safety Recalls Australia website there were 75 recalls of food and grocery items in 2014 alone.

The latest incident was preceded by other high profile cases including the Hepatitis A outbreak allegedly linked to semi-dried tomatoes in Australia in 2009, and the contamination scare that triggered a recall of Fonterra products that may have contained whey protein in a number of countries around the world, including China and Australia, in 2013.

Initial detection of the cause of a foodborne virus outbreak or food contamination is clearly an issue for the food regulators to review and address as part of the Food Standards Code.

According to FoodLegal, experts in Australian and international food law, “It appears that little has been done to improve the situation for preventing an outbreak of food-born Hepatitis A in foods in Australia in the period from the last major outbreak, which occurred in 2009, until the latest outbreak in 2015.” Source: “Hepatitis A and food testing: What lessons were learned by governments from last time?”, 10 March 2015.

These food safety incidents have also identified an inherent gap in the current traceability systems we have in the Australian food chain today.

To help prevent these food contamination outbreaks from reoccurring in the interests of public health and safety, we need to examine the learnings from these incidents and explore the opportunities for improving traceability and supply chain visibility.

Product visibility and traceability through the supply chain

Following the Government Inquiry into the Whey Protein Concentrate Contamination Incident involving Fonterra, The Dairy Traceability Working Group was established in New Zealand. 

Recent reports released by the Dairy Traceability Working Group outline the most appropriate regulatory provision for the traceability of dairy products and the development of a code of practice to guide the dairy industry in implementing these requirements.

It is important to note that recommendations of the working group will also be considered for all food sectors, not just dairy.

The working Group’s proposed regulatory requirements include:

  • End-to-end traceability from farm to consumer using the “one up, one down” system (tracing back where product has come from and tracking forward where product has gone), with particular reference to participants in the supply chain having access to Recallnet – the voluntary product recall online portal administered by GS1
  • Future consideration of implementing EPCIS (EPC Information Services) – a GS1 standard that enables trading partners to share information about the physical movement and status of products as they travel through the supply chain from business to business and ultimately to the consumer. EPCIS is an international tool that enables seamless end-to-end traceability.

GS1 standards to protect the Australian food chain

To protect the security of the Australian food chain and the safety of consumers, the implementation of GS1 standards will allow for better visibility of product, up and down the supply chain at all times. By using GS1 standards, the recalled products will be able to be traced quickly and efficiently back to the source of origin.

Traceability is all about tracking any food through all stages of the supply chain from the source of raw materials, additives and other ingredients through to production, processing, packaging and distribution, including importation and retail.

Effective traceability enables food businesses to specifically target the product(s) affected by a food safety problem, thereby minimising disruption to trade and reducing potential public health risks.

GS1 standards exist today to encode data such as batch/lot numbers, use-by and best before dates and other product attributes at all levels of packaging from bulk materials to single produce items and finished goods.

Recall communication plan

Traceability is an important part of an organisation’s product recall management plan.

“Not having effective traceability processes can often lead to delays in actioning a product recall. This is one of the leading causes of incidents escalating into a crisis,” said Maria Palazzolo, Chief Executive Officer at GS1 Australia.

“The ability for a company to successfully track and trace their products through their supply chain and retrieve them from the marketplace is a key component to protecting the safety of the consumer and protecting the brand.”

The speed and effectiveness with which a recall is communicated to retailers and government authorities has implications for not only consumer safety, but a firm’s business reputation.

A detailed and well thought out recall communication plan is therefore an essential business tool for any company.

With GS1 Australia’s Recallnet, issuing a recall or withdrawal notification is simple, fast and inexpensive. Recallnet is a centralised online portal designed to streamline the management of product recall and withdrawal notifications. Distribution of a recall using Recallnet facilitates significant improvement in the speed of notification to stakeholders.                   

Based on global GS1 standards and best practices, Recallnet simplifies and automates the exchange of information between suppliers, distributors and retailers as well as government agencies such as FSANZ and the ACCC.  

Implementing GS1 standards

Technologies including barcodes capable of encoding and capturing much more than a single product identifier through all points in a supply chain, allowing for greater product traceability have been in existence since 2005 but have not been adopted by industry.

Thirty-six years ago, Australian retailers adopted the GS1 System of barcoding and numbering as their preferred standard for trade.

GS1 Australia will coordinate a working group with industry support to discuss the adoption of traceability technologies to identify the costs and benefits to brand owners and the industry, and develop a road map for implementation.

“GS1 Australia has assisted Australian food and beverage businesses in improving their ability to track and trace their products up and down their supply chains by implementing GS1 standards,” added Mrs Palazzolo.

“We work towards helping industry create a seamless supply chain, allowing Australian companies to adopt world’s best practice supply chain management techniques.”

GS1 DataBar – The one little thing that will have a BIG impact

GS1 DataBar is a new family of barcodes that are an open, global standard, just like existing EAN/UPC barcodes. They have a huge potential to transform the way retailers do business as they carry more information than the current GS1 retail Point-of-Sale (POS) barcodes. They can be used on small, hard-to-mark consumer products and fresh produce, enabling a piece of fruit to be scanned instead of being looked up on the system.

In the instance of the recent frozen berries scare – if the finished product had been barcoded with a GS1 DataBar, the product recall could have been much more efficient as it would have provided greater visibility about which consumers had purchased the product and which retail outlet had a particular batch that may have been contaminated.

For fresh produce, GS1 Australia and GS1 New Zealand are currently working with the Produce Marketing Association Australia-New Zealand (PMA A-NZ) to develop a roadmap for the implementation of a more effective produce identification and traceability system, including GS1 DataBar, for produce sold as loose or in bulk.

Australian retailers began a process of upgrading their store scanning systems to accommodate GS1 DataBar in 2006. Unfortunately, other priorities have pushed ahead of implementing this capability across their networks.


Glass found in Heinz frozen vegies

An Auckland consumer found pieces of broken glass in her Heinz Wattie's frozen peas and corn.

Monique Peters said she was eating a prawn and vegetable fried rice meal when she felt something hard and sharp in her mouth. She pulled the object out and found it was a piece of glass, reports.

She said she was not sure at the time which ingredients of the meal the glass had come from.

Later in the week she encountered the same thing while eating vegetables from the same packet with her roast lamb dinner.

Peters said she found three pieces of glass in her food in total.

"I was really shocked," she said.

While she was not harmed by the glass, she said she was lucky she had not swallowed it without noticing.

It could have been a different story if a child was eating the vegetables, she said.

"It was quite sharp, quite raggedy and quite large," she said, adding she had been put off eating frozen vegetables for a while.

The Coatesville woman contacted Heinz Wattie's, which thanked her for bringing the issue to its attention and asked her to send the glass to them.

Peters said the company seemed "a little bit relaxed".

"I definitely felt a little bit angry last night," she said.

Heinz Wattie's spokesman Paul Hemsley said the company took such reports "extremely seriously".

A full investigation was already underway and the packaging and "foreign objects" would be collected on Friday (20 March).

The investigation would look at when each of the ingredients was harvested and processed, and when they were packaged for sale.

"Because there is specialised equipment for detecting foreign objects on the processing lines for these ingredients as well as manual observation, there is obviously some surprise at the presence of such items, but the investigation will be full and thorough, and nothing will be ruled out," he said.

"At this stage we can only apologise to the consumer, and thank her for reporting the matter…Thankfully such reported incidents are rare."


Sealing in safety: the importance of tamper-evidence

While it may represent an additional cost for manufacturers, ensuring your packaging has a tamper-evident design is a safe move.

Packaging security is critical to food, for keeping food fresh as well as safe to eat. Packaging security can protect against everything from consumer tampering to bioterrorism to product counterfeiting.

Definition of tamper-evident packaging
Packaging having an indicator or barrier to entry which, if breached or missing, can reasonably be expected to provide visible or audible evidence to consumers that tampering has occurred.

Tamper evidence in packaging
Tampering involves the intentional altering of information, a product, a package, or system. Solutions may involve all phases of product production, distribution, logistics, sale, and use. No single solution can be considered as ‘tamper proof’. Most times many levels of security need to be considered to minimise the risk of tampering.

Some considerations are:

  • • Identify all feasible methods of unauthorised access into a product or package. In addition to the primary means of entry, also consider secondary or ‘back door’ methods.
  • Identify type of tampering, what level of knowledge, materials or equipment.
  • Improve the tamper resistance by making tampering more difficult.
  • Add tamper-evident features to help indicate the existence of tampering.
  • Educate consumers to be aware of tampering.
  • Ensure that the window of opportunity to tamper is minimised.
  • Ensure that the time available for tampering is decreased.

Product packaging
Tamper-evident design is possibly most visible in product packaging and labelling, where it can be critical to know that the product has not been modified since leaving the manufacturer.

Cans of baby food were among the first cases, where manufacturers were extorted by persons claiming to have added various poisons to baby food and replaced them on supermarket shelves. The threat of public fear meant that tamper-evident design principles had the potential to save a lot of money in the future.

Jars of food items soon started appearing with a metal bubble-top lid, commonly known as a ‘safety button’, which popped out if the jar had been opened and stayed flat if the jar was not ever opened. Customers were advised not to buy a product with a popped lid.

Newer jars of food tend to come with a plastic shrink-sleeve on the edge of the lid, which is removed when opening.

The Johnson & Johnson Tylenol crisis of 1982 involved over-the-counter medications. Due to various regulations, many manufacturers of food (and medicine) now use induction sealing to assist in providing evidence of tampering. Packaging that tears open in a ragged manner or otherwise cannot be resealed is also used to help indicate tampering.

In many cases, multiple layers or indicators are used because no single layer or device is ‘tamper-proof’. Consideration should be given to unique indicators (which are to be changed regularly to avoid counterfeiting).

End-users and consumers need to be educated to keep an eye open for signs of tampering, both at the primary and at secondary levels of packaging.

Track and trace
Processors and their suppliers are developing a variety of packaging technologies to keep food safe from such interference and to provide fast, thorough product tracking and tracing in the event of a recall.

Covert and overt packaging techniques are developing more and more and becoming substantially more sophisticated. Covert techniques require a scanner or other device for detection. Marking packages with invisible, ultraviolet-luminescent ink is an example of covert security. Overt refers to something visible on the package, such as a batch code or tamper-evident bands.

RFID tags as a form of tamper evidence
The radio frequency identification (RFID) tags consist of a tamper-evident technology to ensure that the RFID tag has not been interfered with after initial positioning on an article. These tags, if tampered with, become disabled, thereby preventing use of the tags on counterfeit or substitute products, and ensuring that detecting a working tag also means identifying the original product to which it is attached. As food and beverage companies increasingly experiment with RFID to satisfy retailer demands, they are enjoying the side benefit of greater control of cases and pallets moving through the supply chain. The heightened control increases the security of products during distribution.

A fundamental reason to incorporate security features into packaging is to provide protection against vindictive tampering, or at least evidence of an attempt. Tamper-evident packages typically show visible signs of interfering, such as a broken seal.

The time has come for us to commence placing tamper evidence onto any product that touches the body and is ingested, inhaled or absorbed into the blood stream.

Pierre Pienaar is education director at the Australian Institute of Packaging (AIP).


NZ recall after plastic found in sausages

New Zealand sausage maker Premier Beehive recalled four types of sausage from NZ shops after plastic was found in them by an Auckland consumer. reports that the affected products were various types of pork sausages. The pork arrived at the company’s plant in Carterton on the North Island, wrapped in plastic. Some of this remained stuck to the meat and was minced along with the meat.

"We immediately went into investigation mode once we received the complaint from the customer this week and I'm pleased to say we haven't had any more. We thought it was in the best interests of the customers and the brand," Premier Beehive Managing director John Kippenberger said.

He added that the affected products have been removed from shelves and the company hopes to have new products available in stores by Wednesday next week.

As the National Business Review reports, Premier Beehive has bought a property in Palmerston North which it intends to use as its national distribution centre.

It paid nearly $5 million for the 2.1 ha property, which was previously owned and operated by Foodstuffs. It includes a large cold store building.

Smallgoods warehouse fire causes $1m in damage

A fire at Westphalia Gourmet Fine Foods in Western Australia’s Bentley has caused $1 million in damage.

According to The West Australian, the fire was accidental, starting after ash from a meat smoker was poured into a plastic bin.

The fire started at approximately 6.45pm, spreading to the switchboard equipment and cool rooms, before being extinguished by 7.30pm.

Food Manufacturing Guide to Safety released

Pro-Visual Publishing has released its newest edition of the Food Manufacturing Industry Guide to Safety 2014/15.

This guide aims to address all aspects of the food manufacturing industry, ensuring that employers and employees are maintaining a safe and healthy workplace, and was created in collaboration with the Australian Food Microbiology,

This year’s edition focuses on maintaining a clean and sterile work environment so contamination does not occur. It also highlights the roles and responsibilities of food businesses and government during a food recall, key steps involved in the process; vital elements of a food recall plan, and the legal requirements and obligations for food businesses.

“I would like to thank all of the sponsors of the Food Manufacturing Industry Guide to Safety 2014/15. Their support has made it possible for the guide to be distributed free of charge” – John Hutchings, CEO, Pro-Visual Publishing.


Independent safety reviews will foster trust in GM technology

The topic of releasing genetically modified (GM) products into food and the environment is highly polarised. But are we making any progress with it?

The debate is now so vicious and impatient that to have any engagement is taken as permission by others to tell you that you are “pro” or “anti” everything that has to do with these products, even extending to accusations of your support for the science behind them.

But a 2013 report Where there is smoke, is there fire? Responding to the results of alarming studies on the safety of GMOs, by the Dutch Commission on Genetic Modification (COGEM), is an interesting divergence from the routine.

COGEM, a statutory advisory body of scientists created to provide advice to government on GM, makes nine major recommendations on how to better support the work of, and trust in, GMO safety regulators.

I am sceptical about some of the recommendations, and about singling out certain papers by name as “alarming”, while apparently neglecting that others might one day turn out to be wrongly overconfident about safety. Those caveats aside, three of its recommendations could be helpful for (re)building trust in regulation of biotechnology products.

Three key recommendations

I evaluate what I believe to be three important recommendations as a single “package” because only taken together could they hope to restore or improve public trust and reduce polarisation.

  1. carry out random repeat studies or supervised inspections of GMO safety studies by companies
  2. ensure in-house knowledge and competences in specific areas of science and science communication within the ministries
  3. promote scientific research into the safety of GMOs by making it more attractive for researchers to carry out counter-studies and repeat studies (for example through the provision of funding and access to research materials)

There are two ways that the capacity for repeating or overseeing industry studies could be developed. One way is in the regulatory agency itself, the other in the scientific community.

Regardless of the strategy chosen, the cost should be borne by the party that expects to make the profit and without creating any sense of entitlement for meeting those costs.

Many people mistrust the science demonstrating the safety of GM technology. Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND


The capacity for independently repeating GMO safety studies is rare or extinct in most countries. As COGEM correctly states in its report:

The regulator, such as Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) or New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), does not demonstrate the safety of the products it regulates. It endorses (or rejects) the claims of safety made by those developing the products. That makes the recommendation to carry out random repeat studies for GM products a significant departure from what happens now.

If the regulator were to carry out such studies as part of the risk assessment, it would mean that “in-house knowledge and competences” were not just based on ability to evaluate scientific studies, but extended to the design, conduct and defence of experiments capable of challenging or critically confirming the safety studies now solely supplied by those seeking regulatory approval.

Building the capacity for risk assessment

In complying with the recommendations, governments might choose instead to outsource the science to public sector laboratories. That way any study – whether it was evidence of safety or of harm – could be put to the test.

In doing so, they would contribute to the third COGEM recommendation which is to build capacity in the wider scientific community to conduct such studies.

If this were the strategy chosen, then the testing laboratories could neither benefit from the product under test nor from finding a harm. They also need to be protected from legal challenges by developers.

Those who would be conducting these experiments must have the reasonable expectation of a productive career regardless of what they may find. This is more problematic than it might seem.

Many funding bodies have mixed the objectives of science and innovation through intellectual property licensing. Even where non-commercial public-minded science is funded, it is at levels that a research scientist cannot count on to continuously support his or her work.

The COGEM recommendation exposes a systemic erosion of public capacity to independently challenge or affirm commercial science.

To enact the third recommendation is potentially revolutionary in that it requires substantive rethinking of how we support the non-entrepreneurial but creative, spirited, dedicated, ambitious and accomplished scientist and the institution in which they work.

Different standards of evidence review

Different standards of evidence gathering are applied to scientific and regulatory work. These are acknowledged by COGEM, but not explicitly evaluated. That is an important omission for a report seeking to find ways forward in regulation of controversial technological products.

Domitille Parent/Flickr, CC BY-NC

The common high standard of peer-review in research is blind (or anonymous) peer review. The characteristics of a blind system are that the authors must convince an impartial editor that they have fully and properly addressed criticisms made by expert peers who are free to be frank because their identity is protected.

The standard practice used by regulators on their own decisions is to place themselves in the position of editor, choosing who will review their findings and whether, or how, to respond to any criticisms.

The standard practice used to approve new technological products is different still, as COGEM’s report explains:

Applications for marketing authorisation of GM crops also contain unpublished and non-peer-reviewed information, which suggests that different criteria apply to different stakeholders […] the studies submitted in support of permit applications also undergo a type of review in the form of appraisals by the competent authorities and advisory bodies.

The regulator does act as a sort of referee of applications because it can ask for more information or call for new experiments within the limits of the regulator’s governing legislation.

Nevertheless, this and other similar review systems in common use are less stringent types of review than most research journals use. This is because the reviewer is not anonymous (and therefore not fully protected) and the materials needed to replicate the developer’s experiments are not automatically available to those wanting to verify their findings. Where such materials are made available, it is by ad hoc and limited arrangements based on where you live or where you work.

Standards of decision-making

An irony in the way these different peer-review systems are applied is that the less potential impact a decision is likely to have on the general public the greater the stringency of review.

Scientific papers published in journals have no legal standing. They cannot compel someone to do, sell or use something. In contrast, regulatory decisions determine what products and potential harms and benefits people will experience from products.

In its report, COGEM states that:

In the natural sciences a single publication is usually insufficient to convince other scientists of the validity of a claim.

Yet unpublished work from developers are used to make regulatory decisions that affect what we put in our bodies.

COGEM also observes that it “is not possible to determine immediately whether the results [of an ‘alarming study’] are valid or not, and so the value of the results will have to be investigated”.

Likewise, it is not possible to determine immediately whether the results of a “reassuring study” are valid or not without further investigation and replication. This double standard is routine for regulators.

Recommendations needed to address underlying issues of distrust

Adopting these three COGEM recommendations, and implementing them fastidiously, would significantly build the trust relationship between society, government and private enterprise.

The COGEM recommendations might be criticised for being heavy-handed and bureaucratic. Implementation may select for ever more clever ways to subvert the system. Alternatively, implementation may cause a transition toward a developer-regulator interface that delivers the desired trust.

COGEM’s standing may help governments to rethink how they are regulating new products. They will have to resist considerable pressure from those who would prefer both reduced regulation on new technologies and less accountability. I believe that good regulation can pay for itself in public safety, sector confidence and public trust.

Nothing less ambitious than enthusiastic and uncompromised implementation of these key recommendations is likely to advance both trust in new technologies and ensure the creation of good technologies. If the COGEM strategy worked for GM, which invokes such passion in so many, then it would likely work for many kinds of new technologies and products.

The Conversation

Jack Heinemann receives funding mainly from government funding bodies. He also has accepted some funding from for-profit, philanthropic and NGO sources. He works in a public university, does research using genetic engineering and has a research interest in the safety of GMOs.

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

S-26 baby formula recalled after dead lizard incident

Aspen Nutritionals Australia is voluntarily recalling a batch of baby formula after a Sydney woman found a dead lizard in her tin of S-26 Original Progress.

The affected batch number is 40727482A2, and Stephen Voordouw, general manager at Aspen Nutritionals Australia, said consumers can have confidence that other S-26 products are safe for consumption.

“From our discussion with the complainant we have confirmed that the product can, its contents and packaging will be returned to the NSW Food Authority. It will then be thoroughly tested as a matter of urgency in an independent laboratory here in Australia, and also at the manufacturing site,” he said.

“In the meantime, as a precaution, we are withdrawing only the affected batch from the trade. Other products in the S-26 range are not affected.”

Voordouw added that no previous complaints of this type have been made and that the formula is made in a plant that is fully compliant with global and Australian quality standards.

“We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience this voluntary batch withdrawal may cause. In the meantime, an alternative batch of S-26 Original Progress will be distributed from our warehouse today (14 July) and should be available in most retail outlets by the end of the week,” said Voordouw.


Dead lizard found in S-26 baby formula

A Sydney mother has suggested that S-26 should recall a batch of its infant formula after she discovered a dead lizard in a newly purchased tin.

Artilina Castanares opened the new tin on Friday and discovered the dead lizard, then immediately contacted the company’s head office, Aspen Australia, which advised her that a response could take six to eight weeks, the SMH reports.

“I’m in shock,” Castanares said. "You don’t take any risk when it comes to our children. In the meantime, you would be recalling the product or at least that batch.”

The S-26 Original Process formula is made and packaged in Singapore.


VIDEO: The Week in Focus


In our latest Week in Focus video, we wrap-up some of the most read stories from our website this week.

We cover the sad news of the passing of Doug Lehmann, son of leading winemaker Peter Lehmann, as well as the shocking news that resistance to a banned antibiotic has been found in chickens for sale in major supermarkets and butchers.

You can also the facts on the recent takeover bid for Goodman Fielder.


Robots: boosting efficiency and safety for small manufacturers

Next generation automated technology is providing an innovative solution to critical issues facing many small food manufacturers, while also streamlining the production cycle to boost safety and efficiency.

A new generation of lightweight robots means small food manufacturers in Australia can now enjoy the benefits of automation, previously only available to larger organisations. Many small businesses are turning to robotic technology to transform the entire lifecycle of the food manufacturing process. In fact, the recent interest by small food manufacturers has pushed Australian robotic purchases to record highs.

Through the implementation of new lightweight and compact robots, food manufacturers are now able to build a modern manufacturing workplace – automating industrial processes and upgrading the labour force to operate machines instead of having staff perform monotonous and repetitive manual tasks.

Man or machine
Industrial robots have long excelled at the kind of manually repetitive tasks that employees can find undesirable. Indeed, large food manufacturers in Australia have long used robotics in food processing throughout the production process.

More recently, small manufacturers have turned to more affordable robots to help free-up staff from unstimulating or labour-intensive roles. In small manufacturing facilities, even skilled workers can spend more than 32 hours per week on repetitive activities such as picking or packaging.

Lightweight industrial robots can take over these activities, while also significantly slashing the time taken to complete each action. For example, in a small bottling plant a single robot is able to complete the packaging process more than 35 percent faster than manual handling. The robot is used to pick-up two or three bottles simultaneously from the production line every 2.5 seconds, orienting them, and placing them in the packing machine.

Such a set-up can enable organisations to utilise staff more effectively – freeing them up to perform more skilled activities, such as operating machinery. 

A move to modularity
Today’s emerging manufacturing technologies are extremely adaptable – both in terms of function and the way they integrate into the overall production process. The highly configurable new technologies can significantly improve throughput time – particularly in the areas of preparation and set-up, as well as reducing inspection and put-away time.

For industrial robots, the push for lightweight machines means they can be mounted on the wall or shifted from one location to another, adding flexibility to the manufacturing process, thereby saving money on valuable real estate costs. This is a significant advantage for manufacturers when they choose to expand, move or grow their production line.

Also, small batch and seasonal productions are no longer stumbling blocks for businesses as the robots can be relocated with ease without the need to overhaul the floor layout and can be assigned to carry out different tasks in accordance with demand.

One of the most appealing aspects of the new generation of industrial robotics to small businesses is that they no longer require specialist knowledge to operate. Modern machines can now be completely reconfigured and deployed for any number of tasks in a matter of hours by almost any employee, instead of relying on engineers, therefore avoiding high fees. Lightweight robots now use a drag and drop interface more commonly found on consumer devices. Programming can be done via a teach pendant whereby the user-friendly interface allows the programmer to drag and drop the routines to do their programming. This functionality is very similar to an iPad, allowing manufacturers to take full advantage of all the production benefits of a dedicated production line.

Safety and cost
Of course there are many other considerations when investing in new technology – including the wellbeing of employees and ROI.

Manufacturing roles often consist of labour-intensive manual tasks. These are potentially highly dangerous activities, yet the reality is that for many employees this will constitute a large part of their working week.

Injuries related to both repetitive manual handling and workplace accidents cost the Australian economy millions of dollars every year. Packing and production lines in small operations are particularly risky. However, in contrast to traditional industrial robots in the market, small and lightweight robots can work collaboratively with staff.

Collaborative robots, or “co-bots” (in the majority of cases) don’t require safety shielding, enabling staff to work side-by-side with the robots.

Of course, the business benefit of industrial robotics goes well beyond just safety, with affordability also being one of the main business considerations. During the past few years industrial robots have become increasingly cost-effective. In most instances the investment in a lightweight industrial robot can be recouped in just over a year, and the total initial ownership cost is very low compared to many traditional robots. 

The ease of programming, integration and after sales maintenance means manufacturers save about 30 to 40 percent in integration costs compared to other traditional industrial robots in the market. 

Lightweight robot technology is helping small food manufacturers transform their production lines, while retaining skilled workers and creating a safe workplace environment where employees can work side-by-side with a robotic counterpart.

Shermine Gotfredsen is business development manager at Universal Robots Asia Pacific.

Because we can, does it mean we should? The ethics of GM foods

In this fourth instalment of GM in Australia – a series looking at the facts, ethics, regulations and research into genetically modified crops – Christopher Mayes examines ethical issues surrounding GM foods.

Food is cultural, social and deeply personal, so it’s no surprise that modifications to the way food is produced, distributed and consumed often lead to ethical debates.

Developments in the genetic modification (GM) of foods and crops has resulted in a raft of controversies.

Ethics can help here. While science determines whether we can safely modify the genetic makeup of certain organisms, ethics asks whether we should.

Ethics tries to move beyond factual statements about what is, to evaluative statements about the way we should act towards ourselves, each other and the environment we inhabit. But things are not always so clear-cut.

Three areas of ethics can help frame some of the concerns with GM food and crops: virtue, moral status and consequences.

Virtues vs vices

Ethics of GM foods can be developed by looking at virtue or character. Does the activity of engaging in the development of GM foods and crops erode virtues while producing vices? Or is GM technology a prudent use of knowledge for humanitarian goals?

Character or virtue-based arguments are seen in the case of golden rice – a rice strain modified to contain beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A.

According to the World Health Organisation more than 250 million preschool age children are vitamin A deficient (VAD), and two million deaths and more than half a million cases of blindness are attributed to VAD. The developers of golden rice say it will supply 60% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A.


But global outrage ensued after group of Filipino farmers destroyed a test crop of golden rice. There has been little recognition of the Sisyphean struggle of farmers in countries such as the Philippines, Bangladesh and India, yet these farmers have been described as anti-science Luddites and contributing to the deaths of children.

Critics of golden rice such as Wendell Berry and Vandana Shiva argue that GM technology is a solution offered by industrial agriculture to address problems created by industrial agriculture.

Golden rice is a techno-scientific fix to structural problems created by some of the very companies that may profit from GM crops.

Although golden rice is a non-profit initiative, Shiva argues that it is a trojan horse to give GM crops a humanitarian face.

According to opponents such as Shiva, golden rice and GM crops not only pose negative consequences for farmers, environment and the global poor, but represent vices of greed, arrogance and dominance. Rather than humbly working with and caring for the natural environment, industrial and technological interventions seek to master, profit and control.

Morality of nature

There are also concerns about the moral status of the organism itself – does the modification of an organism’s genetic makeup represent a wrong to the dignity or integrity to the organism?

This position depends on arguments that nature has dignity and interests beyond those of its human inhabitants. Such arguments are not readily accepted due to their metaphysical or theological overtones and dependence on essentialist idea of nature.

Appeals to nature can led to what British philosopher G.E. Moore described as the naturalistic fallacy – the idea that we can derive moral statements from facts of nature. Examples include:

  • raw milk is good because it’s natural
  • standing desks are good because we weren’t meant to sit
  • genetically modified crops are wrong because they’re unnatural.

Perhaps we aren’t so concerned about the essential dignity of rice or wheat, but what about GM pigs that glow in the dark, featherless chickens, cows that produce human milk or the integrity of an ecosystem? Although the arguments are relatively the same, in discussing GM animals, the idea of a natural integrity or dignity seems more compelling.

Weighing up consequences

The most common way of framing the ethics of GM foods is to ask: do GM foods and crops present negative or harmful consequences for individuals, populations or the environment? Answers to this question vary according to context.

Most scientists argue that GM foods are safe to eat and will not harm consumer health.


Yep, all good. Bart/Flickr, CC BY-NC

While critics maintain that long-term health effects are uncertain, they contend that even if GM foods are safe to eat other harmful consequences should be considered, such as the impact of patenting laws on farmers and research integrity, or the risk of GM crops contaminating other crops or escaping into the wild.

Debates over consequences tend to avoid the question of whether there is something inherently objectionable about GM foods and crops. So long as there is appropriate management of risks, then theoretically, there is no ethical problem.

It is unlikely these issues will be resolved any time soon – and likely that new ones will be added – but one area that can be worked on is discourse ethics.

Describing opponents of golden rice, even those that destroy test crops, as committing crimes against humanity or those in favour as pursing economic self-interest does little to move the debate forward.

Until productive discourse is established, barriers between opposing views will only strengthen.

Further reading:
GM techniques: from the field to the laboratory (and back again)
Setting the standards: who regulates Australian GM food?
Safety first – assessing the health risks of GM foods

The Conversation

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

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


Safety first – assessing the health risks of GM foods

In this third instalment of GM in Australia – a series looking at the facts, ethics, regulations and research into genetically modified crops – Ashley Ng explains how GM foods are determined safe to eat.

Genetically modified (GM) foods require strict assessment before they can be considered safe for human consumption.

In Australia, GM foods are regulated under Standards 1.5.2 – Food produced using Gene Technology, which covers the sale and use of food and the labelling of food produced using gene technology.

Its schedule lists the permitted foods produced using gene technology that can be sold in Australia and New Zealand.

Foods produced using gene technology are prohibited from sale in Australia and New Zealand unless they have undergone strenuous pre-market assessment and been approved by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).

FSANZ identifies new or altered hazards associated with the food as a result of the genetic modification. It assesses whether there is risk associated with any identified hazards under the intended conditions of use, and determine if any new conditions are needed to enable safe use of the food.

Joel G Goodman/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

GM food approval in Australia

The only GM foods which have been approved for sale in Australia after a case-by-case analysis are specific GM varieties of canola, corn, cotton, lucerne, potato, rice, soybean and sugarbeet.

It also assesses any altered composition or nutritional value introduced by genetic modification to the organism.

While FSANZ doesn’t conduct its own laboratory tests, its assessments are based on safety data provided by the applicant generated according to quality assurance guidelines on internationally accepted protocols consistent with Good Laboratory Practice:

  • Case-by-case consideration of GM foods is necessary because the key issues requiring consideration in a safety assessment will often depend on the type of food being evaluated and the nature of the genetic modification
  • FSANZ assesses intended (related to the particular genetic modification made) and unintended effects (such as toxicity to the edible part of the plant, or unexpected allergenicity) of the GM
  • Comparisons with conventional foods having an acceptable standard of safety.

FSANZ also uses other sources such as scientific literature, including evaluation of animal feeding studies where available, independent scientists, other regulatory bodies and importantly, the general community who can tender written submissions for currently open assessments.

These case-by-case safety assessments are publicly accessible.

FSANZ is aligned with the principles established by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation Food Standards Program (FAOWHOFSP) and the Codex Alimentarius committee.


GMO food crops are more thoroughly tested than any non-GMO products in the history of agriculture.

GM foods undergo more rigorous pre-market assessment than any other food sold in Australia. As new flood and drought-resistant GM crops and organisms become available, it can be expected that the number of approval applications will increase.

From the aspect of food safety assessment, a stringent process is currently in place that includes invitation for public comment.

As this process can reject GM food applications or impose conditions on their use in the interests of public health, the safety, nutritional and societal impacts of any new GM foods will continue to be assessed before these GM products should appear, appropriately labelled, on our shelves.

Further reading:
GM techniques: from the field to the laboratory (and back again)
Setting the standards: who regulates Australian GM food?
Because we can, does it mean we should? The ethics of GM foods

The Conversation

Ashley Ng receives funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council. He is affiliated with the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Royal College of Pathologists Australasia. He has previously received research funding from the Leukaemia Foundation of Australia and Cure Cancer Australia.

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


No evidence Woolworths sold death cap mushrooms: ACT Health

Paul Kelly, ACT chief health officer, said there’s no evidence that supermarket giant Woolworths supplied the Death Cap mushrooms that have seen three people hospitalised recently.

Two people are in hospitals in Canberra and one in Sydney after eating the deadly fungus, the ABC reports.

The three victims are from the same household and claim they fell ill after eating the mushrooms which they say they bought from a Woolworths store in Dickson.

However ACT chief health officer, Paul Kelly, said there’s no evidence the mushrooms came from Woolworths, and the assumption at this stage is that the mushrooms were picked.

"There's plenty of mushrooms in and around Canberra, particularly inner Canberra, at the moment after all the rain we've had. So it seems like an honest mistake,” Kelly said.

Woolworths is working closely with ACT Health but said there have been no other reports of similar food poisoning incidences.

Death Cap mushrooms can easily be mistaken for other, safe to consume mushroom varieties, however if ingested can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, liver damage and even death.

In 2012, a chef and a kitchen hand died after consuming Death Cap mushrooms that were intended for use as part of a private New Year’s Eve dinner at a bistro in the Harmonie German Club in Canberra’s Narrabundah.

The restaurant's 38 year old chef Lui Jun and 52 year old kitchen hand Tsou Hsiang died from  eating a stir-fry containing the mushrooms.


Man injured in lift fall at NZ brewery

A man has been rushed to hospital in a serious condition after falling down a lift shaft at Dunedin’s Speight’s brewery.

According to, the man, a subcontractor for lift company, Kone, fell at around 9.10 this morning and had to be rescued by emergency services before being transported to hospital.

Dunedin organiser of the Service and Food Workers Union, Steven Briggs, said he isn’t aware of any safety issues at the brewery.

"This is the first time something like this has come up. Each time I've been visiting members at the plant they've been most careful."

A Speight’s spokesperson said the lift, located in the older part of the brewery, has been decommissioned.

An investigation into the incident has been commenced by Speight’s and Worksafe NZ.


Harvey Fresh employee falls to death

An employee of Western Australian beverage manufacturer, Harvey Fresh has died after falling in the company’s transport yard.

The family-owned business has launched an immediate investigation into the 16 February accident to determine what caused the employee to fall, The West reports.

The victim received first aid at the scene before being rushed to nearby Harvey Hospital.

“Our sincerest thoughts are with the family, friends and workmates during this difficult time,” said managing director of the company, Kevin Sorgiovanni.

“This is a tragic incident that will be felt throughout Harvey.”

Both members of the victim’s family and employees have been offered counselling services.


Baby food manufacturer sues packaging firm over choke-risk recalls

Organic baby food manufacturer, Green Monkey, is suing its former packaging producer to recover almost $1 million in costs following a 2011 product recall.

Chief executive of Green Monkey, Charlotte Rebbeck, told the High Court in Auckland that her aspirations of making Green Monkey a leading and ethical exporter were ruined after a product recall in 2011 resulted in lost sales and damaged the brand’s reputation.

According to Rebbeck, an Australian baby choked on a small plastic disc found in a Green Monkey baby food pouch, and while the baby was first diagnosed as having an allergic reaction, the doctor later said it was more likely related to two earlier complaints where mothers found small plastic discs in the product.

The company’s packaging producer at the time was Aperio, who used a Malaysian manufacturer to create the pouches, but Rebbeck said she was assured the packaging would meet stringent EU packaging regulations, reports.

Now operating under the name Green Zoo, Green Monkey wanted to recall products after the first complaint was made, but Aperio said it was a once-off. Once more complaints were made, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product were recalled and Aperio then avoided absorbing responsibility or costs, Rebbeck said.

At the time of the recall, Green Monkey had distributors in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States and the United Arab Emirates, while also supplying to Woolworths supermarkets in Australia. The company lost all its international customers at the time and the recall meant Green Monkey effectively had a six month gap in supplying products to distributors that still wanted the products.

"This completely ruined our brand, but left Aperio completely undamaged,” Rebbeck said.

SPC Ardmona and the cheap Chinese food challenge

The political lobbying accompanying yesterday’s (2 February) government decision to withhold financial support from SPC Ardmona has overshadowed the big structural issues facing Australia’s preserved food industry.

The two major issues are the shift of market demand towards fresh food and the role of Chinese imports.

The decline of SPC Ardmona’s cannery business is not an isolated event. Heinz closed its cannery business in Goulburn Valley in 2012, Windsor Farm closed in Cowra, and only a few small players remain, mainly in NSW and WA.

Imports, mainly from China, have been singled out and demonised as “cheap, dumped and frequently contaminated”. This is a short-sighted perspective.

China is a big global player in international agribusiness. Chinese importing of fresh food provides opportunities for Australian exporters, but at the same time Chinese exports of canned food compete with Australian products in the local domestic market and in traditional export markets.

The “cheap, dumped and frequently contaminated” label will not stick for long.

China is stepping up consumer protection

While China’s canned food will remain cheap because of economies of scale and because canning technology is not much different in Australia and China, contamination is being addressed more seriously in China with new laws and regulations expected. The flow-on effect will mitigate Chinese consumer dissatisfaction with local food standards, but also improve the quality and safety of Chinese export products.

In January, China’s Supreme People’s Court announced an 18-clause guideline on how to handle civil disputes regarding food, drugs, cosmetics and dietary supplements.

The new guideline, together with an updated version of the consumer protection law, will come into effect on March 15, World Consumer Rights Day, and signal a new wave of regulatory action from the government to tackle China’s food safety problems. It gives consumers backing from the courts to sue manufacturers and retailers of unsafe food. Advertisers and publishers can be sued even before any actual harm is inflicted. Celebrities who endorse substandard products can also be sued if consumers feel they have been misled.

Since the milk powder scandal of 2008, much as been done to alleviate public anxiety and improve practices in the food industry. The Food Safety Law, replacing the outdated Food Hygiene Act, came into effect in 2009 and includes provisions on risk assessment methods, unification of food safety standards, improving supervision, and imposing tougher penalties on violators.

In March 2013, China’s State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) was renamed to China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) and elevated to a ministerial-level agency directly under the State Council, in an attempt to consolidate power and streamline regulation of food and drug safety.

The new guidelines change the balance of power between consumers and producers and rely less on local government enforcement. One challenge facing China in food safety regulation is that law enforcement and implementation at the local level do not match the original intent of the law and central policies. With clearer procedures on how to protect their rights, consumers are given more say on food safety. This will increase food producers’ opportunity cost as consumers are now more willing and able to participate in the monitoring process.

Previously, producers and manufacturers had an incentive to sacrifice quality in order to maximise profits, because the chance of being caught and penalised was low. But consumers and social media now play a much more active role in monitoring food safety and have successfully put pressure on the government to enforce food safety standards

Australia has a head start

While enforcement will work for the corporatised food export sector, China’s highly fragmented food industry will continue to face problems because of the scale of monitoring required. Almost 80% of the half a million food companies in China are classified as “cottage industry” with ten or less employees.

Like in Australia, there are social reasons to keep small producers afloat. Along this complex supply chain there is a need to balance the interests of producers, markets and consumers. China’s first policy document of 2014, the No.1 Central Document, underscored the importance of rural reform and the development of modern agriculture.

For Australian agribusiness, this entails opportunities and challenges. Chinese producers will for the foreseeable future not be able to satisfy the demand of urban middle class consumers for top quality food. Australia, in competition with New Zealand, has a head start in this market with an enviable and hard to replicate reputation for clean and fresh food.

On the other hand, Chinese exports will become more competitive in the preserved food market, in particular in such traditional segments as canned food, putting more pressure on Australian producers in those market segments. For SPC Ardmona and its supply chain, the farming communities in the Goulburn Valley, this will require a radical rethink of traditional products and a switch to new product lines.

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

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


Taste Master fined for failing to maintain extruder machine

Taste Master has been prosecuted and fined after a worker sustained serious and permanent injuries when working on an extruder machine.

Taste Master manufactures flavours for use in the manufacture of food and beverage products and also fragrances used in cosmetics, hair care products and candles.

SafeWork SA prosecuted Taste Master and Andrew Fotheringham, the sole director and responsible officer of Taste Master, for failing to provide and maintain the plant in a safe condition; and also failing to ensure that the plant was operated safely.

The South Australian Industrial Court fined Taste Master $41,250 plus legal fees for an incident which occurred in March 2011 at Lonsdale in South Australia.

The court heard that the extruder machine used to melt sugars and mix flavours comprised of a cutter component with four fan-like blades.

When it was installed the cutter had an interlock device fitted which prevented the blades operating unless the cutter head was closed. At some point the interlock device was disabled and was no longer operational during the manufacturing process.

The employee released the clip which secured the extrusion head against the cutter blades to clear a blockage. The cutter blades continued rotating at 4500rpm whilst the employee attempted to clear the blockage with heat from a propane torch and then a scraper.

The employee sustained a complex injury when using the scraper in his right hand and his left hand came into contact with the spinning cutter blades. Injuries to the workers hand included skin lacerations, the loss of soft tissue and tendon as well as bone fractures.

The employee’s ring finger was nearly amputated and his little finger sustained severe tendon damage. The employee underwent reconstructive surgery and has been left with a permanent impairment.

The second defendant, Andrew Fotheringham, was fined $11,250 plus legal fees for failing to ensure that the plant was not being operated when the safety interlock supplied with the cutter was disabled.

Bryan Russell, Executive Director of SafeWork SA responded that “a major cause of workplace injuries in South Australia arise from the lack of adequate guarding that enables people to remain safe when working with moving parts”.

“It is the responsibility of employers to be vigilant in checking that safeguards manufactured to protect employees are in place and are well maintained”.

[Image: Taste Master]

Fonterra worker reinstated after Harlem Shake dismissal [video]

A New Zealand Fonterra employee who was dismissed for performing the Harlem Shake dance while at work has had his position permanently reinstated.

Craig Flynn was fired last year after his employer discovered videos of himself and six others performing the Harlem Shake while working at Fonterra’s Takanini plant.

According to, the dairy giant said Flynn had put himself and others at risk by "dancing with a shovel between his legs, hosing water where another employee was dancing, and splashing a pallet endangering himself and others", but Flynn argued the actions were simply “horseplay” and that his dismissal was unfair.

In June last year, Flynn and a colleague, Henry Taufua, successfully appealed the company’s decision, with the Employment Relations Authority arguing that there wasn’t suitable grounds for dismissal.

"Their individual actions do not seem factually similar to the facts alleged in the respondent's [Fonterra's] authorities. Hosing an area of floor then cleaning the water up prior to employees dancing around indicates preventative steps to ensure employee safety. Falling or tipping the paper trolley may have resulted in minimal (if any) injury or damage or none at all," the ERA stated.

It ruled that Fonterra’s claim that the Harlem Shake re-enactment was dangerous was contradicted by videos showing all the employees wearing hairnets or head gear, with the exception of two employees wearing buckets on their heads. Water sprayed by Flynn was also cleaned up before the dancing took place.

Flynn’s reinstatement has now been made permanent, however Taufua’s future at the company is unclear.

ERA member Tania Tetiaha said a reasonable employer couldn’t have found that Flynn’s conduct justified dismissal, adding that Fonterra didn’t follow fair process in the dismissal. Despite this, the ERA didn’t awards costs because Flynn’s behaviour was “blameworthy.”