Silent Pool Gin, a gin brand from the UK, has arrived in Australia this month. Read more
Iconic British yeast extract Marmite may affect brain function, according to researchers at the University of York.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, found that those who ate the product had an apparent increase of a chemical messenger associated with healthy brain function.
Participants consuming a teaspoon of Marmite every day for a month, compared to a control group who consumed peanut butter, showed a substantial reduction of around 30 per cent in their brain’s response to visual stimuli, measured by recording electrical activity using electroencephalography (EEG).
Researchers think this may be due to the prevalence of vitamin B12 in Marmite increasing levels of a specific neurotransmitter – known as GABA – in the brain.
Anika Smith, PhD student in York’s Department of Psychology and first author of the study, said: “These results suggest that dietary choices can affect the cortical processes of excitation and inhibition – consistent with increased levels of GABA – that are vital in maintaining a healthy brain.
“As the effects of Marmite consumption took around eight weeks to wear off after participants stopped the study, this suggests that dietary changes could potentially have long-term effects on brain function.
“This is a really promising first example of how dietary interventions can alter cortical processes, and a great starting point for exploring whether a more refined version of this technique could have some medical or therapeutic applications in the future. Of course, further research is needed to confirm and investigate this, but the study is an excellent basis for this.”
The situation created by the British vote to leave the European Union is momentous for UK food. It is on a par with the Repeal of the Corn Laws of 1846 when Britain decided its Empire could feed it, not its own farmers. And it is as important as the creation of the Agriculture Act of 1947 when after two bruising wars in which the population faced serious risk of starvation, the country decided to put its food house in order – to produce more of what it could and look after the land.
Those events set the tone and framework for UK food for decades after. Brexit will do the same. It doesn’t help that the political elites are now knifing each other in a distraction from the genuine, looming effects.
My concern is that the security of food might get lost in the debacle. The UK must not let that happen. Food stocks are low in a just-in-time economy, an estimated three to five days’ worth. The UK doesn’t feed itself. It has dropped to 61% self-sufficiency, Defra reported last month. The UK has quietly become a “neo-imperialist” food economy, using other people’s land and low wage labour to feed people while consumers subsidise rich landowners and keep their land values high. The UK gets 30% of UK food from the EU. That rises to 40% for horticultural produce, of which consumers eat too little for health.
The Brexit vote was always a risk. That’s why we in the Food Research Collaboration, a 500+ network of academics and civil society (www.foodresearch.org.uk), wrote and published reports assessing the food situation in the UK and EU. Our verdict is sober. Brexit looks likely to mean destabilisation just when we need to focus on pressing issues like food’s impact on climate change and obesity. In the short term, a weaker pound means imports cost more. And the UK’s food system is already pretty vulnerable to shock. Chief scientists have been warning as much for years.
In truth, the EU’s leadership on food and agriculture has been timid. We should not forget, however, that there have been important gains from Europe: cleaner water, controls on agrichemicals, tougher food standards. But as the UK cuts loose, a decades-old failure to invest in food skills and equitable infrastructure for sustainable development will be exposed. Are Brexiters ready to go into the picking fields and factories where foreigners work?
Part of the challenge now is the UK’s love of cheap food. This was the legacy of the Repeal of the Corn Laws which sought cheap food for workers. Cheapness as efficiency is still central to the neoliberal project today, as Michael Gove stated in the referendum campaign. But in food, cheapness encourages waste and makes us fat. Good diets are too expensive for the poor.
The UK faces harsh food times ahead, but they have been a long time coming. Diet-related ill-health is very costly. Life expectancy gaps are shocking in an unequal society. The Brexit victors are worryingly vague about what to do next. There was no plan for farming, according to Liz Truss, the Secretary of State at Defra.
My understanding is that some attempts are now underway but Defra is so weakened, we cannot expect much. Some Brexiters want a quick food exit, a total severance of regulations negotiated at Brussels, especially environmental and health ones. Others do not. Some want an end to farm subsidies. Others merely seek their repatriation. It is worth noting here that despite the image of an the EU run by totalitarian eurocrats, how many know there are just 1,000 civil servants running the vast EU Common Agricultural Policy compared to 2,000 civil servants running England’s (let alone Scotland’s or Wales’) agriculture?
The referendum debate was dominated by migration, national identity and by the nebulous idea of “taking back control”. But there’s still no clarity from Brexiters about whether the role model is to be Norway, Albania, Canada or Switzerland. Most Brexit leaders aren’t even considering that food arrives on our plates from shops not farms. In fact, food traders rule the modern food economy. Millions of food contracts depend on cross continental supply chains. It’s why roads are clogged with food wagons. The food system is heavily tied into Europe. To sever this web will be a task awesome and unprecedented in complexity.
To make matters worse, the Labour shadow Cabinet Minister on Food, Environment & Rural Affairs, Kerry McCarthy, a decent person interested in her brief, has resigned. This makes it all the more important for forces and views outside Parliament to get our act together and articulate what we think is needed as the country negotiates a new future. Some such meetings are being organised.
Brexit negotiations, if they do happen, must not be an excuse to hand over more wealth to the already wealthy or let only the well-off be well fed. There are already major challenges to the food system as the UK seeks to decarbonise it and shift diets away from overconsumption of ultra-processed foods – the major cause of non-communicable disease.
There is a risk that health and environment are side-lined to the edges of policy reformulation. If the Brexiters hark back to UK self-determination, they need to be reminded that the reality was a mix of Empire-sourcing or panicky direct action in wars, most plainly exposed in 1939. The Brexit euphoria won’t last long if food prices rise or shelves empty. This needs planning. And that’s not what the Brexit elite want. They believe markets rule. But not many of them know what a real food market looks like. They think it’s what happens on brokers’ dealing screens, not what we are able to put on our families’ plates.
Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has praised the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks in the UK and urged other countries like Australia, Canada, and Germany to introduce similar taxes as a way to fight obesity.
Speaking in an online video, Oliver declared, “Pull your finger out Australia.”
“This is bold and brave and this will send ripples around the world as far as how these weak, pathetic governments combat the rise in childhood obesity and diet-related disease,” he added.
“It’s about time your governments got on this. I know you’re all talking about it but you’re all scared of industry.”
As News.com.au reports, the UK tax will come into effect in 2018 and is expected to raise up to $1 billion. It will divide sugary drinks into two categories, those containing more than five grams of sugar per 100 millilitres and those with more than eight grams per 100 millilitres and tax them accordingly.
The tax has received widespread praise in the UK.
Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, said in a statement, “A sugary drinks levy is fabulous news for children and families in helping them to cut back on sugar.
“This will reduce the risks of obesity, tooth decay and other life threatening diseases. This is public health in action and a great foundation ahead of the child obesity strategy later this summer.”
However, judging by the reaction of Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, Australia is unlikely to follow the UK’s lead.
“If you ask what’s my personal view, I’m not a fan of that, I think the more you get in and distort these types of things, the more government causes havoc across the system,” Ciobo told ABC TV.
The UK’s largest supermarket chain Tesco has pledged that, by 2017, it will donate all leftover food from its stores to charity.
“We believe no food that could be eaten should be wasted – that’s why we have committed that no surplus food should go to waste from our stores,” said Tesco CEO, Dave Lewis in a statement.
“We know it’s an issue our customers really care about, and wherever there’s surplus food at Tesco stores, we’re committed to donating it to local charities so we can help feed people in need.
The nationwide scheme – Community Food Connection with FareShare FoodCloud – is being launched this week in 15 cities and regions across the UK including Manchester, Birmingham, Southampton and Portsmouth.
In the coming months the initiative will be rolled out to Leeds, Leicester, Kent and the West Midlands. Tesco has said it will reach all large Tesco stores – numbering over 800 – by the end of 2016, with all stores covered by the end of 2017.
The scheme has already been piloted in fourteen Tesco stores over the past six months and has generated over 22 tonnes of food – the equivalent to 50,000 meals.
Tesco and FareShare are calling out for 5,000 charities and community groups to join up and receive free surplus food through the scheme, as part of a huge nationwide charity recruitment drive.
The scheme will be in place in all Tesco stores by the end of 2017, which means thousands of charities all over the country will benefit from millions of pounds worth of surplus food each year.
“We are delighted to be offering our store level solution in partnership with Tesco who are demonstrating real leadership in tackling food surplus,” commented Lindsay Boswell, FareShare CEO.
The Hills Cider Company, South Australia’s largest producer of artisan ciders, has sent its first shipment of apple, pear and apple and ginger cider to the United Kingdom in time for the northern summer – prime cider drinking season.
Steve Dorman, co-founder of the Adelaide-based operation, says the company is already exporting its ciders to Hong Kong, Singapore and Papua New Guinea but is now targeting Britain as a major new market.
“At this stage we’re still testing the waters,” he says. “But we’re feeling really positive about potential sales in the UK – the reaction so far has been very enthusiastic.”
Dorman admits that sending Aussie cider to Britain – a country which has been making cider since Roman times – may sound like coals to Newcastle, but is confident they can capture a slice of the lucrative UK cider market – worth £3.05 billion [A$5.95 billion] a year.
“What we’re offering is quite different to the usual British cider styles,” he says. “Out ciders are really clean-tasting, fresh and fruit driven. They are also very food friendly and we’re promoting them as an alternative to drinking wine with your meal.”
The South Australian cider brand has already caught the attention of some of Europe’s top cider judges, winning trophies at both the Dublin Beer Cup and International Cider Championship in south-west England.
“There’s a big difference in flavour between our ciders and European ciders,” says Dorman, a former winemaker. “We don’t use concentrate, added flavours or sugars – just 100 per cent per cent fresh fruit from the Adelaide Hills.”
Above: The Hills Cider collection.
The Hills Cider Company, founded by Steve Dorman and Tobias Kline in 2010, is hoping that its fresh-tasting ciders will enjoy the same kind of success now enjoyed by Australian wine in Britain.
“There are parallels with what was happening 30 years ago when Australia wine producers first broke into the UK,” says Dorman. “It’s a classic case of New World versus Old World styles and techniques.”
Although the first shipment of South Australian artisan cider to Britain is fairly modest (just 65 cartons) the company is firmly focused on export sales – having targeted the United States, New Zealand, China and Canada for future growth.
“Our real focus as a company over the next 24 months will be on exports,” says Dorman.
This is no doubt welcome news to many family-owned apple and pear orchards in the Adelaide Hills – the company already buys 15 per cent of the region’s annual apple crop.
But winning over British cider drinkers will not be a walk in the park. Not only is the UK one of the most crowded cider markets in the world, consumption of cider (which has been surging for the past decade) is beginning to plateau.
“Cider sales in the UK have been phenomenal over the past few years – as they have in Australia,” says Dorman. “Today, cider is the only beverage category not in decline. We’re very excited about the opportunity in UK for our ciders.”
Life Health Foods UK, a 50/50 joint venture set up between the owners of Sanitarium and finance and investment house Wingate, is set to take on the UK breakfast market.
Life Health Foods UK will launch Australia’s number one breakfast cereal brand, Up&Go, to UK consumers next month, ahead of assessing additional markets and opportunities in Europe and elsewhere.
Up&Go was launched by Sanitarium in Australia 15 years ago, and has capitalised on growing demand for convenient, nutritional breakfast choices. In addition to being the category leader, Up&Go has achieved 25 percent annual growth on average in the past five years, and it is now found in 22.3 percent of Australian households.
In the UK, where the liquid breakfast market is in its infancy, thirty-eight million Britons skip breakfast at least once a week, and research has identified significant demand for on-the-go breakfast options that are tailored to the local market.
Following extensive market research and planning, Up&Go’s launch into the UK will be supported by a new look brand, new packaging, a reformulated product and a detailed marketing strategy to encourage trial among target consumers.
Interest from supermarkets is strong, with national distribution agreements already secured and negotiations with additional supermarkets proceeding well.
Kevin Jackson, Sanitarium CEO and LHF (UK) director said: “It’s our owners’ strategic objective to see our major brands like Up & Go expand beyond Australia and New Zealand and this objective is made much easier with high quality strategic partners.
“The UK’s population is three times that of Australia’s and we project that the liquid breakfast market will reach £300m within five to ten years.
“Wingate has strong financial credentials and a culture and values that align closely with ours. I’m excited to be working with them to ensure Up&Go becomes an international success”, Jackson said.
Farrel Meltzer, group managing director for Wingate said: “Increasing demand for on-the-go breakfast products is part of a massive trend towards healthy food options sweeping through consumer markets in many countries, driving retailers around the world to look for nutritious innovations that reinvigorate spending in the breakfast aisle.
“We’ve been impressed by Sanitarium’s success, professionalism and commercial nous and we share a belief that providing nutritious foods is good for consumers, good for business and good for the society.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity, and we look forward to bringing key Sanitarium brands to the global market”, Meltzer said.
The joint venture company, Life Health Foods UK, is based in London and has completed a number of key appointments including James McMaster as CEO (previously of Ella’s Kitchen and Gü) and Rosie Foster-Carter as marketing director (previously of PepsiCo and Innocent Drinks).
In addition to providing funding, Wingate will provide strategic expertise via three positions on a six-person Board created to support the success and expansion of Life Health Foods UK.
Menora Foods has landed a deal with Premier Foods in what is being described by the food marketing and distribution company as “an absolute game changer.”
Menora has secured a deal with the London Stock Exchange-listed Premier Foods for its Peckish range of rice snacks, The Australian reports.
The brand, which also distributes Cobram Estate olive oil, Wattle Valley cheeses and dips and Maille mustard, is also in talks with the US and South Africa to take their brands into new markets.
‘’It is an absolute game changer for our business. To have a business such as Premier recognise the value in a brand such as Peckish and to take it into a market which is three times the size of Australia is a great achievement,’’ said Menora chief executive, Sam Schachna.
The Peckish and Wattle Valley brands entered the New Zealand market three years ago as the first stage in Menora’s international expansion plans, and the New Zealand business is now has a turnover of more than $20 million with more than 40 percent market share.
Menora markets more than 1,500 products and half of its revenue comes from supplying independent grocery stores. The company has also moved into chilled meals and the beverage market through a deal with Saxby’s soft drinks.
Established in Melbourne in 1967 as Menora Gourmet Products, three years ago Menora Foods invested in a state-of-the-art head office facility in Noble Park, containing warehousing for dry, chilled, frozen and confectionery products,
Australia’s first chocolate manufacturer, Ernest Hillier, has been snapped up by Re:Capital, which plans to take the Hillier’s and Newman’s brands overseas.
Re:Capital is the international investment arm of British restructuring company, Hillco, and according to SmartCompany, the Piedmonte family, which owned Ernest Hillier, sold the company for an undisclosed amount to Re:Capital and local private investors.
Now the majority shareholder, Re:Capital will preserve the Hillier’s chocolates name as well as its facilities, and plans to take the brand overseas while also exploring opportunities in Australia.
Ernest Hillier’s chief executive, Mark Campbell, said the Piedmonte family decided to sell because they wanted to move away from manufacturing and focus on their supermarket and distribution assets.
“As part of that they looked at options to sell the chocolate business and part of the reason is the current operating environment and stresses on manufacturing really required some specialist attention,” he told SmartCompany.
Ernest Hillier celebrates its 100th birthday this September.
The new draft voluntary code of conduct between supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths and their suppliers has so far elicited responses ranging from cynicism to cautious optimism.
Supporters point out the code will act as a useful adjunct to the existing statutory framework and provides transparency and certainty.
But critics describe it as intended to dilute political concerns around the misuse of market power and unconscionable conduct by supermarkets, heading off any attempt to introduce more draconian remedial measures such as market capping and divestiture – while not altering the underlying economics of lop-sided supermarket-supplier relations.
Other points out that the code fails to address concerns around major supermarkets’ leveraging their power into other sectors such as liquor, fuel and financial services. It is also unlikely to strengthen the bargaining position of primary producers, many of whom do not deal directly with the supermarkets.
And as a comparison with the UK experience shows, there are significant limitations on the Australian code’s likely effectiveness, not least of which is the absence of penalties for its breach.
The UK approach
Non-compliance with the Australian code could lead ultimately to declarations, injunctions, damages and a range of remedial orders requiring contractual terms to be changed and payments to be refunded. But a serious weakness of the statutory scheme underpinning the Australian code is its failure to provide financial sanctions for breaches.
The UK introduced a much tougher groceries supply code earlier this year, administered by independent Groceries Code Adjudicator, Christine Tacon, whose position is funded by a levy on the largest supermarkets.
Tacon, who participated in a major public symposium on supermarket power held by the University of Melbourne and Monash University in August, has wide-ranging investigatory and enforcement powers, backed by the threat of substantial sanctions.
Consequences for breach of the code include a maximum penalty of 1% of UK turnover from the retailer. This would equate to a maximum financial penalty ranging from £10 million to £500 million (based on 2012 annual accounts) depending on the UK turnover of the retailer concerned. What’s more, where the code is found to have been breached, the costs of investigation can be recovered from the retailer.
Tacon also has the power to “name and shame” by requiring a retailer publish information about an investigation. This tool alone may be sufficient to achieve suitable outcomes without having to impose financial penalties. Tacon has said she regards penalties as “the last resort”.
Importantly too, Tacon – well-known in the food production and retail sectors – aims to build trust between her office and the industry and amongst industry participants themselves. This will be critical in ultimately in changing unconscionable behaviour.
Early reports have been positive. Tacon says that there has already been a change in behaviour by the retailers with suppliers indicating that they are enjoying greater flexibility over where they source packaging, while reasons for delisting products are being set out more clearly, with reasonable notice being given.
Pale by comparison
All this makes Australia’s efforts seem rather pale. Australia’s proposed code has no dedicated independent agency tasked with educating the sector or providing guidance on the code’s interpretation (such as the meaning of dealing in “good faith”), monitoring and reporting on compliance and mediating or arbitrating disputes.
While some of these roles will be played by the ACCC, the code appears to envisage that educative and monitoring functions will be performed primarily by a committee of an industry roundtable.
All of the dispute resolution processes are to be conducted privately or with a mediator/arbitrator appointed by the parties. The ACCC becomes involved only where those processes are unsuccessful or there is a unilateral complaint to the Commission about breach of the code.
The voluntary code is not intended as a substitute for the laws dealing with anti-competitive acquisitions, misuse of substantial market power and unconscionable conduct, which will continue to be monitored by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
The ACCC continues to investigate potential market power misuse and unconscionable conduct by the supermarkets, with an outcome expected next year.
No doubt the verdict of the ACCC’s investigation will influence the government’s forthcoming review of competition law, which will examine the effectiveness of the existing legal prohibitions and remedies.
But whether or not the Australian code succeeds in repairing the broken trust between suppliers and the major supermarkets in this country remains very much to be seen. Failure to emulate some of the strengths of the UK system makes it hard to shrug off the scepticism that justifiably accompanies most attempts at self-regulation.
More teeth needed?
It may also explain in part why groups such as the National Farmers’ Federation withdrew from the code negotiating table and why their Victorian counterpart has dismissed the code as “pure spin”; whereas in the UK the new adjudicative scheme enjoys widespread support including from the National Farmers Union.
Applying penalties will require an amendment to the provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 that governs codes of conduct. Similarly, legislation would be required to establish an independent adjudicator, either as part of or separate from the ACCC.
Minister for Small Business Bruce Billson, who is overseeing the government’s competition law review, has said that if the current code proves ineffective then steps will be taken to give it more “teeth”. However, waiting for the (arguably) inevitable failure of the code before introducing more stringent measures does not seem sensible policy. Nor is it likely to engender confidence amongst suppliers who have been crying out for government to take robust action in relation to supermarket power and behaviour for years.
If anything, the “wait and see” strategy will only reinforce the perception that the supermarkets wield as much political power as they do market power.
Caron Beaton-Wells was the co-convenor of a major public symposium on supermarket power, held by the University of Melbourne and Monash University, in August 2013.
A UK study has found that hens living in "enriched cages" are less stressed and have lower mortality rates than their free range counterparts.
While demand for free range chicken and eggs has grown substantially in recent times, with consumers increasingly concerned about animal welfare standards, Professor Christine Nicol, who led the research at the University of Bristol, said many free range farms in the UK have poor welfare standards.
According to dailymail.co.uk, shoppers concerned about welfare standards should look for caged hens or free range hens that are pat of a farm assurance scheme.
"It would be nice to think the current free-range system gave the birds the best welfare, but the problem is that the management of free-range systems in the UK is so variable. Although you get some brilliant farms, you get some that are really not good," Nicol said.
Battery farming for chickens was outlawed in 2012 and replaced with 'enriched cages' which have 70 or 80 birds living in stacked enclosures with access to food, water and scratching posts.
In regards to the Australian market, Woolworths has committed to phasing out its caged eggs within the next four or five years, after which it will stock RSPCA or other certified fresh chickens. This move has been welcomed by Animals Australia, but president of the Victorian Farmers Federation egg group, Brian Ahmed, said it will be costly for Australian farmers and consumers.
He said many farmers converted to new cage systems only five years ago, which were then fully compliant with industry standards, and is doubtful that farmers will receive any compensation for moving away from caged systems.
In September this year, the ACT introduced an animal welfare bill to the Legislative Assembly, which if passed will prohibit the use of battery cages, sow stall and farrowing crates. This would make the ACT the first state in Australia to legislate against factory farming.
The horse meat scandal was devastating for a number of international brands, forced to pull their products from the shelves and deal with the subsequent loss in consumer confidence. Australia stands unscathed from the whole incident. How? And why? Danielle Bowling reports.
It was the story that just wouldn’t go away. Every day there was a new headline and a new development; a new brand embroiled in the horse meat scandal, which triggered several product recalls, formal investigations and even arrests.
Supermarket chains Tesco and Aldi recalled their frozen spaghetti and lasagne products, produced by French supplier, Comigel, amid concerns over its Findus beef lasagne product.
After the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found horse DNA in burger products, ten million were pulled from the various supermarket shelves across Europe. Even furniture retailer IKEA became involved, recalling its meatball products across Europe after tests in the Czech Republic discovered some meatballs sold in the chain’s cafeterias contained horse meat. The affected batch had been distributed to Britain, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, Slovakia, Hungary, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland.
The scandal even spread to Asia with Hong Kong authorities ordering supermarket chain, ParknShop, to remove lasagnes made by frozen food company Findus, one of the firms at the centre of the scandal.
French meat processing firm, Spanghero, is said to be at the heart of the scandal, allegedly passing off more than 700 tonnes of horsemeat as beef, with manufacturers none the wiser, and is no longer allowed to stock frozen meat.
Dodged the bullet
Australia, thankfully, steered clear of the whole situation. But how?
The Australian Food and Grocery Council’s deputy chief executive, Jeffrey Annison, told Food magazine the European horse meat scandal demonstrated to Australian food manufacturers that the food supply chain is a safe and effective one.
“I think that if it had any impact here it was to remind us all in the food industry and the wider community of the importance of focusing on the things that the food industry does well in Australia, which is to make sure the integrity of the food supply is maintained and that’s in terms of quality of product, safety of product and correct information going out to the consumer about the product,” he said.
The four key pillars of an effective food supply, he says, are a strong regulatory system; an understanding that food safety and food security are built on food quality and safety plans; an appropriate monitoring and surveillance system; and traceability up and down the food supply system.
Australian manufacturers – and perhaps more importantly, consumers – need to understand that the problems overseas were to do with illegal activity, not industry negligence.
“So those are the four pillars, and those are designed to protect against inadvertent loss of quality or safety,” Annison says, “of course what happened in Europe was food adulteration, so it was driven by profit rather than accidental contamination. Now that’s harder to control but you still need strong regulatory systems and monitoring systems.
“The usual driver for food adulteration is criminal profit, and against the backdrop of having relatively cheap foodstuffs in Australia, there’s less drive for criminals to wish to come in and make a profit,” Annison said. “If you have relatively cheap beef, there’s no advantage to trying to substitute it with horse meat.”
Peter Day, director of compliance and enforcement at the NSW Food Authority, agrees, and says Australia’s geographical isolation is one of the main reasons why local manufacturers weren’t caught up in the scandals that their European counterparts were.
“I think we’re lucky in Australia because it’s a different situation to Europe, in many cases, because we’ve got a border. We don’t have a single marketplace and so we don’t import a lot of meat either. Generally, speaking, meat’s fairly cheap over here as well, so there’s a ready supply of cheap, manufacturing meat around,” Day says.
“The other issue is that a lot of companies are actually banned from importing meat products into Australia because of the Mad Cow issue. So only a very limited number of countries can import cooked meat into Australia.”
By and large, Australian manufacturers don’t import meat because financially it doesn’t make sense when we can more easily produce our own top quality, affordable and traceable meat products. We also have a very effective, thorough screening and testing process, says Day.
“We had a royal commission 20-plus years ago and since then AQIS (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service) has been doing species testing on a lot of meat samples going out of the country to overseas markets, and domestic regulators, like ourselves, do routine surveillance programs. Last year we took 100 samples to see what we would pick up. You simply cant sample every single product, but you’re casting a net over it to make sure that no problems show up.”
So what did we learn?
In the wake of the horse meat scandal, and despite already having effective testing procedures in place, Day said many regulators will tighten up their systems even more.
“I think it was probably a bit of a wake up call to both regulators and the industry in general, looking at their current systems of detecting and trying to eliminate this type of thing from happening here. I know in NSW we had a program in place anyway and we looked at it and where necessary we’ve actually enhanced the program of testing.
“We do testing on cooked and raw meat samples for species. So we looked at things to make sure that we were covering everything. So, do we need to cover other areas that we weren’t normally covering? We were making sure we had access to labs and so on. We did a bit of a review to make sure that our program was still current given the information that was coming in from Europe,” he said.
“And we found that our system was fairly good in terms of the testing systems out there. But I think for Australian regulators there was a need for a review, to see how they were conducting surveillance operations.”
Day said he’s expecting more labs to be conducting species tests moving forward, especially because manufacturers now want to confirm, via routine sampling and as an assurance to supermarkets, that what they say they’re producing is exactly what they are producing.
Perhaps the most important lesson for manufacturers is the importance of monitoring your suppliers.
The AFGC’s Jeffrey Annison said while Australian companies are already quite good at this, it’s never something you can be complacent about.
“I think every time there’s a food safety incident, it’s a reminder that the manufacturers are very reliant on the integrity of their suppliers and they need to make sure that they can check on that through establishing strong relationships and agreements about product specifications and so forth,” he said.
Peter Day agrees, and is clear in his advice to manufacturers. “Audit your suppliers. Check your suppliers out. Have a specification sheet which stipulates what you require from them and then rest that the make sure what you want is what you’re getting."
Supermarkets hold manufacturers to very tight specifications and manufacturers need to be able to say – and prove – that what is on their label’s product is completely accurate.
European consumers have no doubt been left shaken and surely cynical on the food processing industry as a result of the horse meat scandal. But are Australian consumers aware of how protected Australia was throughout the whole ordeal? Will they be skeptical, albeit unnecessarily, of Australian products?
Day believes the biggest problem in Europe now is that well-known brands have been tarnished, and when consumer confidence is lost, it’s very hard to get back. The thorough testing and screening processes which Australia’s food manufacturing industry can boast should reassure consumers that they are indeed getting what they are asking for.
“I think Australian consumers probably don’t think a lot about where their food comes from until something like this happens. They don’t think about all the links involved in being a food manufacturer and [in getting a product] to a store freezer. This incident highlights the length of the food chain thesedays, from farm to factory. It heightens concerns by consumers out there of the system, but they can have confidence that it’s being dealt with and there are programs in place to look out for that sort of thing in Australia.”
Andrew Jones Pies, a west-Yorkshire based pie manufacturer which is now in administration, must pay £375,000 after a gas explosion killed one man and injured another.
The manufacturer was last month found guilty of health and safety breaches, with a judge at York Crown Court claiming it had "failed dismally."
According to foodmanufacture.co.uk, the judge said while the company isn't in a position to pay the fines, the charges reflect the manufacturers' failings.
The explosion occured in 2009 when baker, David Cole, tried repeatedly to light a 30 year old oven, unaware that gas was building up inside the baking chamber, eventually causing the door to blow off the oven and hit Cole, who was then trapped when part of the roof collapsed.
Cole died at the scene and another worker, Marcys Cartwright, was badly hurt.
The case is similar to one closer to home, with directors at Pokolbin's Drayton's Family Wines accused of failing to ensure the safety of their workers, following a 2008 explosion which killed two people.
Workcover NSW has launched criminal proceedings against the winery more than 18 months after a coroner found that poor safety measures were a major cause of the blast which killed winemaker Trevor Drayton and boilermaker Eddie Orgo.
Wine label, Jacob's Creek, is continuing with its efforts to upgrade to a premium-status wine, despite suffering a slide in sales in Britain.
Owned by the world's second largest alcohol company, Pernod Ricard, Jacob's Creek has suffered the loss of one million cases in sales in Britain, thanks to price hikes, reports SMH.
Despite this, the brand will be introducing new blends, engaging in strong advertising and has increased the prices of its entry-level wines by $1 a bottle in order to raise its profile in Australia.
Pernod chief executive Pierre Pringuet said Jacob's Creek sales in Australia have been stable despite the price rises, with the Reserve range in particular growing strongly.
"There had also been a 10 percent increase in its contribution to [Pernod's] profit, and is really a reflection that our value strategy is working," he said.
According to SMH, Jacob's Creek was once again named Australia's biggest-selling brand late last year, after three years of being trumped by cheaper and private-label options.
The discovery of horse meat in a range of food products in Europe and the UK has – and continues to have – far-reaching effects on the global food manufacturing industry. This infographic goes back to basics, explaining how this whole sorry story started, and which countries have been hardest hit.
Here are a few links to help you catch up:
- Horse meat discovered in UK lasagnes
- Tesco stores recall burgers amid horse meat findings
- Horse meat scandal continues to spread
- Horse meat scandal is about breach of consumer trust
- IKEA cuts meatballs after horsemeat finding
The popular Byron Bay Cookie brand is now franchising, with four franchisee-operated concession stores now open in David Jones Foodhalls across the country.
Gordon Slater, chairman of Slater International, parent company of Byron Bay Cookies, said "After the success of our existing retail stores, we thought the timing was right to extend our retail footprint in Australia and abroad."
The gourmet biscuit producer first introduced its franchise models in 2012 with six retail stores across Australia, including four franchisee-operated concession stores in David Jones Foodhalls in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.
The new stores offer Byron Bay Cookies' signature cookie range as well as single origin coffee a ‘Pick & Mix’ selection of customised, coated or chocolate-enrobed biscuits, macaroons and other sweets.
Franchising will allow Byron Bay Cookies – which has offices in the US and the UK – to meet growing demand for its products, and will complement its current distribution model, Slater said.
"Franchising will help us to fill a gap in the marketplace, and we strongly believe this new retail model will allow us to create a new shopper experience by connecting with customers in a different way and open new possibilities for growth."
All Australian-based franchisees will be supplied by the bakehouse in Byron Bay, whilst international franchisees will be able to rely on supply from either Europe (out of the UK) or from the US (out of Texas).
Gordon Slater recently completed Food magazine's Industry Map. To read his Q&A click here.
The recent horse meat scandal which has seen various meat products pulled from the shelves in Europe and the UK has spread to Asia, with an imported lasagne product recalled from shelves in Hong Kong’s ParknShop retailers.
Brands embroiled in the scandal include Nestle, Brazil’s beef producer JBS, British supermarket chain Tesco, and frozen food company Findus – the manufacturer of the lasagnes pulled from the shelves in Hong Kong and Europe.
Other countries to have pulled various products include Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Slovenia, Germany and The Netherlands.
According to news.com.au, Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety said the lasagnes "might be adulterated with horse meat which has not undergone tests for veterinary drugs.
"The product was removed from our stores last week following the government's instructions," a ParknShop spokeswoman told AFP.
Nowaco brand frozen ‘beef’ lasagne products in Tesco stores in the Czech Republic, have also been withdrawn after the horse meat was discovered.
The Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority said it had found horse DNA in two samples of the Nowaco meals manufactured by the Tavola company in Luxembourg.
While horse meat is sold for human consumption in the Czech Republic, authorities have said the product’s labeling is misleading.
Spanghero, the French meat processing company at the centre of the controversy has been accused of passing off 750 tonnes of horse meat as beef, with horsemeat being found in 4.5 million "beef" products across Europe.
Earlier this week the company was allowed to resume production of minced meat, sausages and ready-to-eat meals, however it will no longer be allowed to stock frozen meat. According to news.com.au it also cannot act as middleman between slaughterhouses and food-processing companies – which is allegedly how Spanghero was able to change labels on horse meat from Romania and sell it as beef.
Woolworths has announced it will conduct DNA tests on its home-brand meals in response to horse meat contamination in Europe. The uproar follows revelations by Irish food inspectors in mid-January that horse meat had been detected in burgers sold in UK supermarket chains.
The story intensified when some Findus and Aldi products labelled as beef were found to be 100 percent horse meat and may now involve as many as 16 European countries. In response to the growing evidence for widespread mislabelling, the EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg has now urged all EU member states to implement random DNA testing of processed beef products, for a three-month period beginning 1 March.
By saying it will test what it sells here, Woolworths is indicating to both the government and the public that it recognises the issue has become an identifiable risk. And it wants to assure customers that its products are legitimate.
Still, there’s no sign of a problem in Australia that’s similar to what’s happening in Europe, which seems to be in the grip of what is ostensibly economic fraud – the substitution of horse meat in products sold as beef. There don’t seem to be any specific food safety issues involved, although some commentators have raised the possibility of contamination with veterinary pharmaceuticals, which could have a negative impact on human health.
The issue is economic rather than nutritional. People eat meat because they enjoy it – they enjoy the texture and the flavour. Often people become accustomed to the flavour of the meat they eat, so horse meat may taste different, possibly “gamey”, but it’s easy to become accustomed to this.
Horse meat is generally very lean but otherwise nutritionally similar to beef or sheep. It’s a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals (especially iron) and healthy fatty acids (omega-3).
So, at the heart of the issue is a breach of trust for economic gain rather than being fed something unthinkable. Products have been labelled as containing beef, when they may in fact contain up to 100 percent horse meat. But let’s go back to the problem of veterinary pharmaceuticals. Some of these compounds are painkillers and since the human body responds differently to such drugs compared to horses, we get into dangerous territory for human health.
The substance causing the most concern is phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory drug given to horses for the treatment of lameness, pain and fever. It’s no longer used to treat humans and is not supposed to enter the food chain because it may cause a range of side effects. Some of these are quite serious, such as aplastic anaemia (bone marrow failure) in some people. But authorities in the United Kingdom have declared the illegal horse meat in the food safe to eat.
The difficulty for any regulator, such as the UK Food Standards Agency, is the same as the public faces. There has to be some degree of trust, let’s say, truth in labelling. If a supplier indicates that a food contains particular ingredients, then one can expect it will. Once again, what we’re talking about here is a breach of trust and that’s what’s unacceptable.
For food standards authorities around the world, the question is, does any agency have the ability to test everything? We think that’s what lies at the heart of the matter here. No agency has the resources to test everything and compliance with accepted food standard codes and labelling is vital.
But Europe will recover. Generally speaking, recovery from a scandal of this kind begins with a phase of greater accountability, and a requirement for food manufacturers to provide more independent evidence substantiating the authenticity of ingredients. Rogue operators shown to be breaching trust and behaving fraudulently are punished and banned. This is what we can expect to happen in the coming weeks. The EU Health Commissioner’s announcement suggests that the cleanout has begun.
CSIRO receives funding from Meat and Livestock Australia for research concerning the safety and quality of beef and sheepmeat.
Robyn Warner 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.
Speculating on food prices saw investment banking firm Goldman Sachs pocket more than one billion pounds in 2012, reigniting the controversy surrounding banks profiting from the global food crisis.
The bank is being accused of contributing to rising food costs, making about 251m pounds in 2012 from investing in a range of commodities including wheat, maize and sugar, according to findings from the World Development Movement, for The Independent.
This then led to Goldman Sachs enjoying a 68 percent rise in profits for the year, allowing it to increase the average pay and bonus package of its bankers to 250,000 pounds.
Christine Haigh from WDM told The Independent, "While nearly a billion people go hungry, Goldman Sachs bankers are feeding their own bonuses by betting on the price of food. Financial speculation is fuelling food price spikes and Goldman Sachs is the number one culprit."
Goldman Sachs declined to comment on WDM's findings, however its reported that the bank is advising clients that corn is one of its top trading tips for 2013, following the US's worst ever drought.
While banks argue that food speculation has no real effect on food prices, there's a strong argument that the influx of cash into food has increased demand to such a degree that prices have jumped up.
The Indepedent writes, "Since deregulation allowed the creation of the commodity funds that allowed many speculators to invest in agriculture for the first time, institutions such as Goldman have channelled more than $200bn of cash into the area. This investment has coincided with a significant and sustained rise in global food prices."
The controversy surrounding horse meat and the labelling of meat products in Europe continues, with frozen food company Findus recalling its lasagne meals earlier this week.
Some beef lasagne products have been recalled by the company after French supplier Comigel raised concerns the products didn't "conform to specification", reports stuff.co.nz.
Eighteen lasagne products were tested with 11 found to be containing horse meat in the range of 60 to 100 percent, although the Food Standards Agency refused to state if any of the meals were 100 percent horse meat.
Tests have been ordered on the products to see if they contain the veterinary drug phenylbutazone. Meat from animals treated with the drug cannot enter the food chain as it may pose a risk to human health.
People who have purchased the meals are being advised to return them to the place of purchase.
Just last month Tesco stores in Britain and Ireland pulled its brand of burgers from the shelves after authorities discovered they contained roughly 30 percent horse meat.
While horse meat isn't seen as a health risk, the recent incidents have upset the public in Britain and Ireland, where the meat isn't traditionally eaten. It has also raised fears over food security and labelling.
Alan Reilly, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland's chief executive, said "In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horse meat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger.
"Likewise, for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable."