Food for thought: the rise of Australia’s mighty Brahman

The cattle in northern Australia are different to the rest of the national herd and the most striking thing is they have humps. But these humped Brahman cattle are here for a reason: because they adapted to surviving where others cannot in harsh tropical environments.

Brahmans were first introduced to Queensland in 1933. Today the national beef herd is around 26 million cattle and Brahman genetics can be found in around 50% of the national herd. More than 70% of the bulls working north of the Tropic of Capricorn are Brahman.

Such has been their impact that, before you can leave Ausralia’s beef capital of Rockhampton, you are greeted with a giant statue of a Brahman bull, a tribute to the immense economic benefits it has delivered. In 2001 it was estimated that Brahman genetics had contributed an extra A$8.1 billion to the Queensland economy.

The Brahman cattle statue in Rockhampton.
Michael Thomson, Author provided

But its impact has been far greater than just dollars and cents. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that the great experiment of introducing these bloodlines into Australia laid down the ideal model of research and industry collaboration that all fields of science can still learn from today.

Like all great advances in human endeavour, it began with an insight, followed by a vision and then years of unrecognised and thankless toil.

Inspiration from Texas

In the 1920 the Australian veterinary scientist John Anderson Gilruth toured the United States and viewed the cattle at the Pierce Estate in Texas. According to Angus Packham’s book of Cattle Breeding Research at Rockhampton, Gilruth said that “a vigorously controlled cattle breeding experiment in north Queensland would be wise”.

Gilruth later became the first chief of the new division of animal health at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR was the precursor to today’s CSIRO). There, he put forward a proposal to acquire Zebu cattle (Brahmans are a sub-breed of the Zebu species of cattle).

Wise indeed, but it took until 1933 for the first Zebus to be imported by CSIR on behalf of a handful of cooperating progressive pastoralists, even though most cattlemen did not see value in these humped “feral” cattle of inferior genetics.

The CSIR’s animal geneticist Ralph Bodkin Kelley said at the time:

A cooperator refused to use a CSIR-installed cattle weigh-bridge and another stated that nobody was going to tell him how to breed cattle that were his.

Even then it wasn’t until 1941 that Kelly was able to record that “the most worthwhile experiment with respect to Zebu crossbreeding in Australia” had begun. It was another decade before the property Belmont, north of Rockhampton, was purchased as a dedicated research property for cattle research.

Every scientist with a grand vision would appreciate these long thankless years. In fact, the CSIR Executive Board questioned:

[…] whether anybody is cognisant of the very large number of major and minor difficulties and problems, of husbandry and science, which will have to be overcome or solved on the ground before Belmont can become the centre of a beef cattle research programme of which CSIR can be proud.

Thankfully, things reached a tipping point, and this is where things get really interesting for designing future research collaborations.

Brahman cattle dominate the northern Australian herd.

The Queensland herd

In 1965 less than 15% of the Queensland cattle herd contained Brahman genetics. By 1981 it was 60%.

Author provided

That rise coincided directly with a rise in industry visitors to CSIRO’s research facilities at Belmont, which coincidentally or not, tracks a similar rise in the number of scientific papers published by the researchers.

Author provided

Strong links with industry reflected by official visitor numbers appears to have been vital in maintaining research momentum, helping to frame industry-relevant research questions and driving adoption of innovation by Queensland cattlemen.

Alas, amid government funding cuts and rationalisation of research activities, the CSIRO left Rockhampton in 2009. It consolidated its northern livestock program to Townsville, leaving the beef capital without a research presence.

The once crowded Rendel Research Laboratories were emptied, Belmont’s pastures were used by private herds, and producers started looking elsewhere for inspiration.

A new approach

Despite the successes of the Brahman breed, the challenge facing the north Australian industry remains the same: identifying superior genetics that can thrive in harsh and remote environmental conditions with limited human intervention.

Case in point being the abysmally low fertility rates in some northern Australian herds, where 47% calving rates are normal, compared with the national average of 76%.

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) research also shows that the 25% of producers in the northern region (i.e. those operating profitably) are acutely focused on their genetics, their pastures and their labour efficiency. They achieve higher reproductive rates, lower mortality rates and heavier sale weights than the rest of the producers.

So the focus now is on engaging producers in the development of new automated monitoring systems to identify new genetics that will take the industry to the next level of productivity.

Systems have been developed that are capable of gathering data on individual animals and Belmont (now owned by farmer association AgForce) is again the touch point for industry.

A stockman musters cattle on CSIRO’S Belmont research station, 32km north of Rockhampton.

This allows our researchers to track in real time which cattle are reaching optimal markets weights the fastest, and which cows are most fertile, as well as the pasture and water availability.

If this sort of technology is rolled out across the industry, the data gathered will dramatically enhance analysis of industry-wide genetic linkages. Producers will be able to more accurately select from a larger number of bulls and cows which have detailed fertility records, and whose progeny will grow faster than their ancestors while consuming less pasture.

For the producer this means more beef produced per hectare, bolstering their bottom line and the nation’s export returns. For the consumer it means industry can select genetics that are known to produce tender beef. And for the environment it will reduce the amount of grazing pressure on ground cover and waterways.

But this will all remain just a scientist’s crusade if producers can’t see the value in adopting new innovation. The key to that riddle is once again opening the doors to Rockhampton’s beef research facilities and recreating that strong link between researchers and producers that proved so successful in the past.

The challenge for governments and the research community is to understand the value of investing for the long-term, riding out the dark and lonely days and the importance of engaging with end-users along the way.

The Conversation

Dave Swain, Professor of Agriculture, CQUniversity Australia

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

The food safety mark of confidence

Food safety doesn’t just concern what we put in our mouths. It also involves a range of non-food products that are used in the production process. We caught up with Clive Withinshaw, Director of HACCP Australia, to discuss best practice in this area.

Food & Beverage Industry News: We see the HACCP Australia and HACCP International mark on an increasing number of products. Can you tell us something about it? What does it represent and how does it benefit food companies?

Clive Withinshaw: HACCP Australia is a food safety and food science company which provides a variety of services including food safety and Non-GMO auditing, consulting and product certification.

In answer to your question, HACCP Australia (with its overseas arm, HACCP International) operates a product certification scheme called ‘Food Safe Equipment, Materials and Services’. This is aimed particularly at non-food products which are used by the food industry and have incidental food contact or a significant impact on food safety or proper operation of a food safety management system.

The world’s leading HACCP and food safety schemes and quality systems – particularly those endorsed by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) – have developed rapidly over the last 15 years. They are very demanding and have high expectations concerning all facets of food safety.

In the early days they rightly concentrated on ingredient risks. That expanded to include packaging and logistics and they now encompass the risks that come from plant and equipment.

The world’s best food safety schemes have recognised and are emphasising the fact that many of today’s recalls are caused, not by ingredients or process, but by physical and chemical contaminants.

Essentially, food businesses now have an obligation to mitigate the risk from this source with an auditable due diligence process. Provided they have the necessary skills, they can do this themselves. Alternatively, they can rely on 3rd party certification.

This latter option is becoming more popular because the risk analysis isn’t easy and the industry has an expectation that suppliers be involved in the process.

Essentially our scheme is designed to meet that due diligence requirement and provide both the buyer and seller with confidence as to the product’s fitness for purpose.

Often the suppliers of these key products supply multiple markets. They too need assurance that the products that they supply to this specialist food sector are appropriate. I’m talking about things like kitchen wipes, lubricants, cleaning and pesticide chemicals, flooring, and lighting. Fine they might be, but ‘fine’ in an engineering shed is not necessarily ‘fine’ in a food plant.

F&B: How does the evaluation process work?

CW: There are a number of international certifications that address individual characteristics, such as food contact material or cleanability, as stand-alone criteria.

Ours is different in that we apply a risk analysis and have 10 key criteria that need to be satisfied prior to certification. In addition, we look at toxicity, batch and quality control, consequence of error, labelling, instructions and claims. Each product needs to pass each criterion and it has to make a contribution to food safety.

F&B: Who does the evaluation and where? CW: HACCP International and HACCP Australia employ a number of highly experienced and qualified food scientists – both here in Australia and overseas – who are devoted to this scheme.

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Depending upon the nature of the product or service, we will examine the product itself as well as, where necessary, the quality system that supports it and the on-site performance. Products continue to be evaluated after certification and service providers are audited. It can be an extensive process and can be demanding on the product.

F&B: What is the pass/fail rate?

CW: Many of the larger companies do manufacture really good products. It is no surprise to me that the more expensive and better designed and made of these have the least problems. These people have invested in food safety.

Others struggle. I would estimate that no more than 50 per cent of applicants pass first time. However, they do often re-engineer. That is great to see and shows a commit- ment to our industry. In some sectors failure rates can be higher.

F&B: Can you give us an example?

CW: Lighting is a good one. Many food businesses are very aware of the possible foreign body contamination from lighting products – historically there has been a risk of falling nuts and bolts (or of course glass) over production zones.

The lighting industry has addressed glass but we now see many products with heat dissipating design which makes them impossible to clean and a great pest harbourage. So instead of glass falling into our food, we now have dead insects!

The makers of lights that do carry our mark, such as Thorn and Zumtobel, have really thought about their application in the food industry.

F&B: What about the standards?

CW: We have a number of both public and proprietorial standards against which products are evaluated and expectations for a vast range of products that have been developed over the last 15 years.

It has been a significant investment. HACCP International is a JAS-ANZ accredited product certifier and all our systems meet the requirements of ISO 17065 (the standards for product certification).

We are just about to release a new standard titled ‘Pest Management Services for Food Businesses’. Hundreds of hours have gone into its development governed by an impartial committee of stakeholders comprising retailers, food safety auditors, food processors and pest managers.

It is a world first in publically available standards for this sector. There are many ‘guidelines’ but our industry isn’t keen on ‘guidelines’. ‘It is or it isn’t’ is what we like!

It is available from our website at no charge and gives the food industry a really useful tool as well as an understanding as to what pest management companies that carry our mark have been audited against. It is also designed to capture all the requirements of all the international best practice and GFSI standards.

F&B: Is your scheme popular overseas? If so, where and why?

CW: We now undertake more product certification business outside Australasia than we do within.

It’s great that an Australian company has joined the ranks of exporters in a sector which isn’t one of, what I call, the ‘4C’ club – carbon, cattle, crops and cabernet!

We have staff and offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, the UK and now in the US.

While there are a number of international schemes, ours seems to have become very popular in certain markets. Among other reasons, I think this is because of the holistic nature of the certification and the alignment with best practice standards.

In Europe, for example, food contact products need, among other things, EU1935 compliance. But that in itself only addresses the material, not the design. Our scheme obviously requires the same but so much more. Furthermore, it is conducted in a way that the QA department in a food business would expect.

F&B: Can you give us some examples of products and what you look for?

CW: Anything that has an impact on food safety but particularly those that have incidental contact or present a great risk.

Gloves are a good example. I am of the school that would rather my food was handled by a clean hand than a dirty glove, but if it is to be handled by a clean glove, we need to know what that clean glove is made of.

There are some really nasty gloves out there made from totally unacceptable material. A thin slice of the food handler’s flesh in my sandwich would be only slightly less palatable than certain glove material we have come across!

Kimberly Clark, MCP, RCR, Oates, Edco, Prochoice and The Glove Company all make some excellent products in this area. Others are listed on our website. If they are just slightly more expensive – there’s a reason.

Pest management chemicals are an unavoidable material that all food businesses need to some extent. Our certification ensures that they are all food-safe and fit for purpose.

There can be a temptation for controllers to use cheaper (or what they might call ‘more effective’) chemicals. Our certification mark ensures that this can be controlled.

The certification not only covers the product but also such things as the application method, instructions, quality control and allergens. Bayer, BASF, Bell, FMC and Syngenta are examples of manufacturers which have products that are particularly appropriate for the food market.

Our certification not only examines such products but also determines in which ‘zones’ they are appropriate. ‘Primary Food Contact’ or ‘Splash and Spill’ zones, for example, are indicated on the certification.

Flooring and walling is another product group we commonly see. Everybody knows that mistakes in these can be really expensive in terms of fit out and disruption. Our evaluation process can really help industry specifiers when selecting a food safe surfaces and hardware.

Roxset, Flowcrete, Altro, Ucrete, Clifford, Sika, Bethell, BlueScope and Blucher come to mind, but once again there are others on our site which have all invested in the food industry’s needs.

F&B: Who should those in the industry contact if they want to know more about the certification and how you do things?

CW: We really encourage food safety and quality managers to talk to us about certified products – especially when they are making purchasing decisions or if they need to know what we have looked at or how we did the evaluation.

They can usually speak to the evaluation scientist directly and, while much of the information we hold is confidential, we can usually satisfy technical enquiries. That can be a really useful for a QA or HACCP Manager.

A really effective, auditable, due diligence process is now an absolute for food businesses operating to world’s best practice food safety standards. Our scheme can really help in that way.

I did hear of a production director of one of the large Australian food processors who said, “If it doesn’t have that mark on it – you better have the facts and my express permission to bring it in otherwise”.

That’s one way of doing it!

Make a fresh start with your fridge in 2017: apps to reduce food waste and save money

I have never been good at sticking to New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s to floss my teeth more or to join a gym, I just don’t manage to keep them up. But this year I am setting myself a better goal – one that will save me money, time and be good for the planet. I’m going to start using a meal planning and pantry inventory app.

If you barely have time to scribble together a shopping list, let alone browse recipes or check cupboards before leaving the house, then meal planning apps are a great tool to help manage shopping, cooking and eating.

They have a range of features that help you track what’s in your pantry and fridge, import recipes, create meal plans, generate shopping lists, and sometimes all of the above. They take a bit of time to set up, but once that’s done they can make your life a lot easier.

Why plan meals?

It doesn’t sound very sexy, but planning meals and knowing what’s in your fridge and pantry when you go shopping is a great way to reduce food waste and save time and money.

Globally, one-third of edible food produced is wasted. This puts a strain on scarce resources such as land and water, and generates significant greenhouse gas emissions.

If food waste were a country, it would have the third-highest emissions after China and the US.

Menu planning also means fewer trips to the supermarket and less impulse spending, as well as helping you use leftovers more efficiently.

So what are these apps?

To get you started, I’ve put together an overview of a few useful apps that I came across during my research. Results of a recent survey by MenuForMums in the UK found that 90% of members saved time and money (and by default reduced food waste) by using its online meal planning service.

1.) Pepperplate is a mobile app that helps you to compile and organise your recipe collection, create meal plans, generate shopping lists and cook the recipes that you want to try.

Recipes can be imported by pasting their URL from the web or by entering them manually. They can then be used to create meal plans and interactive shopping lists which allow you to tick off items as you go and share with others. When cooking, Pepperplate will walk you through the recipes, complete with cooking timers. Other similar meal planning apps are BigOven and AnyList.

Recent research has shown that Melbourne wastes 200kg of food per person a year.
Food waste image from

2.) Cloud-Freezer helps you create shopping lists like Pepperplate, but focuses on inventories rather than meal planning. It allows you to keep track of the items you already have in your fridge, freezer and pantry, including expiry dates so you can plan what you need to eat first to reduce food waste.

Items can be added to shopping lists from a library of previous entries, moved between shopping lists and inventories, and between the inventories themselves (for example, if you move something from the freezer to the fridge to defrost). The app has a barcode scanner function connected to user-driven databases to help you enter items quickly. There are similar but less sophisticated cross-platform apps called GrocerEaze and Out of Milk.

3.) MealBoard offers the most features and could be life-changing if you take the time to set it up. It’s a combination of Pepperplate and Cloud-Freezer because it enables you to import recipes, plan meals, generate shopping lists and do inventories. Integrating these features turbocharges your ability to organise food activities because it automatically populates shopping lists with what you have to buy, taking into account what you already have at home.

This could save a lot of time and effort, and prevent a lot of duplicate shopping. If you’re prepared to do that, it’s a powerful tool. Another cross-platform app, FoodPlanner, boasts the same features as MealBoard.

So if you have some spare time in the holidays, after recovering from your food coma and before you join that gym, maybe take one of these apps for a trial run. Between Christmas leftovers and forgotten items in the back of your pantry, you may not need to shop for weeks.

The time you save might make it easier to stick to all your other resolutions, and your wallet and the planet will thank you for it.

The Conversation

Seona Candy, Research Fellow: Food and Urban Systems, University of Melbourne

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

Eliminating waste in the fisheries industry

Every year 340,000 tonnes of usable whitefish by-product are discarded into the sea. But the fisheries industry has now identified ways of halting this practice.

The fishing company Nordic Wildfish has been assisting in the development of a new technology that can make use of the entire by-product from whitefish such as cod, pollock and haddock.

Instead of discarding the heads, guts and the rest of the fish, they can all be incorporated into a hydrolysis process that separates the bones, leaving a kind of “soup” to which enzymes can be added and valuable oils and proteins extracted.

“The entire process takes place on board the trawler, which has only been at sea for two months,” says Anders Bjørnerem, R&D Director at Nordic Wildfish in Norway.

So this technology is entirely new? “Yes. No one has done this before, and it’s very exciting. We’ve already been nominated for the 2016 Innovation Prize awarded by the technical journal Teknisk ukeblad,” says Bjørnerem.

Non-sustainable food production Nordic Wildfish is located on the island of Valderøya, west of Ålesund, Norway, and has been working closely with the research-company SINTEF for some time to promote technological development.

“As much as 92 per cent of marine whitefish by-product is not utilised,” says Bjørnerem. “Commonly it is only the fillets that are processed to become food. This is not sustainable food production. As we approach 2050, the demand for food on this planet will increase by as much as 70 per cent due to high levels of population growth.

The industry must make it its goal to utilise the entire fish,” says Ana Karina Carvajal, Research Manager at SINTEF Fisheries and Aquaculture.

According to a report published by SINTEF in 2014, 340,000 tonnes of whitefish by-product are discarded annually. SINTEF believes that this material has major commercial potential if it can be processed to produce high quality end-products such as ingredients in animal feed and food for human consumption.

Teamwork is key On board the trawler Molnes, whitefish by-product is processed using enzymatic hydrolysis to produce valuable proteins, amino acids and fish oils.

Many technologies have been developed and adapted for installation on board the refurbished trawler. “Excellent teamwork between researchers and the industry will enable many new systems for better exploitation of the fish to be implemented within the next two to four years,” says Carvajal.

“We’re very pleased to see that some segments within the industry have already taken the first steps towards more sustainable food production,” Carvajal says.

Read more at:

Got high cholesterol? Here are five foods to eat and avoid

High fat, low fat, no carb, more carb: when it comes to getting information on eating to manage high blood cholesterol, confusion reigns.

We checked the most recent research from trials that tested the impact of specific foods on blood cholesterol. The verdict? Good news first! Eating more nuts, legumes, plant sterols (molecules found in plants) and olive oil helps lower blood cholesterol.

The bad news? Discretionary foods (aka junk) raise blood cholesterol, especially bad cholesterol (called LDL). Eating less lowers it.

Do you know your blood cholesterol level? If you don’t, ask your GP to check it. Over a third of Australian adults have high cholesterol.

1. Eat legumes

Legumes and pulses, including baked beans, kidney beans, chick peas, lentils and split peas, can help lower cholesterol levels. The most recent Australian Health Survey found fewer than one in five Australians ate them on the day of the survey.

The results of 26 randomised control trials (the gold standard of research trials), which included 1,037 people who had either normal or high cholesterol levels, were added together. The data showed LDL cholesterol was reduced by 5% in response to eating 130 grams of pulses per day. This is equivalent to one small can or about a third of a 400 gram (large) can of baked beans.

Pulses are high in vegetable protein and fibre. They lower blood cholesterol in a number of ways. The soluble and insoluble fibres assist with lowering cholesterol absorption in the gut, while they promote growth of beneficial gut bacteria in the large bowel.

The soluble and insoluble fibres in legumes help lower cholesterol absorption in the gut.

Legumes and pulses take longer to digest compared to processed foods. This means you tend to eat less when they’re part of a meal.

2. Eat plant sterols, margarines and spreads

Plant sterols, or phytosterols, are chemically similar to blood cholesterol and are found in some plant foods, including nuts. Plant sterols are concentrated from plant sources and then added to some commonly eaten foods such as margarines, spreads or milk.

Plant sterols compete with two other types of cholesterol
for absorption from the gut: pre-made cholesterol, which is found in some foods like prawns, and cholesterol, which is made in your liver. This “competition” process lowers the total amount of cholesterol that eventually ends up in your blood.

A review concluded that two grams of plant sterols a day leads to an 8-10% reduction in LDL cholesterol.

The type of fat the plant sterols are mixed with is important. A meta-analysis of 32 randomised control trials, involving around 2,100 people, found bigger reductions in total cholesterol (a mix of good and bad types) and LDL cholesterol when plant sterols were added to margarines or spreads derived from canola or rapeseed oil, rather than sunflower or soybean oil.

3. Eat nuts

Nuts are high in protein and fat, but the amounts of polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fat vary. In a review of 25 intervention trials, eating approximately 67g of nuts a day (about half a cup) led to a 5.1% reduction in total cholesterol and 7.4% for LDL.

It didn’t matter what type of nuts people ate; the more nuts, the bigger the cholesterol reduction. People with higher LDL cholesterol at baseline or who were not overweight had a bigger improvement. One caution is that half a cup of nuts contains about 400 calories (1600kJ), so you need to eat nuts instead of another food, or eat less each day but have them every day.

Eating half a cup of nuts a day can cut cholesterol by 5%.

4. Use olive oil

Olive oil is a major component of the Mediterranean diet and the predominant source of fat. Olive oil contains a high proportion of monounsaturated fat.

More than 80% of olive oil’s healthy compounds (called phenolic compounds) are lost during the refining process, so less refined varieties, such as virgin olive oil, are a better choice.

A review of eight trials that included 350 people consuming high phenolic olive oil found medium effects on lowering blood pressure and small effects on lowering oxidised LDL (a type of LDL), with no significant effects on total or LDL cholesterol.

In contrast, another trial randomly selected over 7,400 men and women at high risk of heart disease to follow three diets: the Mediterranean diet plus extra-virgin olive oil, or Mediterranean diet plus nuts, or a control diet (low fat). After 4.8 years follow-up, those in both the olive oil and nut groups had a 30% lower risk of heart attack, stroke or death from heart disease compared to controls.

In a recent trial, 47 men and women were randomised to substitute 4.5% of their usual food intake of olive oil or butter for five weeks, and then crossed over to the other group for another five weeks. Researchers found total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels were significantly higher after consuming butter compared to olive oil.

The reduction was biggest in those who had high blood cholesterol to start with. Switching to a healthier spread makes sense for those with high cholesterol.

5. Avoid junk food

In our study, we found people were able to make a number of smaller changes across a range of the foods that lower blood cholesterol levels, including increasing nuts, soy foods and plant sterols.

But the biggest change people made was cutting back on energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods (junk foods) and eating a wider variety of healthy foods. The benefits of making these changes? They lowered their cholesterol, lost weight and lowered their blood pressure.

A big study examined changes in diet quality scores and heart disease risk in 29,000 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and 51, 000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study (1986-2010). After four years of follow-up almost 11,000 people had a heart disease “event”.

Those who had the biggest improvement in their diet quality score had a 7-8% lower risk. You can check your diet quality using our Healthy Eating Quiz.

When it comes to heart disease risk factors, get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked next time you see your GP.

The Conversation

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle; Tracy Burrows, Associate Professor Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle, and Tracy Schumacher, Research Associate, University of Newcastle

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


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Paleopups and paleopussies: is a paleodiet for your pet a step too far?

Will 2016 be the year the world finally lost interest in the paleodiet? Believe it or not, it’s already happened! ‘Peak-paleo’ passed without notice way back in January 2014.

We’re often a little behind the global trends down-under, so Australia’s own peak-paleo occurred almost two years after the rest of the planet. This might explain why the media here still bends over backwards to give celebrity chef Pete Evans and other prominent paleodieters so much limelight.

Still, it’s been a steady decline in interest ever since, and the paleodiet, like the real Paleolithic Era before it, is on the slow road to extinction. But whose to blame for its failure to convince us it holds the answers to all our health and lifestyle needs?

I genuinely believe there is something to the idea that we can learn from our evolutionary past about how to live today. It’s just that the paleodiet fad with its mix of blatant buck making and oddball conspiracy theories has hijacked any science there may have been behind it.

We can point the finger at the high priests of the paleodiet cult themselves who are, afterall, just another segment of the food industry. A sector made up of self-appointed nutrition, health and evolution experts with a disdain for science and the people who conduct it.

In their seemingly ever desperate quest to sell us stuff straight out of the Stone Age, paleodieters have come up with some rather creative food lines.

As we all know, artificially sweetened soft drinks were all the rage in the Paleolithic. Archaeologists have discovered hundreds of fossilised soft drink cans from ancient sites all around the globe.

And remember the furore when the paleopilgrims told us to start feeding our newborns paleo baby formula? There we even calls for paleoparents to be put in jail.

Now we’re told that our pets should be paleopuppies and paleopussies because, as one prominent website puts it, “the consequences of the modern lifestyle are largely the same in pets as in humans”.

In their usual glib way, the advice they dish out for pets is as ill-informed as it is for humans: “A good place to start your research is by looking up what your pet eats in the wild, and slowly introducing those foods into its regular diet, making sure to keep a close eye out for any digestive symptoms”.

Through the process of evolution over thousands of years all of the animals we have domesticated, from dogs and cats to sheep, pigs and goats have changed from their wild ancestors.

Take dogs, the first animal we domesticated from wolves during the Paleolithic, perhaps as far back as 40 thousand years ago, and at several places at different times.

Ever since, they’ve been evolving alongside us to live as we do and to eat a diet a lot like our own. Some scientists even think dogs were responsible for domesticating us!

Studies of the dog genome have shown that domestication affected two main kinds of genes: ones affecting dog behaviour and the nervous system and genes involved in digestion and diet.

Through a combination of artificial and natural selection dogs have evolved to eat starch, unlike wolves, which have a largely carnivorous diet. Dogs have five times as many copies of the AMY2B gene which is dedicated to producing starch digesting enzymes in their pancreas.

If we study the various dogs breeds around the globe there’s also a clear pattern where larger numbers of copies of AMY2B are found in locations where agriculture spread during prehistory. The dogs bred by farmers are the best at eating and digesting grains and they have the genes to back it all up.

Dogs eat starch, wolves don’t, but starch from grains is simply not allowed on the paleodiet for humans or pets.

Cats on the other hand have a completely different history of domestication compared to dogs. Cats were domesticated much later, with the earliest examples of moggies found just 10 thousand years ago in Cyprus.

Most of the 30-40 cat breeds seen today were only bred during the last 150 years and before this surge in cat popularity there were only around half a dozen cat breeds recognised globally.

With dogs though, some breeds are thousands, other perhaps even tens of thousands, of years old. They have a very deep ancestry back into the mists of prehistory.

The much younger age for cat domestication means that unlike dogs their diet is much more like their wild precursors. This explains why cats are much more carnivorous than their canine house mates.

The big problem in advocating paleopet food is that our pets are no longer wild animals. If we attempt to replicate their evolutionary past, in complete ignorance of how they lived and ate, we might be doing them a lot more harm than good.

The Conversation

Darren Curnoe, Chief Investigator and Co-Leader of Education and Engagement Program ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, and Director, Palaeontology, Geobiology and Earth Archives Research Centre, UNSW Australia

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


Image: Wikimedia Commons – Craig, Hugh, CC BY-SA

The ten things Australia needs to do to improve health

In Australia, one in every two people has a chronic disease. These diseases, such as cancer, mental illness and heart disease, reduce quality of life and can lead to premature death. Younger generations are increasingly at risk.

Crucially, one-third of the disease burden could be prevented and chronic diseases often share the same risk factors.

A collaboration of Australia’s leading scientists, clinicians and health organisations has produced health targets for Australia’s population to reach by the year 2025.

These are in line with the World Health Organisation’s agenda for a 25% global reduction in premature deaths from chronic diseases, endorsed by all member states including Australia.

Today the collaboration is announcing its top ten priority policy actions in response to a recent health report card that identifies challenges to meeting the targets. The actions will drive down risk factors and help create a healthier Australia.

1. Drink fewer sugary drinks

One in two adults and three out of four children and young people consume too much sugar. Sugary drinks are the main source of sugar in the Australian diet and while many other factors influence health, these drinks are directly linked to weight gain and the risk of developing diabetes.

Putting a 20% tax on sugary drinks could save lives and prevent heart attacks, strokes and diabetes. The tax would also generate A$400 million each year that could be spent on much needed health programs.

2. Stop unhealthy food marketing aimed at kids

Almost 40% of children and young people’s energy comes from junk food. Children are very responsive to marketing and it is no coincidence almost two-thirds of food marketing during popular viewing times are unhealthy products.

Restricting food marketing aimed at children is an effective way to significantly reduce junk food consumption and Australians want action in this area. Government-led regulation is needed to drive this change.

3. Keep up the smoking-reduction campaigns

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia, although the trends are positive.

Campaigns that highlight the dangers of smoking reduce the number of young people who start smoking, increase the number of people who attempt to quit and support former smokers to remain tobacco free.

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Australia.

4. Help everyone quit

About 40% of Aboriginal people and 24% of people with a mental illness smoke.

To support attempts to quit, compliance with smoke-free legislation across all work and public places is vital. Media campaigns need to continue to reach broad audiences. GPs and other local health services that serve disadvantaged communities should include smoking cessation in routine care.

5. Get active in the streets

More than 90% of Australian young people are not meeting guidelines for sufficient physical activity – the 2025 target is to reduce this by at least 10%.

Active travel to and from school programs will reach 3.7 million of Australia’s children and young people. This can only occur in conjunction with safe paths and urban environments that are designed in line with the latest evidence to get everyone moving.

6. Tax alcohol responsibly

The Henry Review concluded that health and social harms have not been adequately considered in current alcohol taxation. A 10% increase on the current excise, and the consistent application of volume-based taxation, are the 2017 priority actions.

Fortunately, the trends suggest most people are drinking more responsibly. However approximately 5,500 deaths and 157,000 hospital admissions occur as a consequence of alcohol each year.

7. Use work as medicine

People with a mental illness are over-represented in national unemployment statistics. The 2025 target is to halve the employment gap.

Unemployment and the associated financial duress exerts a significant toll on the health of people with a mental illness, and costs an estimated A$2.5 billion in lost productivity each year.

Supported vocational programs have 20 years of evidence showing their effectiveness. Scaling up and better integrating these programs is an urgent priority, along with suicide prevention and broader efforts.

8. Cut down on salt

Most Australian adults consume in excess of the recommended maximum salt intake of 5 grams daily. This contributes to a high prevalence of elevated blood pressure among adults (23%), which is a major risk factor for heart diseases.

Around 75% of Australian’s salt intake comes from processed foods. Reducing salt intake by 30% by 2025, via food reformulation, could save 3,500 lives a year through reductions in heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

Reducing salt intake by 30% by 2025 could save 3,500 lives a year.

9. Promote heart health

Heart disease is Australia’s single largest cause of death, and yet an estimated 970,000 adults at high risk of a cardiovascular event (heart attack or stroke) are not receiving appropriate treatment to reduce risk factors such as combined blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications. Under-treatment can be exacerbated by people’s lack of awareness about their own risk factors.

National heart risk assessment programs, along with care planning for high-risk individuals, offer a cost-effective solution.

10. Measure what matters

A comprehensive Australian Health Survey must be a permanent and routine survey every five years, so Australia knows how we are tracking on chronic disease.

All of these policies are effective, affordable and feasible opportunities to prevent, rather than treat, Australia’s biggest killer diseases.

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The Conversation

Rebecca Lindberg, Research Coordinator, Victoria University; Kevin Peter Mc Namara, Senior Research Fellow in Health Services Research, Deakin University, and Sharleen O’Reilly, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, Deakin University

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

Research Check: can eating aged cheese help you age well?

Most people are interested in how to slow the ageing process, or at least they get more interested as the years tick by. So when new research promises to have discovered the secret, which happens to include eating more of a food that tastes great but often appears on “eat less” food lists, it is bound to make the headlines.

According to a recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald, “aged cheese could help you age well”. The article was based on research published in the journal Nature Medicine. It showed that spermidine – a compound found in aged cheese, legumes and whole grains – could extend the life of mice when added to their drinking water.

A separate study within the Nature Medicine paper looked at the diets of around 800 Italians. It concluded that those who had a high spermidine intake had lower blood pressure and a 40% lower risk of heart failure and other heart diseases.

So if the newspaper report is accurate, then it would be time to get out the cheese and crackers. But before the party starts, let’s take a closer look at the original paper, in which cheese plays a very small, almost insignificant, part.

The Conversation, CC BY-ND


Spermidine is a naturally occurring compound originally found, as its name suggests, in semen. It is present throughout the human body and plays a vital role in cell survival. Studies have shown spermidine supplements can extend the lifespan of worms, flies and yeast.

The Nature Medicine paper is a series of several studies and analyses in mice, rats and humans.

Studies in mice

The first study compared the effects of adding spermidine, or the related compound spermine, to drinking water in mice, and the effects of not doing so; for either their whole life or starting only at middle age. Researchers found adding the compounds increased lifespan: good news if you are a mouse.

Two groups of mice were tested for spermidine’s effects on different health measures.

The next analysis is bad news for mice. Researchers looked for the development of tumours related to ageing in the mice in the first study and found no difference between the supplemented and unsupplemented mice.

This meant the supplement in the water didn’t prevent tumours mice get due to ageing. The conclusion then drawn was that the longer life seen in the first study was not due to cancer prevention.

There was not much difference in the heart tissue between groups that had spermidine and those that didn’t. So researchers looked more broadly at heart characteristics and found the hearts in the supplemented group were structurally more healthy.

There were a number of other comparisons that looked at hearts in mice.

The rat study

In the rat study, salt-sensitive Dahl rats – a type bred to develop high blood pressure when fed a high-salt diet – were given food really high in salt. Half of the rats had spermidine added to their drinking water and half did not.

From weeks nine to 15 of the study, the rats in the spermidine group had significantly lower blood pressure compared to the others. But at the end of the study there was not much difference between the two groups.

The human study

The diets of 100 Italians were put under the microscope.

In the final human analysis, researchers recorded the diets of more than 800 Italians at three time points (1995, 2000 and 2005) and the number of heart-related events they experienced. These were high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke and premature death from heart disease over the 15 years from 1995 to 2010.

The study found about a 40% lower risk of heart failure, both fatal and non-fatal, among those with the highest spermidine intakes compared to those with the lowest. It also found a significantly lower risk of any heart disease – based on a composite score that included acute coronary artery disease, stroke, high blood pressure and death from vascular disease – among those with the highest versus lowest spermidine intakes.

Of greatest relevance to this analysis is that the biggest contributor to spermidine intakes in this cohort was wholemeal foods, accounting for 13.4% of intake. Next were apples and pears (13.3%), salad (9.8%), vegetable sprouts (7.3%) and potatoes (6.4%). Aged cheese was listed sixth and accounted for only 2.9% of estimated spermidine intake.

What can we take from it?

This extensive body of work is a credit to the researchers involved and does suggest that, at least for mice and rats, investigating the health-promoting effects of spermidine is worthwhile. However, the animal studies were small – with fewer than 15 animals per group – and the number of analyses done increases the potential for some findings to occur by chance.

When analysing differences between groups, as the mouse research in this paper did, one cannot claim spermidine changed a particular value – such as heart muscle strength – in the animals. This is because their heart muscles were not measured before they were given spermidine to compare the before and after effects, so you can only focus on differences between groups.

It’s better to say the outcome was higher or lower, or more or less frequent, in the spermidine-supplemented group compared to unsupplemented animals.

Of major importance in the human cohort study, which followed people for more than 15 years, is that it was not cheese that accounted for the majority of their spermidine intake. Also because this study was observational, it only showed associations, not cause and effect.

Also of note when you read the research is that, unlike the media report suggested, the mice were not fed cheese. A lot more research would be needed, and much more in humans, before claiming spermidine in cheese is the new superfood.

In the human study, although we weren’t told what the participants’ overall usual food habits were, we do know high intakes of whole grains, vegetables and fruit are characteristic of foods recommended for good health and longevity generally.

Try increasing your intakes of these foods and, for a variety of reasons, they’re very likely to help you age well. – Clare Collins

Peer review

The Nature Medicine paper found a correlation between the health of human participants and the amount of spermidine found in their diet. Unfortunately, although this part of the work is tantalising, it is still correlative: who knows whether there is some other ingredient in those foods that improves health, or whether people who preferred to eat those foods were already predisposed to better health?

The Nature Medicine paper also showed spermidine extended lifespans in mice. The animal studies were well performed and showed differences between groups in measures of heart function. But as the author of this Research Check states, a comparison where heart function would have been measured just before and just after drug treatment was not shown.

I believe this is okay, as animals were treated with spermidine for large proportions of their lifetimes, and such a comparison would have been confounded by the effects of ageing. So the comparisons between treated and untreated groups are adequate.

The key difficulty with moving spermidine forward is our understanding of how it works. Spermidine has been demonstrated to promote a process called autophagy, where the cell literally eats part of itself. This is actually a very good thing. By breaking down parts of the cell, old machinery gets destroyed and is replaced by new cellular machinery.

Autophagy is turned on when we exercise or go on a diet, but turned off when we eat too much or sit on the couch, so this could be how spermidine is beneficial.

Scientists like to understand every fine detail of how drugs work. The precise molecular biology of spermidine, and in particular what parts of the cell it interacts with, are poorly understood. Once we know how this works better, spermidine could well find its way into a new therapy. – Lindsay Wu

The Conversation

Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle and Lindsay Wu, Senior Lecturer, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Australia

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


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Why Trump is right, and wrong, about killing off the TPP

President-elect Donald Trump is right: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a damaging deal and deserves to be killed off.

But he tells a half truth about why the trade accord among a dozen Pacific Rim nations is a bad deal. In Trump’s view, trade agreements like NAFTA have allowed developing countries to “steal” American manufacturing jobs and decimate the well-waged middle class. This is why he says that America should reject the TPP.

But shifting the blame for American joblessness and stagnant incomes obscures the more complex, largely home-grown pressures that led U.S. companies to offshore manufacturing production to low-wage jurisdictions. Promising to tear up certain trade deals and impose tariffs on imports (chiefly from China and Mexico) will do very little if anything to reverse the problem.

The real problem is that these agreements don’t actually do enough to support freer trade. We’ve been studying trade agreements and the political foundations of industrial competitiveness in the United States, East Asia and beyond – for decades. We have witnessed how so-called “free trade deals” have become less and less about opening markets and more about entrenching monopolies. Australia, where we’re based, is also a member of the proposed TPP and, like America, stands to benefit from the deal’s abandonment.

Who’s really to blame for America’s manufacturing decline?

When Trump blames globalization for having “wiped out our middle class,” he misses the point that the main actors behind successive waves of globalization since the 1990s have been U.S. corporations themselves. And when Trump blames China (or Mexico) for stealing American jobs, he misses the point that it is U.S. companies that have been most aggressively downsizing their labour force and distributing production abroad.

Blame shifting also misses the point. It’s American corporations themselves, the key drivers of globalization (which have been the chief beneficiaries of this “downsize and distribute” approach) racking up “super profits” from what is effectively rent-seeking. They do this by exploiting – and aggressively seeking to extend – generous monopoly rights granted to them through intellectual property laws.

While Trump rails against America’s growing trade deficit with China, the reality is that the largest category of imports from that country (about 28%) is electrical equipment (for example information technology (IT) products) very often generated (designed, outsourced or contracted) by U.S. companies. These companies, like Apple, hold the patents, copyright and trademarks.

This has paved the way for some serious distortions in accounting. For example, recent research has shown that the full value of the sale of iPhones in the United States (which are assembled in China) are counted against China’s trade deficit with America.

In reality, China contributes only around 3.6% of the value of iPhone sales in parts and labor, itself importing the remainder of the more (and less) technologically advanced parts (from Japan, Germany and South Korea and beyond). U.S. companies contribute only 6% to the total parts and labor of an iPhone, but Apple takes the lion’s share of the final sale price thanks to its patent and trademark ownership.

Apple still takes a big share of the profit even though the parts and labor for an iphone mostly don’t come from the U.S.
Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

So when an iPhone sells in the United States for about $500, only $159 of this reflects content imported from China. The rest goes to American firms. And while that $159 is counted against China’s deficit with the United States, China itself only accounts for $6.50 of that value.

Seen in this light, we should not be surprised that 55% of the price U.S. consumers pay for goods imported from China actually goes to U.S. companies. Following from this, were Trump to make good on his promise to slap tariffs on imports from China, this would effectively penalize many U.S. companies.

The related problem is that decades of downsizing the manufacturing workforce and moving production overseas have gradually denuded America’s industrial ecosystem whereby the networks of equipment makers, suppliers and manufacturers needed to turn innovative ideas into products are disappearing. As one of us has shown in research, extreme offshoring is not only undermining skilled employment in the U.S. but also putting at risk the innovation that has underpinned American technological dynamism since the end of World War II.

Consequently, it’s increasingly difficult to find workers with the skills necessary to make the technologically sophisticated goods associated with the better-paid jobs of yesteryear. For example Silicon Valley, the home of most U.S. technology companies, is now a misnomer since very few semiconductors, which are primarily made of silicon, are produced there. Indeed, a more appropriate name today would be “App Valley” – and apps are not exactly the basis for a vibrant economy.

So why abandon the TPP?

Here’s where free trade deals do come into it.

Successive American administrations have further reinforced this extreme downsizing process by pushing trade agreements like the TPP that pay lip service to market access (free trade). In reality, these agreements entrench monopolies and tie the hands of governments that would otherwise take a more proactive approach to building new advanced industries and upgrading existing ones with new technology.

The creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 marked the first major shift in international trade deals away from those that prioritize freer market access and towards those that entrench monopolies through the award of generous intellectual property provisions – even at the expense of economic and social goals like encouraging innovation and protecting human health.

Subsequent reforms to the WTO’s intellectual property agreement (for example the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) gave governments at least some scope to redress the organisation’s most economically and socially distorting impacts. And the WTO’s Doha round of trade negotiations sought (albeit unsuccessfully) to focus attention on the primary issue of trade liberalization rather than further extending monopoly rights.

But the improvements being made at the WTO level are sorely missing from most bilateral and regional trade deals, especially those being driven by the U.S. Many of these – from the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement to the now defunct TPP – have sought to further extend the monopoly rights of IP-protected firms. These are the very corporate actors that most aggressively pursue the “downsize and distribute” approach.

From Apple and Dell in the IT space to Pfizer and Merck in pharmaceuticals and Nike and Gap in clothing, America’s patent, copyright and trademark-rich businesses reap major rewards for their shareholders by aggressively reducing labor costs through outsourcing. They also do it through extracting monopoly rents from their patented and trademarked technologies and designs. As recent research revealed, this also has major, negative implications for corporate investment and wage levels in the United States.

A better approach to trade

Obviously, the promotion of rent-seeking by entrenching monopoly rights has nothing to do with free trade. But the reality is that, for the United States at least, this has become a primary goal of its “free trade” agreements.

This is why the United States should abandon the TPP – and why Australia should support its abandonment. Abandoning the TPP, and requiring our governments to focus their efforts on trade deals that take a prudent approach to market access and a tough line on rent-seeking – would be beneficial for both our countries.

The Conversation

Elizabeth Thurbon, Senior Lecturer in International Relations / International Political Economy, UNSW Australia and Linda Weiss, Professor of Political Science, University of Sydney

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

Sensor system uses internet to maximise vineyard irrigation efficiency

A wireless sensor system to maximise vineyard irrigation efficiency will begin field trials in January.

SmartVine, developed in South Australia by TK SmartTech, will utilise a network of sensors to collect data on soil, crop health and moisture from across a vineyard.

Using SmartVine’s software, vignerons can then assess and manage their irrigation zones using a central system on their laptop, smartphone or tablet.

TK SmartTech Co-director Tenzin Crouch said the package would allow growers to optimise watering solutions based using a series of algorithms.

img - Smartvine_Shallow2

“You basically end up with a map of the vineyard which shows the areas that are most productive,” he said.

“That way we can easily map the optimum watering to the right type of soil, and work out where your inputs need to go.

“We’ll be running some algorithms for the farmers, based around what agronomists suggest, and that that will eliminate the farmer’s need to interpret all this complicated data – they’ll just get some really simple outputs.”

The data from SmartVine will allow growers to more effectively determine optimum watering patterns, reducing waste in the vineyard.

“Of course water is one of the biggest costs for any grower, and it’s a really critical part of the growing process as well,” Crouch said.

“It’s really important to make sure you get the right amount of stress to get the optimum grape, which comes back to how you’re watering.”

img - SmartVine_Shallow

While SmartVine can automate the irrigation process based off its algorithms, data gathered using the software can also be sent to other experts for analysis.

Vignerons can then set up watering schedules using the program, based on the individual needs of their crop.

“We’re basically trying to give the grower the tool to make that decision themselves,” Crouch said.

“Our algorithms will be useful to get a good baseline, but sometimes your farmer might want a specific profile, or something based off what their winemaker has said.

In its current form, the sensors will connect to a private system, but as Internet of Things technology grows, SmartVine will take advantage of the rapidly expanding network.

One McLaren Vale vineyard is already locked for the January trial but TK SmartTech is still looking to recruit growers in the Barossa Valley and Riverland regions.

Trials will continue until after harvest with SmartVine with expected to be commercially available by June 2017.

Crouch and fellow TK SmartTech director Kai Harrison recently completed an entrepreneurial course through Flinders University’s New Venture Institute where they were also finalists in a pitch competition with their SmartVine system.

IoT developer Thinxtra announced this month it would partner with the South Australian Government to roll out a statewide network by mid-2017.

This story first appeared on The Lead.

Schoolies risking health with alcohol and energy drink mix: report

Young people are fuelling big nights out by drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks to help them party through the night, according to a new Victorian government report.

The VicHealth report found that people who mix their alcohol with energy drinks are also more likely to be problem gamblers, show other risk-taking behaviour such as heavy alcohol use or illicit drug use, and report more mental health problems.

Executive Manager Dr Bruce Bolam from VicHealth, which funded the studies, said while overall levels of consumption of these products was relatively low compared to beer or wine in the wider population, in young people the level of consumption was very high.

“Alarmingly over one-third of Deakin University students included in one survey reported energy drinks mixed with alcohol being consumed in the past three months,” he said.

“Clearly a lot of the research identified that people consume energy drinks mixed with alcohol to either get a night started or to keep going and also to mask the effects of intoxication.

“Unfortunately the evidence shows this leads to significantly higher levels of intoxication, risk-taking and potential harm.”

Among school-leavers celebrating in Lorne and Torquay on the Victorian coast, 16% of schoolies surveyed said they had drunk alcohol mixed with energy drinks in the past 12 hours.

The study also found one in five 18 to 24 year-olds and one in ten 25 to 39 year-olds reported drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks in the past three months.

Concerns about heart health

Chris Semsarian, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Sydney, who as not involved in the study, said the health and medical implications of young people drinking large volumes of energy drinks, with or without alcohol, was a concern.

“There is growing evidence that energy drinks, either alone or mixed with alcohol, can lead to serious cardiovascular effects, including increases in blood pressure, heart rate, life threatening rhythm abnormalities, and even cardiac arrest and sudden death,” he said.

VicHealth’s Dr Bolam said policymakers need to consider that the mix of alcohol and energy drinks is volatile, particularly at night.

“Price, availability and promotion of these products needs to be considered in policy-making.”

Professor Sandra Jones, director of the Centre for Health and Social Research at the Australian Catholic University, who was not involved in the study, said:

“The research we’ve done in my team has been with quite young people – high school students and university students – and what we’ve typically found is that they consume these products to help them stay awake and keep drinking. It’s the ‘life of the party’ motive.”

Packaging and image play a role

Professor Jones said the packaging and the image of the products also appealed to high school students as it wasn’t immediately obvious to adults that the prepackaged products contained alcohol.

“They also know the taste of energy drinks already and are comfortable and familiar with the product,” she said.

“One of the very sensible suggestions in the report is around restriction on their sale in night-time entertainment precincts after certain times; those sorts of strategies are certain to have more of an impact than telling people ‘don’t drink this because it’s bad for you’,” Professor Jones said.

The researchers carried out six separate studies over three years to look at the pattern of drinking in young people.

Their research included watching pub goers across five Australian cities, conducting online and phone surveys, interviewing school-leavers in the street at schoolies events, analysing ambulance data and interviewing 25 young people who drank alcohol mixed with energy drinks.

The Conversation

Jocelyn Wright, Editorial Intern, The Conversation

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

The key to future food supply is sitting on our cities’ doorsteps

Our food systems are under increasing pressure from growing populations, diminishing resources and climate change. But, in a new report, we argue that city foodbowls – the agricultural land surrounding our cities – could supply more secure and sustainable food.

The final report of our Foodprint Melbourne project outlines a vision for “resilient city foodbowls” that can harness city waste to produce food, reduce dependence on distant sources of food and act as a buffer against increasing volatility in global food supplies.

But to do so we need to start planning now. Food is a basic human need – along with water, housing and transport – but it hasn’t been high on the planning agenda for Australia’s cities.

Growing food, and jobs

Australia’s city foodbowls are an important part of the nation’s food supply, particularly for fresh vegetables.

Melbourne’s foodbowl produces almost half of the vegetables grown in Victoria, and has the capacity to meet around 82% of the city’s vegetable needs.

Nationally, around 47% of highly perishable vegetables (such as lettuce, tomatoes and mushrooms) are produced in the foodbowls of the major state capitals, as well as eggs, chicken and perishable fruits such as berries.

New analysis by Deloitte Access Economics has shown that Melbourne’s foodbowl contributes A$2.45 billion each year to the regional economy and around 21,000 fulltime-equivalent jobs. The largest contributors (to the economy and to jobs) in Melbourne’s foodbowl are the fruit and vegetable industries.

Other research estimates that agriculture in Sydney’s foodbowl contributes around A$1 billion to the regional economy. The flow-on effects through the regional economy are estimated to be considerably higher.

City foodbowls at risk

City foodbowls are increasingly at risk. Our project has previously highlighted risks from urban sprawl, climate change, water scarcity and high levels of food waste.

Melbourne’s foodbowl currently supplies 41% of the city’s total food needs. But growing population and less land means this could fall to 18% by 2050.

Australia’s other city foodbowls face similar pressures. For example, between 2000 and 2005, Brisbane’s land available for vegetable crops reduced by 28%, and Sydney may lose 90% of its vegetable-growing land by 2031 if its current growth rate continues.

These losses can be minimised by setting strong limits on urban sprawl, using existing residential areas (infill) and encouraging higher-density living.

However, accommodating a future Melbourne population of 7 million (even at much higher density) will still likely mean we lose some farmland. The Deloitte modelling estimated this will lead to a loss of agricultural output from Melbourne’s foodbowl of between A$32 million and A$111 million each year.

Protecting our food supply

Australia’s city foodbowls could play a vital role in a more sustainable and resilient food supply. If we look after our foodbowls, these areas will strengthen cities against the disruptions in food supplies that are likely to become more common thanks to climate change.

The New Urban Agenda adopted in October 2016 at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, or Habitat III, emphasises the need for cities to “strengthen food system planning”. It recognises that dependence on distant sources of food and other resources can create sustainability challenges and vulnerabilities to supply disruptions.

Resilient city food systems will need to draw on food from multiple sources – global, national and local – to be able to withstand and recover from supply disruptions due to chronic stresses, such as drought, and acute shocks, such as storms and floods.

Our final report presents a vision of a resilient city foodbowl for Melbourne.

In this future vision, highly perishable foods continue to grow close to the city. City waste streams are harnessed to counter decreasing supplies of water and conventional fertilisers, and increased investment in delivery of recycled water creates “drought-proof” areas of food production close to city water treatment plants.

Eco-Innovation Lab, Author provided

If Australia’s cities are to retain their foodbowls as they grow, food will need to become a central focus of city planning. This is likely to require new policy approaches focused on “food system planning” that addresses land use and other issues, such as water availability.

We also need to strengthen local and regional food systems by finding innovative ways to link city fringe farmers and urban consumers – such as food hubs. This will create more diverse and resilient supply chains.

The Conversation

Rachel Carey, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne; Jennifer Sheridan, Researcher in sustainable food systems, University of Melbourne, and Kirsten Larsen, Manager, Food Systems Research and Partnerships, University of Melbourne

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

A sugary drinks tax could recoup some of the costs of obesity while preventing it

Obesity is a major public health problem In Australia. More than one in four adults are now classified as obese, up from one in ten in the early 1980s. And about 7% of children are obese, up from less than 2% in the 1980s.

Obesity not only affects an individual’s health and wellbeing, it imposes enormous costs on the community, through higher taxes to fund extra government spending on health and welfare and from forgone tax revenue because obese people are more likely to be unemployed.

In our new Grattan Institute report, A sugary drinks tax: recovering the community costs of obesity, we estimate community or “third party” costs of obesity were about A$5.3 billion in 2014/15.

We propose the government put a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages to recoup some of the third-party costs of obesity and reduce obesity rates. Such a tax would ensure the producers and consumers of those drinks start paying closer to the full costs of this consumption – including costs that to date have been passed on to other taxpayers. There is the added benefit of raising revenue that could be spent on obesity-prevention programs.

Prevalence of obesity in Australia.
Author provided

The scope of our proposed tax is on non-alcoholic, water-based beverages with added sugar. This includes soft drinks, flavoured mineral waters, fruit drinks, energy drinks, flavoured waters and iced teas.

While a sugary drinks tax is not a “silver bullet” solution to the obesity epidemic (that requires numerous policies and behaviour changes at an individual and population-wide level), it would help.

Why focus on sugary drinks?

Sugar-sweetened beverages are high in sugar and most contain no valuable nutrients, unlike some other processed foods such as chocolate. Most Australians, especially younger people, consume too much sugar already.

People often drink excessive amounts of sugary drinks because the body does not send appropriate “full” signals from calories consumed in liquid form. Sugar-sweetened beverages can induce hunger, and soft drink consumption at a young age can create a life-long preference for sweet foods and drinks.

We estimate, based on US evidence, about 10% of Australia’s obesity problem is due to these sugar-filled drinks.

Many countries have implemented or announced the introduction of a sugar-sweetened beverages tax including the United Kingdom, France, South Africa and parts of the United States. The overseas experience is tax reduces consumption of sugary drinks, with people mainly switching to water or diet/low-sugar alternatives.

There is strong public support in Australia for a sugar-sweetened beverages tax if the funds raised are put towards obesity prevention programs, such as making healthier food cheaper. Public health authorities, including the World Health Organisation and the Australian Medical Association, as well as advocates such as the Obesity Policy Coalition, support the introduction of a sugar-sweetened beverages tax.

What the tax would look like

We advocate taxing the sugar contained within sugar-sweetened beverages, rather than levying a tax based on the price of these drinks, because: a sugar content tax encourages manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their drinks, it encourages consumers to buy drinks with less sugar, each gram of sugar is taxed consistently, and it deters bulk buying.

The tax should be levied on manufacturers or importers of sugar-sweetened beverages, and overseas evidence suggests it will be passed on in full to consumers.

We estimate a tax of A$0.40 per 100 grams of sugar in sugary drinks, about A$0.80 for a two-litre bottle of soft drink, will raise about A$400-$500 million per year. This will reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by about 15%, or about 10 litres per person on average. Recent Australian modelling suggests a tax could reduce obesity prevalence by about 2%.

Author provided/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Low-income earners consume more sugar-sweetened beverages than the rest of the population, so they will on average pay slightly more tax. But the tax burden per person is small – and consumers can also easily avoid the tax by switching to drinks such as water or artificially sweetened beverages.

People on low incomes are generally more responsive to price rises and are therefore more likely to switch to non-taxed (and healthier) beverages, so the tax may be less regressive than predicted. Although a sugar-sweetened beverages tax may be regressive in monetary terms, the greatest health benefits will flow through to low-income people due to their greater reduction in consumption and higher current rates of obesity.

The revenue could also be spent on obesity programs that benefit the disadvantaged, reducing the regressivity of the tax.

While the beverage and sugar industries are strongly opposed to any tax on sugar, their concerns are overblown. Most of the artificially sweetened drinks and waters, which will not be subject to the tax, are owned by the major beverage companies.

A sugar-sweetened beverages tax will reduce domestic demand for Australian sugar by around 50,000 tonnes, which is only about 1% of all the sugar produced in Australia. And while there may be some transition costs, this sugar could instead be sold overseas (as 80% of Australia’s sugar production already is).

A tax on sugary drinks is a public health reform whose time has come.

The Conversation

Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute and Trent Wiltshire, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

Powdery mildew app helps vignerons manage grape expectations

A free mobile app to help vignerons and winemakers quickly assess grapes for powdery mildew in the field is being made available to growers globally.

Developed in South Australia by the University of Adelaide in collaboration with industry and Wine Australia, the app was initially launched for use exclusively in Australia ahead of the 2016 vintage.

PMapp has been downloaded more than 1000 times and been well received by the Australian industry, prompting the construction of a training website to support the app and its international release this month.

Powdery mildew is a serious disease that affects grapevines worldwide and can cause off flavours and aromas in wine if not controlled.

University of Adelaide Professor of Plant Pathology and project leader Eileen Scott said she had already responded to inquiries about the app from North America, Chile, Europe and New Zealand.

“Powdery mildew is probably the most ubiquitous disease of grapevines – it occurs everywhere because it’s much less sensitive to weather conditions than other diseases like downy mildew or botrytis,” she said.

The disease is assessed in the vineyard as the percentage surface area of grape bunches affected, which gives a measure of disease severity.

PMapp allows the user to visually assess the severity by matching it with computer-generated images.

The app allows disease data to be entered quickly in the vineyard. Assessors then email the results and analyse the resulting spreadsheet, which records GPS co-ordinates and other assessment details.

Prof Scott said having Australian growers use the app for a year before the rest of the world allowed the system to be trialled thoroughly so any glitches could be fine-tuned.

“What we’ve built on to the app since we did the Australian release was a website designed to support diagnosis and recognition of powdery mildew as well as more training in early assessment than we could build into the app,” she said.

“The app allows people to enter their assessment quickly and efficiently to get an on the run average severity and average incidence across the block they are assessing.

“The website is designed for pre-vintage training of new staff and up-skilling or refreshing of existing and experienced staff so when they go out into the field they feel better prepared for the assessments.”

Australian users of the app in the 2016 vintage said it would become a valuable industry tool with some even using it to also assess grapes for bunch rot.

Australian Vignerons CEO Andrew Weeks said PMapp offered the potential for a uniform and reliable assessment procedure for powdery mildew, which in turn provided a consistent market signal for winegrowers.

“PMapp was a great tool in making decisions acceptable to both grower and winery,” he said.

Accolade Wines Chief Viticulturalist Alex Sas also supported the app.

“PMapp will quickly become part of the standard operating procedures of large wine companies in Australia and worldwide,” he said.

South Australia is consistently responsible for almost 50 per cent of Australia’s annual production.

There are 18 wine regions in South Australia, including the Barossa Valley, Clare Valley, Coonawarra, Adelaide Hills, Langhorne Creek, McLaren Vale, Limestone Coast and Riverland.

This story first appeared in The Lead.

Dairies finding new “whey” of turning waste into profit

Dairies are continuously striving to maximise efficiencies and eliminate waste. For those plants producing cheese, there is a profitable method available for turning whey, a cheese by-product, into a significant revenue stream.

Historically, cheese processors would discard whey by transporting it off-site where to be dried by other companies or used as cattle feed, or in some cases drain it to an effluent treatment plant (ETP) or city municipality.

These options would come at significant transport or disposal costs, negatively impact the environment and operating margins.

With its technology portfolio and spray drying process expertise SPX Flow has helped many of these cheese producers upgrade their facilities to produce whey powder, whey protein isolate powder, non-caking whey powder, non-caking permeate powder and lactose powder.

Recently, the company was awarded contracts to design and construct new plants in Lithuania to produce whey powder and non-caking permeate powder and in France a high yield lactose powder plant. This lactose plant can provide a 20 per cent yield improvement compared to traditional processes. Other projects previously commissioned in South America, Scandinavia and Germany are running successfully and helping to establish new global standards in this area.

This lactose process requires specific knowledge of the heat and hold process to elongate evaporator runs as well as key technology used in the crystallisation process. This specialised process knowledge and equipment offered by the company brings advantages including higher product quality, whiter colour, free flowing and heat stable powders resulting in:

  • Consistently higher quality grade product that can be sold at higher prices
  • Ability to produce larger output from a single process plant
  • Very hygienic design compared to alternatives in the market
  • Significant operating margin improvements driven by yields

The company’s Drying and Liquid processing technologies provide  customers with reliable and optimised designs to help them achieve cost efficient solutions in today’s highly competitive dairy market.

Biscuit for breakfast – trench warfare was hard on soldiers’ teeth

Rewind 100 years and the Battle of the Somme would be grinding to a close. For 141 days soldiers had suffered the worst that modern warfare could deliver: bombardment, chemical weapons, failed advances and a level of casualties no one could have anticipated. In this centenary year, multiple articles have been published on the terrible conditions, the tactics, the tear gas. But what about the teeth?

Dentistry, granted, is not a topic that often comes up when discussing World War I. But the poor state of working-class mouths – no dental care for most of them – and the difficulties that the very basic army food presented, made the all-consuming pain of acute toothache all too common. So what were the soldiers eating?

Military leaders have long noted that armies “march on their stomachs”, so the 1914 British army command was well aware of the significance of rations to its men.

Difficulties in the Crimean War, where more soldiers had been admitted to the hospital at Scutari suffering from scurvy than from battle wounds, had prompted a series of army dietary reforms over the second half of the 19th century. Improvements in nutritional science had also helped to shape the provisioning of the army – although the emphasis on energy values to the exclusion of other considerations resulted in a diet that, while high in calories, was often lacking in variety, difficult to consume and somewhat indigestible.

A meal in a UK transit camp.
Hampshire and Solent Museums, CC BY-SA

Trench rations

In the summer of 1914, the army provided the same level of feeding for all, but soon found this unsustainable and a series of adjustments followed, reserving the best rations for those in the front line. Those in reserve and in the training camps at home received considerably less.

The fighting man’s calorie quota was on a par with that of the modern British Army, although contemporary ration packs offer a level of variety unimagined by those serving a century earlier. In terms of national comparison, the British fared pretty well, the Americans had the most calories – and the French a widely envied daily wine ration.

If actual rations met the official description, and the cooks were of a decent standard, all went relatively well. A relatively static war meant that the delivery of rations was usually reliable – at times of advance or retreat the long supply chains could be interrupted, but most of the time the complex set of movements from Base Supply Depots to the front was sustained.

Unfortunately, the cooks’ efforts often fell short, although they were hindered by the army’s own recipe books where, for example, the list of ingredients for “Fish Paste” contained four tins of sardines – and eight of bully (corned) beef.

If you were a British soldier serving on the front line in 1917, your rations (comprising a desired 4,193 calories per day) would be as follows:

Meat (fresh or frozen) 1 lb
Meat (preserved) 9 oz

Bread 1 lb
Biscuit 10 oz

Bacon 4 oz
Cheese 2 oz
Fresh Vegetables 8 oz
Tea 5/8 oz
Jam 3 oz
Sugar 3 oz

This may look like a pretty good diet, but the army sought to deliver the greatest number of calories in the easiest manner – and that often meant tinned (both meat and biscuit) rather than fresh food. A tin of Maconochie’s meat and vegetable stew, especially when heated up, was the acceptable face of canned food. Cold corned beef wasn’t – and biscuit was even less popular. The British working classes had grown up on a diet dominated by bread, so while a hard-baked carbohydrate substitute may have scored highly in logistical terms it was regarded by most men as an abomination.

Baking army biscuits during World War I.
Imperial War Museum

The bane of biscuit

Scores of cartoonists and writers have made jokes about biscuit’s similarity to kindling, but it was no laughing matter. Many of the working and lower-middle-class soldiers had very poor teeth – the result of too much sugar and too little dentistry. The army was reluctant to pay for dentists and when the British Expeditionary Force travelled to France in 1914 not one dentist accompanied them.

Essex Regiment Museum, Chelmsford

It was only when General Douglas Haig developed excruciating toothache at height of the Battle of Aisne in October of that year that the cost of their absence was realised. No one was able to treat Haig and he was forced to await a French dental surgeon from Paris. Haig subsequently contacted the War Office to request the recruitment of army dentists for the BEF – 12 dentists arrived in November and a further eight by the end of 1914.

Jokes about the state of the nation’s teeth also reached the pages of Punch. In August 1914 it published a cartoon of a disgruntled man at a recruiting office protesting to the MO who’d turned him away because of his rotten teeth: “Man, ye’re making a gran’ mistake. I’m no wanting to bite the Germans, I’m wanting to shoot ‘em.”

Defective teeth were a major cause in rejecting volunteers and so patriotic dentists stepped forward. C J McCarthy of Grimsby advertised in the local paper promising free treatment to the first 25 volunteers rejected because of their teeth that reported to his surgery.

Dentistry mattered: in the theatre of war, losing a set of false teeth effectively rendered the soldier useless because the conditions at the front didn’t allow for a soft diet for toothless men. Canon J O Coop wrote home to his wife that one man had a self-inflicted wound and “to make more certain [his escape from the front line] he had thrown away his false teeth because he knew that men who lost their teeth were sent to base”.

The army’s efforts weren’t always met with enthusiasm, but innovative Tommies knew how to make the best of what was available, often grinding the biscuits to a powder, mixing in a tin of milk and one of jam – preferably not the eternal plum and apple – and heating. Making the rations palatable was a key skill learned alongside the more distressing aspects of warfare.

The Conversation

Rachel Duffett, Teacher and Researcher, University of Essex

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

A food industry problem solver

Coming up with new food ideas and then bringing those ideas to fruition is not an easy business. Matthew McDonald profiles Newly Weds Foods (Australia), a company dedicated to keeping up with food trends and creating new products for Australian food makers.

Integrated food ingredients business, Newly Weds Foods (Australia) counts all sorts of food companies, including manufacturers, retailers and QSRs as clients.

The company’s products include coatings, seasoning systems and functional blends for seafood, poultry, pork, beef, vegetables and processed meats.

“We do bake breadcrumbs, from Panko to traditional breadcrumb. We do have flour blends, we do have functional and flavour seasoning mixes and we do make liquids, be they shelf stable or frozen that a client might use,” the company’s General Manager Calvin Boyle told Food & Beverage Industry News.

The company’s focus, he explained, is on trying to meet the requirements of its clients.

“We get business because we help solve problems. And we solve problems by either giving clients good new ideas or responding to request for versions of their ideas. Or sometimes we get business because we make a product better than our competitors,” he said.

So what problems does Newly Weds solve?

According to Boyle, they can offer total product solutions. “We’ve got the ability to develop the product for our clients from ground zero,” he said. “[Our] chef…can engage with them to look at new trends and look at new ideas.”

Or alternatively, the client can bring an idea to the company and work with the chef to develop it and create a new product.

“The chef can cook it the way a consumer would and then our food technologists can take that product and commercialise it so it can be made in a factory by us and our clients,” said Boyle.

“Our food technologists are a bridge…they bridge it back to a commercial product.”

But the product development process, he stressed, varies from client to client. Newly Weds is happy to engage with each client in any way they wish.


Understanding market trends and consumer behaviour is very important here. The company’s marketing team provides updated market information to enable its development team to keep ahead of the curve.

And regular internal and external “ideation sessions” ensure they are offering clients the most innovative concepts.

“We will do prospective presentations for clients. We will come up with 10 things we think are good ideas,” said Boyle.

“We supply our various clients about 1,000 separate samples a month right across our client base and a lot of them are demand driven where a client has asked us to do specific work.”

“We go and develop presentations where we look at trends in the market place: what we’re seeing happening, particularly overseas at our various other entities in Europe or North America or Asia.”

Boyle said that, while there are currently several factors influencing consumer choice – things like health concerns, convenience, safety, and environmental concerns – there is no one driver.

“There’s no one particular theme…every day we’re working on a project for a client that will tick every one of the boxes,” he said.

“…Consumers are looking for things that are good for them. I think every consumer goes through this…one day they’re looking for indulgence the next they’re concentrating on their health, so what we’re doing all the time is different products.”

“We’re developing products with lower salt, lower fat. At the same time another client is looking for the best flavour or the most on trend ideas.”


He nominated authenticity as an important factor.

“Consumers want restaurant quality food and they want it convenient…accessible in their supermarkets,” he said.

“We are seeing a real focus on authenticity…if it says chilli [on the packaging], it’s got to be hot.”

The demand for authenticity goes further than just taste. Earlier this year, consumer group Choice revealed that much of what was being sold in Australian supermarkets as oregano was actually olive leaves.

Here in Australia, this type of thing is relatively rare. As Boyle pointed out, the problem is much worse overseas.

“We’re doing a lot of work with our suppliers and internally as part of our quality system to demonstrate to our clients the raw materials we source have not been substituted or supplemented,” said Boyle. “We tested our oregano and it was all perfectly OK.”

Boyle sees a breadth of authenticity as a strength of Australia’s food market.

“Australia is quite a crucible of ethnic diversity,” he explained.

“If you’re looking to present something that’s Italian you have a large population of Australian Italians that will hold you to account that it tastes like it’s Italian. Or if it is meant to be Thai you will have a large number of Thais who are looking for that product to be quite authentic.”

Quality Assurance

Newly Weds Foods has plants in Sydney, Perth and Auckland, all of which operate as stand-alone entities. The facility in Sydney, for instance, employs a chef and 14 food technologists who are involved in R&D.

In addition, the Sydney plant has a quality assurance team which is even larger than the R&D team.

“We test everything on site including allergen testing. The only thing we don’t do is our own micro biological testing. There are too many good laboratories available close at hand for us to need to do that,” said Boyle

Having an allergen testing capability means the company can test raw materials that come in as well as their own products we make. This provides clients with the security they are looking for.

While he nominated organoleptic testing (which ensures the end product has the look, smell and taste it is supposed to have) as far and away the most important testing, Boyle said testing is not a one-size-fits-all exercise.

“It’s very complicated because we made over 2,000 individual products in the last twelve months. Every one of those products is different,” he said.

“Some undergo micro testing, some undergo chemical testing. It very much depends on the individual product…how clients are using it…what risks the raw materials might pose.”

For example, if Newly Weds commit to making a product that is gluten free will, they will thoroughly test it to confirm that it lives up that claim.

“We do all the tests that are required for each particular product. We know based on what we’ve experienced in the past and information we get from our other Newly Weds entities around the world that we need to do this test on this raw material or when that raw materials is used. That’s part of our core competence,” he concluded.

Six key global food and drink trends for 2017

Market intelligence agency Mintel has announced the six key trends set to impact the global food and drink market – highlighting ingredient and food and drink product trends set to make an impact over the coming year.

2017 will be a year of extremes, from “ancient” products including grains, recipes, practices and traditions to the use of technology to create more and better tasting plant-enhanced foods.

Expect to see a rise in both “slow” and “fast” claims as well as more products designed to help people calm down before bedtime, sleep better and restore the body while they rest. Opportunities will exist for more products to leverage the reputation of the tea category and use chamomile, lavender and other herbs in formulations as a way to achieve a sense calm before bedtime.

There will also be a valid excuse for nighttime chocolate indulgence. In 2017 and beyond, expect to see more of the unexpected, including fruit snacks made with ugly fruit and mayonnaise made with the liquid from draining chickpeas, which has been dubbed aquafaba.

Looking ahead to 2017, Mintel’s Global Food and Drink Analyst Jenny Zegler discusses the top food and drink trends set to impact global markets.

In tradition we trust

Consumers seek comfort from modernised updates of age-old formulations, flavours and formats.

People are seeking the safety of products that are recognisable rather than revolutionary. The trust in the familiar emphasises the opportunity for manufacturers to look to the past as a dependable source of inspiration such as “ancient” product claims including ancient grains and also ancient recipes, practices and traditions. Potential also exists for innovations that use the familiar as a base for something that’s new, but recognisable, such as cold-brew coffee.

Power to the Plants

The preference for natural, simple and flexible diets will drive further expansion of vegetarian, vegan and other plant-focused formulations.

In 2017, the food and drink industry will welcome more products that emphasise plants as key ingredients. More packaged products and recipes for home cooking will leverage fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, botanicals and other plants as a way to align with consumers’ nearly omnipresent health and wellness priorities. Technology will play a part, already we have seen one company use artificial intelligence to develop plant-based alternatives to animal products including milk, mayonnaise, yogurt and cheese.

Waste not

The focus of sustainability zeros in on eliminating food waste.

More retailers, restaurants and philanthropic organisations are addressing the sheer amount of food and drink that is wasted around the world, which is changing consumer perceptions. In 2017, the stigma associated with imperfect produce will begin to fade, more products will make use of ingredients that would have otherwise gone to waste such as fruit snacks made from “ugly” fruit and mayonnaise made from the liquid from packaged chickpeas, and food waste will be repurposed in new ways, such as power sources.

Time is of the essence

The time investments required for products and meals will become as influential as nutrition or ingredient claims.

Time is an increasingly precious resource and our multitasking lifestyles are propelling a need for short-cut solutions that are still fresh, nutritious and customisable, already we have seen so-called “biohacking” food and drink that offers complete nutrition in convenient formats. In 2017, the time spent on – or saved by – a food or drink product will become a clear selling point, inspiring more products to directly communicate how long they will take to receive, prepare or consume.

The night shift

Evening is tapped as a new occasion for functional food and drink formulations.

The increasingly hectic pace of modern life is creating a market for food and drink that helps people of all ages calm down before bedtime, sleep better and restore the body while they rest. Products can leverage the reputation of the tea category and use chamomile, lavender and other herbs as a way to achieve a sense calm before bedtime, while chocolate could be positioned as a way to wind down after a stressful day. Ahead, there is potential for more evening-focused innovations formulated for relaxation, satiety and, taking a cue from the beauty industry, food and drink that provide functional benefits while the consumer sleeps.

Balancing the scales: health for everyone

Healthy food and drink are not “luxuries.”

Inequality is not just a political or philanthropic issue — it also will resonate more with the food and drink industry. Many lower-income consumers want to improve their diets but the access to — and the cost of — healthy food and drink is often an impediment. More campaigns and innovations are to be expected that will make it easier for lower-income consumers to fulfill their healthy ambitions, including apps to help people make use of ingredients that are on sale and, in a tie-in with Mintel’s 2017 Global Food & Drink Trend Waste Not, a value-priced box of “wonky” veg.

“This year’s trends are grounded in current consumer demands for healthy, convenient and trustworthy food and drink. Across the world, manufacturers and retailers have opportunities to provide more people with food and drink that is recognisable, saves time and contains servings of beneficial fruits, vegetables and other plants,” said Jenny Zegler, Global Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel.

“In addition, Mintel has identified exciting new opportunities for functional food and drink designed for evening consumption, progressive solutions for food waste and affordable healthy food for low-income consumers. Opportunities abound for companies around the world to capitalise on these trends, helping them develop in new regions and more categories throughout the course of the next year and into the future.”

Mintel’s Global Food and Drink Trends are available to download here.

Pet food in Australia – not quite a dog’s breakfast

Australia’s pet owners have become increasingly conscious of providing their pets with the best possible life – a view that has been clearly demonstrated in the major trends seen in the sale of pet food, writes Branko Miletic.

In monetary terms, according to Galaxy Research, Australian pet owners are spending over $3 billion on pet food a year. Dog food accounts for more than half of this at $1.6 billion, or 53 per cent. Cat food also comprises a significant proportion at $1.1 billion or 36 per cent of all pet food sales. Together, dog and cat food represent almost 90 per cent of all pet food expenditure.

These figures are hardly surprising since there are estimated to be more than 25 million pets in Australia – more than there are people – with nearly 5 million of Australia’s 7.6 million households home to pets. At 63 per cent off the population, Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world.

From the horse’s mouth

FMCG analysts Euromonitor International has also found that Australians have a strong emotional attachment to and value their companion animals, with most people considering them members of the family.

At the same time, the global financial crisis had a profound effect on Australian household spending and savings patterns. While the Australian economy never dropped into recession, job certainty was no longer assumed and Australians started spending less and saving more.

This reversed the steadily declining household savings rate, a trend which had been in place since the 1970s.

Euromonitor International has also noted that consumer spending cut backs have been most noticeable when it comes to discretionary spending. However, after looking at all the figures, one sector that seems largely impervious to these economic downturns is pet food. In fact, pet food has been compared to baby food due to its resilient performance.

Paw-sing to read the trends

According to The Animal Health Alliance and their latest Pet Ownership Report, there are a number of trends that are clearly visible in Australia when it comes pet food.


Consumers are prepared to spend more on their pets, which has seen pet food become increasingly sophisticated, particularly in the premium end of the market. Sales of premium dog and cat food products have continued to grow steadily over the past five years, with seven per cent year on year growth in current value terms.

This premiumisation of pet food is impacting the economy and mid-priced segments of the market, which are expected to come under increasing pressure as consumers trade up to premium products.


Packaging has become more sophisticated to reflect the premium offerings and key selling points. For wet pet food, product offerings have tended to move away from large pack sizes to multi-pack single serve portions. To make premium products more affordable, premium dry dog and cat food has increasingly become available in large air tight resealable packs.

This has provided an attractive option for pet owners wanting to economise without sacrificing quality. In non-grocery channels the 3kg pack size is more common, compared to 500g to 1.5kg seen more predominantly in grocery retailers.

Dry pet food is most commonly packaged in flexible plastic and does not yet reflect the trend towards more sustainable packaging options.

Health and Wellness

Just as Australians have become more conscious of having a healthy lifestyle and diet, so too have these become considerations when it comes to buying pet food. Health and wellness claims have become more common in the pet food sector, a trend that is occurring at all price points, including private label offerings.

An increasing number of products boast added vitamins and minerals, and/or that they address specific health concerns. These include weight control, dental hygiene and digestive health. The idea of all-natural, preservative – free and organic products has also permeated the pet food market.


The market has become more and more segmented to offer pet owners products that address specific needs or concerns. This includes the development of products targeted to cats and dogs at different life stages, such as puppy/kitten, ‘mature’ and ‘senior’.

The health and wellness trend has also driven segmentation in pet foods, with different product offerings such as weight control, dental hygiene and digestive health now commonplace.

Private Label

Private label pet food offerings have increased alongside a range of other product categories on supermarket shelves, and in 2011 accounted for 10.7 per cent of all pet food sales. Woolworths has the largest share of the private label market, and the sixth largest share (2.4 per cent) of the total pet food market.

Grabbing the issue by the tail

According to Duncan Hall from the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA), there are many other factors that have had a direct influence on the choice and type of pet food Australians are purchasing.

“There has been a profound change in the past 20 years in the type of pet food sold in this country,” said Hall.

This is directly related to the types and sizes of pets Australians are now keeping.

“A lot of new pet foods out there are in response to the types of pets we have,” said Hall.

“For example, due to the popularity of certain small dog breeds, we have seen a move away from the large dog food portions to smaller, single serve sizes.”

“However, a lot of pet food trends also mirror the trends we have been experiencing with human foods – like the move to all-natural foods as one example.”

“There are also new types of pet foods that have been developed in response to veterinarians’ requirements for foods that help pet recovery and recuperation from illness and injury.”

Hall also noted that the channels for distribution for pet food sales have increased.

“It’s moved away from just being able to buy pet food in the supermarket to purchasing pet food in pet specialty stores and barns, from the vet and also online,” he said.

The need for proper labelling

Much like with human foods, then there is the issue of labelling.

According to Hall, the pet food manufacturing industry has worked in conjunction with a number of groups including the RSPCA, veterinarians, pet food manufacturers and Standards Australia to come up with a national standard for pet food labelling, also known as AS5182: Manufacturing & Marketing of Pet Food.

“AS5182 was developed to promote prepared pet food as the preferred method of pet nutrition reinforced through the establishment and self-regulation of industry standards,” noted Hall, who added that the “PFIAA was instrumental in establishing AS5812.”

So whichever way you cut and dice the pet food trends in Australia, one thing is for sure – this country will continue to provide a standard of food to its millions of beloved four and two legged friends that is second to none.

Making the most of food

In order to meet the global population’s growing demand for food, research by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) predicts that the worldwide food manufacturing and processing industries need to increase their total output by 70 per cent by 2050.

With the rise in the planet’s population around 60 million people per year, it is an issue that cannot be ignored.

There are several ways, each with varying degrees of difficulty, to enhance the efficiency of food production. These include tackling climate change, increasing the availability and fertility of land and improving the supply of water. However, an important element of food production which must be addressed immediately is the further optimization of crop yields as it will be a hugely significant factor in ensuring the 2050 target is met.

Whilst tackling climate change, improving the quality and fertility of arable land and supplying water will take time, increases in food sorting efficiencies are possible now. This can be done by utilizing the latest available food sorting technologies and machines, which deliver greater yields, enhanced profitability for processors and, importantly, advanced knowledge from data which can be used further along the processing line.

It is important to recognize that, in addition to the demand for more food, the desire for choice and variety is also growing. This is especially the case in developing countries that are adopting western, middle-class consumption habits such as the desire for a greater variety of food types and outlets in which food is served and consumed.

As people move away from traditional home cooked meals, the demand for convenience food and ready-meals is increasing, bringing with it opportunities to benefit but also obstacles to overcome.

For instance, an average French fry plant produces 140.000 tons of French fries per year. By increasing yields by as little as 0.5 per cent through modern sorting technologies and techniques, a processor could take an estimated 90 truck-loads off the roads[1].

This action, which has positive repercussions for the environment as a whole, will increase the availability of raw material and boost profitability.

It is important to highlight that this principle can be extended and implemented in all areas of food production. This is especially relevant since the United States Department for Agriculture (USDA) recently claimed that 31 per cent of American-grown food was not available for human consumption at retail and consumer levels. With a commitment to yield optimization, industries can help minimize this waste.

In terms of volume, the same report stated that over 51 million tons of food was lost in America. In monetary terms, this waste represented over $161bn (€145.3bn) as purchased at retail prices.

To help overcome this, the food sorting industry is investing in its technological development to ensure that efficiencies continue to be made. For example, the TOMRA 5B sorting machine is a system that not only sorts to customers’ specifications, but also provides them with an increasing supply of data and easy-to-interpret statistics which can be used to improve future yields.

TOMRA’s smart surround view can reduce false rejections by 20 per cent, increasing exponentially the amount of good final end product, in turn limiting waste.

The ability to efficiently sort vegetables, potatoes and nuts – which represent over 19 per cent of the total amount of food wasted in the United States alone – could have a huge impact. By increasing yields by just one per cent, it is possible to increase the final amount of this type of produce in the US by 11 million tons. Apply this on a global scale and the 2050 food level objective starts to look more achievable.

The improvement in yield enhancing technology is not simply about ensuring food can be used for its initial purpose, it also identifies what produce can find its way into the food chain with an alternative use.

These improvements, as delivered by the TOMRA 5B sorting machine, will result in produce that would once have been identified as waste being recovered. A food type that does not make the grade for sale in its original form can be recouped for the creation of potato flakes, tomato sauces or other alternatives. It can also be sold as a grade B product, ensuring that waste is reduced at every stage of the process.

Developments in technologies, such as a 360-degree surround view of the produce for optimal inspection, combined with innovative detection and rejection technology, result in more valid decisions about the quality of the product. This technological progress not only improves the quantity of food available, it also maintains the high levels of quality expected by consumers who are increasingly interested in what they are purchasing.

Alongside this, the population growth of developing nations – especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa which, according to the FAO, is expected to grow by up to 108 per cent – means that plans for improved yields in these economies must be tackled sooner rather than later.

The use of ever-improving technology to directly increase yields is a move in the right direction. However, the next generation of food sorting machines will be able to provide vital information which will not only increase yields, but also look at improvements further down the production line and in future seasons.

If a food processor was to notice depressions in yield in a particular area of the process, the results taken from the sorting machine could create a solution to easily identify and form actions earlier in the food growing process. Armed with this data, food processors are able to formulate plans to overcome present issues.

If the world is to meet the expected demands for food by 2050, and to make further improvements as the population continues to grow beyond that date, it must tackle the issue of improving yields quickly. By investing in sorting technologies and machines, food manufacturers and processors will be able to not only satisfy the need for increased volumes of product, but also increase their revenues.

To support this, food sorting technology developers will continue to refine their systems to enable greater access to increasingly accurate data and provide more capable machines to reduce waste to an absolute minimum.

The outlook should be regarded as a positive one. The assistant director general of FAO, Hafez Ghanem, said that his organization is “cautiously optimistic about the world’s potential to feed itself by 2050”. With continued developments in food sorting technology, it has every reason to be.

[1] Estimated on an average truck capacity size of 25 tons


[Roel Molenaers is head of product management, TOMRA Sorting Food]